Auto Ads by Adsense

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Review: Invisible Influence

Invisible Influence is the a book about social pressure, and how peers and friends influence us. Many of the examples in the book are probably familiar to you, such as the experiment in which actors influence a subject into denying the evidence of his own eyes about the length of a line. Similarly, you might have read about how second born children tend to pick non-academic pursuits compared to their first-born siblings:
Elite women’s soccer players tend not to be firstborn children. Of the twenty-three players on America’s 2015 Women’s World Cup team, for example, seventeen have older siblings. (pg. 64)
What's interesting that I did not know was that the most common opening lines in people of my social class is not at all pervasive in American society:
One of the first questions people from middle- or upper-class contexts ask when they meet someone is “What do you do?” Among the middle and upper classes, one’s job is considered a defining element of who you are. People pick their jobs because it is something they are interested in and passionate about, and they see those choices as expressing them as a person. It’s a signal of their identity. But in working-class contexts, “What do you do?” would likely not be one of the first things you’d ask someone. Or if you did, it might offend people. Because, for many working-class individuals, their occupation is a means to an end rather than a signal of identity. It’s what they do to pay the bills. It’s what they do because they need to provide for their families. (pg. 98)
Even more interestingly, there's a segment about how the names of hurricanes influenced baby names:
When we sifted through all the data, we found that hurricanes influenced how people named their children. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, for example, almost 10 percent more babies were born with names beginning with a K sound (compared to the prior year). After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, names that started with a soft “ah” sound increased 7 percent. That’s thousands of babies getting certain names, just because a big hurricane happened to hit. (pg. 154)
Now these numbers are small (10% means in a class of 20, 2 more kids are named Kevin or Kara than usual), but they're also statistically significant examples of people getting influenced. On an individual level, of course, there's no way for you to know what the influence on you was.

By far the most interesting application of this is the impact on how we do performance evaluations:
Unfortunately, many companies and classrooms use a winner-take-all model. The person who makes the most sales this quarter gets promoted. The top student is named valedictorian and speaks at graduation. While this strategy motivates people who have a chance at the top slot, it often demotivates those who feel they have no shot at winning. Someone who has only half as many sales as the leader may think they are so far back that they just give up. Students that are getting Cs or Ds may feel similarly. Getting an A seems impossible, so why keep trying? ... rather than comparing people to everyone else, some organizations give people feedback that compares them to the person just ahead of them. Opower doesn’t compare people to their best-performing neighbor, they tell people where they are in relation to neighbors with similar homes. Just like basketball teams that were down by a point, making each person feel slightly behind increases effort and performance.(pg. 219)
All in all, the book was worth reading, though the interesting insights like the one above were much less frequent. But it's short, so you can skim through the stuff you already know and only slow down to read the stuff you didn't know. Mildly recommended.

No comments: