If you are looking for a way to supercharge your personal development, understanding the psychology behind your everyday actions and interactions is an essential first step. But is it possible to understand this? It certainly is. Consider this list of the five most powerful psychological influences your backstage pass to understanding how your brain functions — and how you can best avoid common misconceptions.
Your likability will increase if you aren’t perfect
Mistakes attract charm as a result of the Pratfall Effect: Those who never make mistakes are perceived as less likeable than those who commit the occasional faux pas. Messing up draws people closer to you, makes you more human. Perfection creates distance and an unattractive air of invincibility. Those of us with flaws win out every time.
This theory was tested by psychologist Elliot Aronson. In his test, he asked participants to listen to recordings of people answering a quiz. Select recordings included the sound of the person knocking over a cup of coffee. When participants were asked to rate the quizzers on likability, the coffee-spill group came out on top.
The Pratfall Effect serves as a good reminder that it is okay to be fallible. Occasional mistakes are not only acceptable, they may turn out to be beneficial. So long as the mistakes are not critical and making mistakes does not compound a reputation for being unliked, the occasional pratfall can come in very handy. Pratfall away.
Greater expectations drive greater performance
The crux of this psychological phenomenon is the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy: If you believe something is true of yourself, eventually it will be.
The first test of this idea (known as the Pygmalion Effect) was performed by psychologist Robert Rosenthal, and occurred in an elementary school classroom with first and second grade students. At the beginning of the year, all the students took an assessment test, and Rosenthal led the teachers to believe that certain students were capable of great academic achievement. Rosenthal chose these students at random, regardless of the actual results of the IQ tests.
At the end of the year, when the students were retested, the group of earmarked high achievers did indeed show improvement over their peers. Why was this? Later tests concluded that teachers subconsciously gave greater opportunities, attention, and feedback to the special group. Their expectations for this group were higher, and their expectations created the reality.
Rosenthal summarized his finding: What one person expects of another can come to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The applications for the Pygmalion Effect can have benefits for both personal development and leadership. Individually, you can challenge yourself with more difficult goals and tasks in an effort to rise to meet the challenge. As a leader, when you expect great things of your team, you may see improved performance in return.
The more choices we have, the less likely we are to be content with our decision
Have you felt buyer’s remorse? If so, you’ve seen the Paradox of Choice in effect.
Even if our ultimate decision is clearly correct, when faced with many choices, we are less likely to be happy with what we choose. No doubt this is familiar to you. When I eat out, I often second-guess my menu choice. When you buy a new car, you might toss and turn over the decision. A wealth of choices makes finding contentment that much harder.
The paradox of choice is one of the most publicized (and criticized) psychological phenomenons. Perhaps the best affirmations of this tyranny of choice are its common sense explanations: Happiness is diminished with the extra effort and stress it takes to weigh multiple options, opportunity cost affects the way we value items, pressure to choose can be draining, and the possibility of blame exists should the decision not turn out how we had hoped.
So here’s a simple solution to the paradox of choice: Give yourself fewer options. Focus on what makes you happy, and do what gives meaning to your life.
The more people who see someone in need, the less likely that person is to receive help
What researchers call a “confusion of responsibility” is the situation where individuals feel less responsibility for the outcome of an event when others are around. In fact, the probability of help is inversely related to the number of people present. If you are to ever need assistance, don’t go looking for it in a crowd.
The Bystander Effect was shown in a study by social psychologists Bibb Latane and John Darley. They watched students respond to the perceived choking of a fellow student in a nearby cubicle. When the test subjects felt they were the only other person there, 85 percent rushed to help. When the student felt there was one other person, 65 percent helped. When the student felt there were four other people, the percentage dropped to 31 percent.
Be specific when you need help. Ask someone for help by name so as to remove the confusion of responsibility. This is especially counterintuitive since we naturally assume saying to a larger group to help us will encourage more people to jump in, when really the opposite is the case. To avoid frustration, pick out 1 person only every time.
Your mistakes are not noticed as much as you think
The perception of our being under constant scrutiny is merely in our minds, and the paranoia and self-doubt that we feel each time we make a mistake does not truly reflect reality. According to the Spotlight Effect, people aren’t paying attention at our moments of failure nearly as much as we think.
To test the Spotlight Effect, a team of psychologists at Cornell asked a group of test subjects to wear an embarrassing T-shirt and estimate how many other people had noticed what they were wearing. The estimations of the test subjects were twice as high as the actual number.
You are under the spotlight less often than you think. Acknowledging this should lead to increased comfortability and relaxation in public settings and more freedom to be yourself. More so, when you do make a mistake, you can rest easy knowing that its impact is far less than you think. Psychologist Kenneth Savitsky puts it this way:
You can’t completely eliminate the embarrassment you feel when you commit a faux pas, but it helps to know how much you’re exaggerating its impact.