Social Influence: An Essay (Part 2/2)

So far in part 1 of this essay, we have looked at majority influence of a group on an individual.

However, there are also everyday social influences that occur on an individual level between people.

Most importantly however, these techniques are deliberate forms of social influence, whereas the aforementioned in part 1 were implicit forms.

These everyday influences include: the door in the face technique (e.g. Cialdini et al, 1975), the foot in the door technique (e.g. Dickerson et al 1992), and lowballing (e.g. Cialdini, 1974).

Door-in-the-face

When we consider the door-in-the-face technique, Cialdini et al (1975) illustrated its social influence qualities.

In this experiment, the researchers approached university students with a huge request of whether they would like to chaperone a group of juvenile delinquents to a zoo.

83% denied the offer. However, when the students were asked if they would like to sign up as counselors for minimum of 2 years – no one agreed.

When presented with the follow up ‘zoo offer’, 50% agreed.

This is an example of offering a huge request that will inevitably be declined but will lead to an acceptance of a much smaller request.

Foot-in-the-door

Another form of deliberate social influence is the foot-in-the-door technique, which requires individuals to express a small initial commitment that would influence them to partake in a larger commitment.

Dickerson et al. (1992) showed the effects of this influence in their experiment. In this study, the aim was to investigate if students could be influenced to conserve water in dormitory showers.

The researchers used this technique by approaching students on campus in a US university to sign a poster on conserving water. Those that did, were asked to be surveyed (a survey which was designed to make them think deeply about their water usage).

Then, there shower times were monitored. It was found that those that had committed to both poster signing and survey had shorter showers by 3.5 minutes across all over students.

This study shows how a small request can lead to a larger commitment and is an effective form of deliberate social influence.

Lowballing

A final influence technique is that of lowballing.

Cialdini (1974) demonstrated this technique in a university setting where he asked first year psychology students to volunteer for a study on cognitive and that it would commence at 7am.

24% agreeds to this. In another group, the same proposition was made, but the time wasn’t given. 56% agreed.

However, when the time was then presented to them (that the experiment is at 7am) and were told they could still back out – 95% of the students still appeared for that experiment.

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to my email list.

 

Advertisements

Social Influence: An Essay (Part 1/2)

In this essay, the definition of social influence will be looked at along with the forms of such influence (incidental and deliberate). Focus will be placed on why people conform (e.g. Deutsch and Gerard, 1955).

Everyday examples of deliberate social influence will be presented in the form of compliance techniques namely the door in the face (e.g. Cialdini et al 1975), foot-in-the-door (e.g. Dickerson et al 1992), and low-balling (Cialdini, 1974).

Then, the various social influences dictated by particular group dynamics will be discussed.

These types of group dynamics can be divided into scenarios where individual psychology is influenced by the group (e.g. majority influences) and scenarios where groups are influenced by individual psychology (e.g. minority influences.)

In the latter case, we can further categorise the influences into group identification (either by cooperation or competition, Tajfel, 1970, or even prejudice, Macrae, 1994)) and majority influence such as conformity (e.g. Sherif, 1936; Asch, 1951) and obedience.

What is social influence?

Social influence pertains to the change of beliefs, attitudes, and values of a person being influenced. This influence is either deliberate (i.e. explicit feedback regarding how to behave) or incidental (i.e. implicit).

The latter type of influence can occur as a function of social norms. Social norms provide insight into why we conform, for example.

These norms inform others of the shared expectations of what a particular group believes desirable behavior is and it is these norms.

Social norms – two types of influence relating to norms

According to Deutsch and Gerard (1955), there are two types of influence relating to the social norms. These norms either serve an informational or normative purpose.

Informational influence is to reduce uncertainty, which leads us to accept information from others as evidence of reality (e.g. Sherif, 1936). Human beings have a desire for a definite answer, which is opposed to ambiguity and confusion.

They strive for cognitive closure (Kruglanski and Webster, 1996) which is characterized by urgency (e.g. attaining cognitive closure as quickly as possible) and permanency (this closure is maintained long-term).

Normative influence reflects the inherent need for social approval. Conformity occurs in order to build strong social relationships with group members.

Transmission of norms

Sherif (1936) conducted an experiment using the autokinetic effect to investigate the effect of conformity to a perceived group norm.

The autokinetic effect is an optical illusion where a fixed pinpoint of light in a completely dark room appears to move due to the eye movements of participants.

In this experiment, participants watched the light alone and estimated verbally how much this light appeared to move. After a number of trials, the participants had developed their own frame of reference with which they adhere to in their estimations.

Later, the experiment continued in groups of 3-4 where participants took turns in estimating how much the point of light moved. They used each other’s frame of reference, with all estimates being roughly the same.

A group norm had formed to which participants had conformed to once it was established.

Interestingly, when the participants were asked to repeat the task alone it was found that social influence of conformity still compelled the participants to based their estimations of the previously established group norm.

Hence, Sherif’s experiment shows how conformity can occur as a function of informational influence (Deutsch and Gerard, 1955) whereby people use the information of others as evidence of reality.

This is done in order to reduce uncertainty as we as humans strive for cognitive closure (Kruglanski and Webster, 1996).

This is due to uncertainty causing discomfort and confusion and humans will strive to reduce this uncertainty by achieving cognitive closure urgently (i.e. as quickly as possible) and permanently (i.e. for extended periods of time).

Conformity as majority influence on a minority in an ambiguous situation

What is the other reason that people conform?

Deutsch and Gerard (1955) suggest that normative influence (i.e. inherent need for social approval) is another reason. This influence compels us to conform due to an inherent need for social approval and group affiliation.

Conformity occurs as a function of building strong social relationships.

Asch (1951) conducted an experiment where majority influence was a factor in inducing normative influence in the form of conformity among individual participants.

In this experiment, 8 participants were gathered to enter a room, of which 7 were confederates. All participants were presented with two white cards.

On one there were three lines differing in length (a, b, and, c) and on the other there was one line which had to be compared with the lines on the card.

Out of 18 trials in the experiment, the confederates were asked to unanimously make a decision in 12 trials.

Over the critical trials, it was found that 75% of individuals agreed at least once and 32% conformed half of the times. This experiment showed the effect of majority influence over a minority.

Majority influence:
group affiliation and cooperation

However, studies have found that social influence occurs due to mere group affiliation and cooperation.

Tajfel (1970) conducted an experiment in which a group of boys that had previously known each other took part in a series of tasks.

The experiment required them to come into the lab and take part on an experiment on visual perception. One of the tasks required them to estimate how many dots there were on a computer screen.

Then, the participants were divided into groups depending on the performance in the visual task. They were segregated into two groups: under- and over-estimators.

Later, the boys assigned real money rewards to the participants with only knowing their group allocation (there was no real name, just a code).

Even though the group allocation was entirely arbitrary, the boys showed inter-group discrimination and in-group favouritism in their rewards.

That is, they gave less and gave more to out-group and in-group participants, respectively.

Majority influence: prejudice

The aforementioned experiment by Tajfel (1970) touches upon an important issue in everyday life and a majority social influence that occupies a curious position in the literature on social influence, namely prejudice.

Prejudice has been exhibited towards the outgroup in Tajfel’s study.

Macrae (1994) conducted a study on prejudice towards out-group as social influence.

In this experiment, participants were presented with an essay task to write about skinheads (this term was chosen for its political incorrectness).

Group 1 was asked to suppress their prejudices whereas group 2 was given no such instructions.

It was found that group 1 expressed fewer prejudicial views in their essays than group 2.

This showed that there was an obedience effect that had caused their suppression.

Interestingly, when the participants were asked to repeat the essay (without instruction), group 1 had experienced a rebound effect and had become significantly more prejudiced.

This study showed that it can be difficult to suppress a prejudicial idea and the attempt may lead to more prejudice.

Stay tuned for part 2 of 2…

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to my email list.

 

Ideas on How to Get Students to Return Overdue Library Books

When you borrow a ‘7-day loan’ book from the university library and fail to return it before the 7 days are up, you are forced to pay a fine of 50 pence for every day that the book is overdue.

The crux of the issue is exactly what we’ve been talking about a second ago.

If someone wanted to keep a book for longer that 7 days, all he had to do was pay a small, petty fine of 50p a day and v’oila! he bought himself some extra time.

And just like that, gone are the times of experiencing guilt for holding on to an eagerly sought out book at the expense of someone else’s intellectual enterprise and education.

The whole thing is ruled by market norms now.

50p isn’t much of a fine

But the thing with paying just 50p is misleading and takes advantage of an inherent psychological tendency that we all have.

This is how libraries earn their money for “new books”.

This natural tendency is called delay discounting which is the process of devaluing future outcomes. You can read more about that here.

Essentially, paying 50p a day is chickenfeed to most people.

But 50p on day 1 turns into £1 into £1.50 and so on…

Hold on to a book for 10 days and you have to pay £5. Then you’re thinking – where’d that fine come from?!

Funnily enough, £5 turns out to be 1/8 of the price of a new copy of that very book you’ve been nursing for ages.

We don’t care about other people, only about ourselves

Let’s face it, we’re egocentric and tend to be selfish.

On the other hand though, we’re not purely motivated by self-interest.

Behavioural research shows that we do exhibit other-regarding preferences in that we factor in other people’s interests in our decision-making.

But these preferences aren’t at the forefront of our value hierarchy.

