Sticky ideas

In a study, participants were asked to add hot sauce to a chili someone on the other side of a one way mirror would have to eat.  The other person couldn’t see the participant and would never know who they were.  The participant could choose between three hot sauces, each one with a more painful sounding name than the last, and could add as much or as little as they wanted.  The participants didn’t know that the person eating the chili was actually an actor.  The study was ran three times with different groups of participants.  In the first group, the participants had no prior interaction with the chili eater.  Generally speaking, these participants added only the mildest hot sauce and only a small amount at that.  In the second group, the chili eater was in the waiting room with the participants and was intentionally rude.  Not surprisingly, these participants used the much hotter sauce and a lot more of it.  In the third group, the chili eater was similarly rude in the waiting room but after the participant was called in to participate, the researcher was very kind; complemented the participants, smiled, offered them water or something to make them more comfortable.  Even though the researcher had nothing to do with the rude chili eater, this group of participants also used a small amount of the milder hot sauce.

In a separate study, participants were asked to rate whether words they were shown on a screen were positive or negative.  The researchers could influence how many participants rated fairly neutral words as positive or negative by flashing a positive or negative word just prior to the word the participants were selecting.  That is more participants would rate a word like “chair” negatively if the researchers flashed the word “hate” just prior to showing the word “chair.”  Those positive or negative influencer words could be flashed so quickly that the participant wasn’t consciously aware of the words.  That is the participant didn’t know the word “hate” was shown to them but their subconscious was aware of it and it affected how the participant perceived the next word.

In a final study I want to talk about today, participants were given a number of sets of five words and were asked to use four of them in a sentence.  They were told that when they were finished they should go get the researcher.  The researcher was in a conversation with a person the participants didn’t know and didn’t stop to encourage the participants to interrupt.  Some participants were given sets of words that had words that were more passive and stressed understanding.  Some participants were given sets of words that were more aggressive and stressed getting things done.  The passive set of participants waited ten minutes longer to interrupt the researcher than the aggressive set of participants.  Simply by making sentences that stressed aggression, the participants became more aggressive.

So why are we talking about these studies?  These studies show that thoughts and feelings have a certain amount of stickiness.  A good or negative feeling from a prior but unrelated situation will affect how we react to the next situation.  Basically, a good mood leads to good reactions.  A bad mood leads to negative reactions.

How can we use this understanding to enrich our own life and the lives of those around us?

1.) Positive prep – before you enter a situation be sure to create a positive mindset for yourself.  Whether you are meeting with your boss, your client or your mother-in-law, do something positive just prior to your meeting.  Play uplifting music, listen to a comedian, talk to your perpetually “up” friend, read appropriate quotes out loud.  Craft your prep to the person you want to be in the upcoming situation.  Going into a sales meeting?  Combine positive and uplifting prep with something respectfully aggressive.  Going to a family reunion?  Combine positive with easy going.

2.) Setting the tone – Most situations involve other people.  So when you first enter that situation be sure to set the positive tone by smiling and making small talk.  Get the people you are interacting with in the proper mood by treating them appropriately.  Negotiators have found that a few minutes of small talk can have a significant positive outcome in the final negotiations.

3.) Pay it forward – Help your friends and family have positive reactions by being a positive and appropriate influence, especially as you say goodbye.  The last words you say to teens before they go out at night shouldn’t be, “You better be good,” with a stern look.  (Tell them that earlier).  When they head out, tell them you love them with a smile and a hug.

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