Tuesday, 26 April 2011


I was tempted to call this post "manipulation"; but these are things that many people do instinctively, or perhaps simply due to subconsciously copying someone. I seem to be more consciously aware of behaviours and I choose the appropriate behaviour for the situation – this means I will use the best behaviour I know to achieve what I want. In which case, is it really fair to say I am manipulative?

I distinctly remember when I was about 14 I read that people with more animated faces were trusted and liked more. This ties in with the theory I've touched on in emotions1 and emotions2 that a show of emotion is trusted for evolved reasons because it is hard to fake – and an animated face is more emotionally expressive. Any time I have come across other actual scientific studies that I can incorporate into my behaviour I have tried to do so – I will choose the appropriate facial animation, vocal inflections, and general body language to appear open. Body language is a big topic and requires practice to be able to [apparently] naturally pace with the person you are talking to in order to create a rapport. There are some general things even beginners should look to do such as leg crossing direction, showing the palms of hands when making a point, and awareness of personal space.

The way we use language is also incredibly powerful, as evidenced most obviously by hypnosis and the sort of persuasion skill shown by Derren Brown.
You don't have to hypnotise someone to get them to do something, and here are some of the ways to change people's behaviour that have been proven to work and I think are most common or easy to incorporate into your everyday life:
  1. Double binds – create the illusion of giving someone a choice whereas both options you have given elicit the desired behaviour. For example, a mother may say to her child, "would you like to tidy your room before or after your dinner?"
  2. Barnem statements are seemingly specific (personal) but actually apply to nearly everyone, e.g. "you have a creative streak that you aren't always able to indulge in". You can use the same types of statements to create a fast rapport with someone you've just met.
  3. As discussed on another blog recently, calling someone by their desired status elicits behaviour to reinforce it. E.g. referring to someone as 'friend/buddy' will enforce their perception of you as a friend. Calling your boss 'boss/chief' will give them a bit of an ego boost and help them to feel like you are a compliant employee even if the evidence suggests otherwise.
  4. Providing a reason for a request will vastly increase the compliance rate even if the reason is complete rubbish. For example, when trying to push in at a queue for a photocopier with "Excuse me, could I jump the line?" you will be let in approx 24% of the time. Changing it to "Excuse me, could I jump the line because I need to make copies?" increases this to 93%.  Always add "...because xxx" to every request you make.
  5. Don't just request someone do something, get them to declare they will do it.  A restaurant that had a 30% no-show rate for bookings reduced this to 10% by changing from "...let us know if you can't make the booking" to "...you will let us know if you can't make the booking, won't you?" and getting the response "yes".
There are also a few more subtle techniques that aren't purely bodylanguage or verbal. 
One I've been practicing recently was referred to as compensatory ethics by TNP, and is essentially the idea that people have a moral view of themselves that they like to remain balanced. If they do something they aren't particularly proud of then they become much more likely to do a good deed soon after. Looking out for a good time to ask a favour, or creating it by subtly reminding someone of their less than perfect behaviour, will vastly increase your compliance rate.

Asking for a small action that creates the right way of someone viewing themselves will make them then more likely to agree to a much larger request – because they have already thought of themselves as that sort of person. E.g. If you want someone to organise a holiday, then get them to organise a small night out. Soon after suggest to them to organise the holiday – they think of themselves as an organisor and will be much more receptive.

There are many many more little techniques to change people's behaviour/response, but this post is already too long and I don't wanna give away all my secrets! :)

Always be aware of the language and techniques used by other people, religions, and advertisers.  There is always more to learn, and books on body language and neuro-linguistic programming are good places to start.

Thursday, 21 April 2011


Yesterday was 20th April, and in North America the code/time/date of 4:20 is synonymous with cannabis.  I'm in an on-off abusive relationship with the weed; when I have it I abuse it, I have my way with it at any time of the day or night it suits me, and keep having my way until I'm satiated.  It makes me antisocial, though never paranoid, and dulls my thoughts to keep them from running away.  If I go too long without, I'm too aware, my thinking is too non-stop, and I'll not sleep.  I'll be on-the-ball, and I'll get shit done, but I'll be heading to the loony bin.  It's no coincidence that I've been off it for about 4 months and I'm getting a promotion.

Now the promotion is in the bag, I think it's time to celebrate with a joint or two.  I'll buy some in, and start growing - I'll have a short off period before the harvest is ready.  Joints are an art form - at university some friends even asked me to organise a masterclass in rolling the perfect joint.

I've tried more drugs than most could name, but skunk is the one I keep coming back to.  Ecstasy was the only other one I've had a regular affair with; cocaine does fuck all for me - I suspect my serotonin response is ok but my dopamine response is a fucked up.  But perhaps cocaine does nothing for me because I'm already an arrogant asshole ;)

I always stop when it starts affecting my life too much because I recognise that although it is lovely in the short term, it is not conducive to my plans in the long term.  Mental dulling and lack of physical fitness do not sit well with my self image, and so every joint I smoke is made that much sweeter because I know it will end again soon.

When I do quit, insomnia strikes with a vengeance and I have to be very careful that the mental benefits of not being stoned all the time do not outweigh the cost to my sanity of a long period of terrible insomnia.

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma

Critical to fully understanding the evolution of behavioural traits is understanding some basic game theory, such as the iterated prisoner's dilemma.

The basic prisoner's dilemma is as follows: two criminals are taken to the police station and interviewed separately. They went on a crime spree together and there is enough evidence to convict them of some of the minor offences. Imagine you are one of the prisoners and you are given a choice, which you assume your partner in crime has also been given: confess to everything and thereby grass up your partner for the major charges [defect]; or keep your mouth shut [cooperate]. If you talk and your partner doesn't, then you get a reduced sentence of 2 years in prison because of helping to convict your partner; and he gets 10 years. If he talks and you don't then obviously the reverse happens. If you both give a full confession then you both get 8 years, and if neither of you talk you both get 4 years. What do you do?

Now imagine that you and your partner can both live forever, and any time either of you are not in prison you go on another crime spree together and each time you get caught and face the same decision. You know your partner's previous responses, so this will obviously affect whether you cooperate or defect in the latest interview with the police. This situation is the iterated prisoner's dilemma, and occurs (in other forms!) every day in societal life (the social contract).

The various consequences to the options can be formalised into a pay-off matrix, and different weightings given to the possible outcomes. So long as all the options are sensible, for example the benefit to you for defecting when your partner cooperates should always be more than the benefit to you for cooperating when your partner cooperates, then it is possible to make some firm conclusions about the worth of different strategies.

Axelrod created a tournament in which different programs played against each other (200 iterations for one game) and then each program's total score was added up. Some of these programs had very sophisticated algorithms to predict whether the opponent would cooperate or defect, however the overall winner was a program called tit-for-tat which simply started out cooperating and then did whatever the opponent had done the previous move. In the second tournament the winner was called tit-for-2-tats, I don't think I need to explain that one's tactics!

It is important to note that in a population it isn't as simple as there being an optimum strategy that everyone should abide by. One of the founders of modern game theory, John Nash (of “A Beautiful Mind”), showed that strategies of cooperation and defection settle to a balance (the Nash equilibrium) – so long as the frequency of defection is low, then on average the cooperators gain by continuing to cooperate and the small number of defectors can take advantage.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Arguing with People

I like arguing with people.  Sometimes I'll act dumb and use the Socratic method of asking seemingly innocuous questions that tease apart the person's position.  Sometimes I'll be aggressive in pointing out the inconsistency of their position and condescendingly laugh at them as I do it.  Either way can be entertaining and fun; and more to the point of this post - it is usually extremely easy.

99.9% of the opinions of 99.9% of the people are arrived at through instinct not logic.  The person then mentally commits to that opinion and looks for arguments to justify their position.  I have encountered very few well thought out, consistent, opinions.

I cannot emphasise enough the truth of this observation; it seems to simply be how the human mind works.  It takes self knowledge and a willingness to re-evaluate every opinion you hold dear to not fall into the same trap.

So if you want to stop talking out your ass, bring a little logic to your thoughts.  Think about it and then arrive at a conclusion, don't have an opinion and then think about it.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Person You Want To Be

If you could be anyone, who would it be?  If you could realise your potential, and be the best you possible, what do you envisage that looking like?
As I have a lot of self control, I've been able to live my life (the vast majority of time anyway) behaving how I would behave if I were a good person.  There is some satisfaction gained doing that due to it feeding my narcissist side: I can tell myself that I have more self control than other people, and because I choose to behave well when it is not natural for me to do so, I can not only feel noble, but also feel I actually have free-will instead of giving into instincts all the time and am therefore more worthy of life than others.

This has gone on for so long that it has become ingrained in me; it is a social conditioning of behaviour, and it is disconcertingly close to the religious brainwashing that I find so distasteful in other people.  I now find myself in a life that just reeks of dissonance because I will never want to act that way, only want to want to.

Of course I've always had an outlet or two.  I've always kept the physical manifestations of my private thoughts just that - private.  The internet (this blog, and other blogs/forums) has allowed me to be honest with people in a way I never have been before, and that in itself has led to further personal insights and the acceptance that some things about me will never change.  I have also realised that I need to shift the balance in my life more towards what the real me wants, rather than what the person I thought I wanted to be would want.

It isn't that the pull of the dark side is too great, it is simple acceptance that it is and always will be a part of me.

Sunday, 3 April 2011


Not allowed: nail-clippers.
Allowed: to go into the shop after security and buy a large glass bottle of flammable liquid (e.g. vodka) that you could take on the plane and break into a formidable weapon and a fire bomb.

Let's be honest – a lot of the security measures at airports are there either as a PR exercise to make people simply feel safer, or because the security managers wanted to increase their staff numbers, and therefore their own importance.

If someone has a modicum of intelligence and is prepared to die, then there is nothing you can do to stop them killing at least some people.  
Why are airplanes targeted anyway?  It would be a lot easier to get a van with a bomb in it onto a ferry, or just parked in Wall St.  Many people would die, there would be just as much publicity, and you could keep your own life.  If public fear and disruption is the objective then I just don't think taking down an airplane is good value for them; these terrorists have no imagination.  No logic behind their actions either - if you asked one of the terrorists how what they do is going to advance their cause, then I doubt they would demonstrate a well thought-through logical connection between the act and their aims.

Headline news in the UK today is a bomb last night in Northern Ireland; some Republicans killed a Catholic policeman.  While I'm sure they viewed him as some kind of traitor, I doubt they would say it was a simple act of punishment - they would claim it advances their cause somehow... but I highly doubt whoever planted it would have a coherent explanation of how it achieves this.