Sad but true.

BUT!

There is a solution.

A solution that would make people focus on the needs of others…

And it’s been around for millenia.

That solution is to instil feelings of guilt.

People are egocentric and look for their benefit but guilt has always been able to inspire at least a modicum of regard in those who have strayed off the path of righteousness (getting carried away here but you get the point.)

So if libraries want to help a student out, it has to be better at instilling guilt in students that are taking the mick.

How?

 How to instil guilt back

Social norms

Norms are important because they’re unspoken promises we make to people in our immediate social circle.

In the good ol’ days, if someone was a deviant in the social circle, he’d be banished or killed.

So to make the student feel compelled to bring the book back (bring the bloody book back, Russell!), we need to make him realise he’s a deviant in accordance to the unspoken laws/norms that govern every student.

Sure, sure, he probably knows this already, but we need that thought to be in the forefront of his consciousness.

So send him an email which reads something along the lines of:

99% of people give the books back on time – would you like it if someone did that to you?

This informs the person of the norm (i.e. how the majority acts = norm) and plays on their emotions a bit…

This ties in with the second point:

Empathy

A big theme here is to introduce empathetic imagination by putting them in the shoes of the people that are worse of for someone not bringing an overdue library book back (damnit, Russell!)

Another example that would play on empathy would be:

Please return the book as overdue books disadvantage students in their revision.

What would be even better would be to put that sentence in red.

Red attract attention and assigns urgency.

By the same token though, a lot of students don’t check these library emails and give in to the ostrich effect. Basically, they hide their head in the sand and avoid the issue (don’t you dare, Russell…)

But if you include in the email that “you could save X amount of money for returning the book on time” in the subject line, you might just get them to open the email after all.

Higher fees

Students taking the mick oftentimes don’t mind paying 50 pence a day for an overdue book.

Let’s face it – it’s a small price to pay for being daft.

So what about compounding the fines over time?

On day 1, the fine is 50p but on day 2 the fine increases to £1 etc.

Another thought: what about exorbitant fees?

Nobody wants to pay super high fees for a measly, chewed-up, dog-earred, nineth-hand book, right?

But this could have some unintentional effects, like encouraging malpractice where the students with the overdue books wouldn’t even bother paying the fines, returning the books, and would just vanish from the face of the Earth.

 

Making them experience the negative experience of holding overdue books

What about giving deceiving them into thinking that the book was overdue so that they experience the negative affect and feel like a criminal before telling them that you were joking but also add “but seriously – don’t forget to bring the book back on time yeah.”

Obviously this would raise “ethical questions” due to the deception used (still a thought, though…)

Make paying off fines a unpleasant experience

When paying off their library fines, sometimes people with overdue books rationalise that “well at least I’m helping the library with my money.”

It’s this rationalisation that doesn’t deter them from similar transgressions in the future.

So how would one go about making sure this rationalisation isn’t conjured up?

What about setting fire or shredding the money they use to pay for their fines?

Parting with hard, cold cash can be difficult, especially if you’re paying off library fees.

What if a student paying off his fines were to insert a note into a machine only to receive a fake shredded note in response?

They wouldn’t be able to rationalise that the money was going to a good cause (i.e. library) but rather was wasted because of someone’s laziness…

You could argue this puts a lot of undue stress on the student who is paying the fine. But once he’s parted with the money – what difference does it make what happens to the money?

After all – he’s parted with it and it’s no longer his.

But the downside is that no actual money is exchanged (i.e. it is taken off your student card).

I guess cash is slowly becoming archaic (not to mention unsanitary.)

Plus, now you’ve got machines where you can return your books back, so you aren’t able to experience any walk of shame as you would if you had to return the overdue books to a member of the library staff.

Trying to compromise and be on their side

Okay, the past two ideas were a bit “out there” so how about something that would be more ethically sound?

Like trying to be on their side and offer them an easy way out.

In the email remind him of the overdue book, you could write something like this in it:

“You can quietly come to school to give it back, no one will know…”

P.S. Thanks for reading and feel free to subscribe to my email list.

***

Thank you to S. Reimers for brainstorming these ideas with me. Obviously some were more on the jokey side while other more legitimate but overall it was a fun intellectual exercise I fondly look back on.

 

The Two Worlds We Live In

 

In his seminal book “Predictably Irrational”, behavioural economist Dan Ariely describes how we live in two worlds: one is governed by social exchanges and the other is characterised by market exchanges.

He emphasises that different rules apply to each of these two very different worlds.

For instance, imagine that your friend invites you to a party and you end up having so much fun that you decide to pay your friend for all the expenses it took to organise the thing.

How do you think your friend would react?

Such good deeds don’t come at a price.

The very act of offering to pay for them (i.e. placing a price tag on them) transitions the relationship with your friend from a social exchange to one governed by market norms.

