The old good cop, good cop routine!

October 1, 2013

Picture the scene: a bare interview room with a nasty cheap table and a few chairs, a flickering strip light illuminating a cocky villain, two cops firing questions. Time to cough!

Despite the movies it seems this may not be the best way to get a confession. Recent research has shown that a supportive (smiling, nodding, cup of tea, biscuit?) interrogator has a positive effect on interviewing. Interestingly truth tellers provide more detail than liars, but only with a supportive interviewer. It seems that by creating a calm and reassuring environment the second interviewer helps the honest interviewee to tell their (true) story in greater detail; but that this makes the lack of genuine detail available to the villain stand out more…

Original article: Samantha Mann, Aldert Vrij, Dominic J. Shaw, Sharon Leal, Sarah Ewens, Jackie Hillman, Par Anders Granhag, Ronald P. Fisher (2013). Two heads are better than one? How to effectively use two interviewers to elicit cues to deception. Legal and Criminological Psychology DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8333.2012.02055.x

BPS blog on same research:

Science of Persuasion (or how to get someone to do what you want them to do…)

December 7, 2012

Great animated video on the science (six universal principles) of persuasion, based on the research of Dr. Robert Cialdini, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing, Arizona State University.


The eyes have it (or do they?)

September 6, 2012

If you read the Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) literature it often points towards the ‘fact’ that certain sorts of eye movement are associated with lying. For example, that looking up to the right suggests a lie, whereas looking up to the left is associated with telling the truth. Surprisingly little research has been conducted to test whether this is the case… Well, now it has, and the conclusion is that eye movements are not related to lying.  Which makes sense, especially if you know anything about neuroscience. It’s also in line with other research that suggests that facial cues, in general, are poor indicators of lying. Yep, it really is just an itchy nose or a ticklish ear.

More info:

Website psychology

December 13, 2010

A fascinating and emerging area of psychology is in website design. I find this sort of thing really interesting as in many ways the web is where a significant amount of human ‘behaviour’ now takes place – and if you’ve got kids, probably most of their behaviour! As a starter have a look at this presentation from Pamela Rutledge:

Neuro-linguistic Programming

December 4, 2010

I was waiting at a railway station recently and wandered into the bookshop. What struck me when I got to the ‘management’ section was the number of books on Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP). NLP is an interesting (and highly successful) phenomenon that brings together elements of linguistics, behaviour modification, hypnosis and many other things besides. Popularised by Richard Bandler and John Grinder it seems to offer a quick and powerful way of understanding the link between the unconscious mind, language and behaviour; and to provide a channel for breaking out of learned patterns and of modelling successful behaviour, so increasing personal effectiveness. And make no mistake it is now big business, and is widely used not only for personal development, but extensively in management training, coaching and sales.

Despite its undoubted popularity it remains a controversial set of techniques, in particular when it’s used in a sales context. To take an example: consider what happens when you ask a person to do something and they respond by saying: ‘I can’t make that decision now.’ Obviously they are being resistant, but why?

NLP suggests that you try to spot which bit of the response is given the most emphasis, so if it’s on ‘now’, the problem is with the timing; on ‘that’, the issue is with what the person is being asked to do; on ‘make’, that they may not have the capability to make the decision; on ‘can’t’, that they don’t believe they can do it; and finally, on ‘I’, that it’s something ‘I’ cannot do. This is all fine and dandy and if it was proven to work it would be a really fantastic sales technique, as it would allow you to zero in on the real block to action. However the issue that bedevils NLP is that there is no empirical evidence that supports its effectiveness. Yes, there’s lots of anecdotal stuff but the hard science is missing. This also goes for the other bit of NLP that most people remember: the link between the movement of the eyes and the part of the brain that is being accessed. For example, eyes down and to the right, a person is being asked something about their feelings.

So what? Well, I cannot say for certain that all of the techniques that comprise NLP do not work. There may well be useful bits. However it has been enormously over sold, in particular on the back of its apparently science-based credentials – which it does not have. More to the point it doesn’t feature in mainstream psychology texts and is not taught on psychology degree courses. So perhaps in the words of Douglas Adams: ‘If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family Anatidae on our hands.’ The bottom line is that it doesn’t hold up as a coherent approach, and almost certainly is just too good to be true.

Note: There’s much on the Internet both for and against NLP. However if you’re interested in a more scientific view of the area, try Martin Heap’s website.

Business psychology and decision making – Part 26

July 2, 2010

RFThere aren’t really 26 parts but business psychology is concerned with decision making, wherever it occurs. One interesting area is in the sort of behaviour that drives the stock market. For example, there are a number of principles that go some way to explain why investment decisions do not always appear to be rational. Take ‘Prospect Theory’, this suggests that people behave differently, in similar situations, depending on whether something is presented as a loss or a gain. Typically more upset is caused by the prospect of a loss than the happiness of an equivalent gain. We just seem to be wired up to give more emotional weight to losses. In practice this means that people will take greater risks to avoid a loss, than pocket (even a sure-fire) gain. This is a useful nugget of information if you’re trying to persuade someone to buy something, or attempting to fathom decision making in high risk situations. Likewise we’re all in the regret business, in as much as we avoid reversing a bad decision because of the personal regret and embarrassment it may cause, and that’s when we’re not busily trying to follow the herd… hmm, perhaps I will write Part 27 afterall.

Tickled your fancy? See how much you know about investor psychology by visiting:

Sell yourself short

June 30, 2010

If you’re putting together a new CV, or wondering how to market yourself on the web, read this:

Help! My mind’s in default mode

June 22, 2010

It seems that your brain’s ‘factory setting’ is that of believing  what you see, hear, touch, feel etc. This means that believing is not a two-stage process, that of taking in some information and then deciding whether to believe it or not (armchair philosopher’s will recognise this as the position of Descartes), but more or less a single act (like that proposed by the other big name philosopher of the 17th Century, Spinoza). Understanding and believing are the same thing.  So what? Well what this means is that a fraction of a second after, for example, reading something, you believe it until something or someone tries to change your mind. And perhaps this helps to explain a whole raft of behaviours such as people assuming that others are telling the truth, even when they are lying; or that when someone is distracted it increases the persuasiveness of an argument. It seems that it really is: ‘believe first, ask questions later’. This has all sorts of implications for how we get people to do things and maybe even free speech.

Need some more convincing! Read: Gilbert, D.T., Tafarodi, R.W. and Malone, P.S. (1993). You Can’t Not Believe Everything You Read. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(2), pp. 221-33.

The theory of relativity

April 22, 2010

Money has an absolute value but it’s funny stuff. Why am I happy to spend £250 on a jacket I will wear only occasionally, but I would never spend that much on a pair of jeans I might wear continuously? And why can I spend £80 on a meal out, but need to think twice about a book costing half as much? Not very rational is it. Having bothered myself with these questions I can now report that the reason is the brain is not very good at dealing with comparisons across categories. We prefer to work in a relative way. Even jacket versus jeans is quite hard because in my mind this is a choice between work and leisure. As for the meal or the book, far too difficult to compare the relative merits. I just go for the one that has the most value to me. Seems we actively avoid making comparisons between things that are too dissimilar, but when we do it isn’t a truly rational choice. Which means we may act out of character, or rather more worryingly, be open to a good sales pitch – more of this in Dan Ariely’s new book, Predictably Irrational.

Beware of the supersuaders

March 29, 2010

I’m a fan of Scientific American Mind and in the latest edition (March 2010) there’s a great piece on the science of persuasion. Check out The Power to Persuade by Kevin Dutton. Apparently it has got a lot to do with humour. For instance, the best jokes are those that catch you unawares, that cause your brain to do a quick double-take, and this leaves you open to suggestion. And as for empathy, well… perhaps you should read the article.


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