In other words, by proposing such a thing, you’ve introduced market norms into a social exchange.

You’ve changed the dynamic of the social relationship and most likely even hurt it by negating the very foundation it was built upon in the first place i.e. intangible qualities such as trust, loyalty, kindness.

Social contract vs. market exchange

In his book, Ariely mentions an experiment conducted by researchers Uri Gneezy and Aldo Rustichini where the long term effects of introducing market norms into a social relationship could be recognised.

The researchers studied a daycare centre in Israel where they imposed fines for parents who were late in picking up their children.

From a behaviourist standpoint, it makes sense: if you want to reduce the frequency of a behaviour, you have to impose some sort of punishment to do so.

After all, world-renowned behaviourist B.F Skinner would reduce a rat’s button-pressing behaviour by simply shocking it. This is called negative reinforcement and it reduces the frequency of an undesirable behaviour.

However, upon introducing these fines, the situation hadn’t got better. Parents continued to be late in picking up their children. In fact, they were even more late than ever before.

How could this be?

Well, before the fine was introduced, the relationship between the caretaker at the daycare centre and the parents of the children operated within a world based on social exchanges.

Whenever the parents were late, their sense of guilt was so great that it increased their compliance to avoid being late.

But now that the fines were introduced, the dynamic of the social relationship had changed. The parents began to interpret the social exchange in terms of market norms.

They could now choose to be either a) early and not pay, or b) late and pay, say £2. They could literally buy themselves some time by paying the fine, absolving themselves of any guilt in the process, living in the conviction that it’s okay to be late as long as you pay up.

The relationship had moved from an implicit social contract to one dictated by market norms.

No going back

What happened when the fines were removed? Did the relationship between caretaker and parent return to one that was based on a social norms?

Here’s what Dan says about that:

“The most interesting part occurred a few weeks later, when the day care center removed the fine. Now the center was back to the social norm.

Would the parents also return to the social norm? Would their guilt return as well? Not at all. Once the fine was removed, the behavior of the parents didn’t change.

They continued to pick up their kids late. In fact, when the fine was removed, there was a slight increase in the number of tardy pickups (after all, both the social norms and the fine had been removed).”

This experiment illustrates an unfortunate fact: when a social norm collides with a market norm, the social norm goes away for a long time. In other words, social relationships are not easy to reestablish.

Once the bloom is off the rose — once a social norm is trumped by a market norm — it will rarely return.”

4 Practical Ways to Recover from Work (Backed by Science) – Part 2 of 2

This is the second part of a series full of practical tips on how to properly recover from work (you can read part 1 here).

Let’s dive right in shall we.

5. Take frequent breaks rather than save them up

If you need a break – take a break.

If you want to maintain high levels of productivity at work then you have to take regular breaks.

If you need a holiday – go on a holiday.

When you work for long stretches of time without taking a holiday, it can be exhausting and such an approach will only hurt you in the long-run.

You risk over-depletion.

Through over-depletion, you end up digging into your compensatory resources.

So when you take your holidays too late, it is likely you will face a more prolonged and difficult recovery process.

In fact, a lot of your holiday will probably be centred around bringing yourself (and your personal resources) back to baseline rather than expending energy to do new things or travel.

After all, if you’re in an over-depleted state – you don’t have much energy at your disposal.

Take regular holidays because if you deplete yourself, it will be difficult to recover from that and bring yourself back to baseline.

6. Don’t check work email during off-job time

If you get work email over the weekend and decide to check it, you are activating work-related systems during your leisure time.

Not only are you robbing yourself of 100% unadulterated leisure time, you’re actually doing yourself a tremendous disservice to your overall well-being in the long run.

What this means is that you are not recovering from work properly and that you are risking burnout in the long term.

Studies have shown that better psychological detachment in employee leisure time predicts better performance in the long-term.

In fact, employees who don’t respond to emails on weekend tend to perform better at work in the long run.

Easiest way to help your cause?

Don’t have email on your phone.

7. If you’re a workaholic, focus on exercising into your recovery time

You can read more about that here.

8. Get rid of hassles – Cut toxic people out of your life

Fritz et al. 2010 paper prerequisite

But you know how stress hormones are summoned by your body to tackle job-related assignments in the workplace?

Well, emotionally taxing people will draw on the same stress-related functional systems in your leisure time and will burn you out.

In his book Gorilla Mindset, Mike Cernovich emphasises that you cut out the negative people and spiritual vampires from your life because, otherwise, “you are fighting off stress, anxiety, and worry rather than pushing forward toward what you want to achieve.”

Toxic and emotionally draining people also affect your overall productivity, as filmmaker, artist, and found of the Webby awards, Tiffany Shlain posits in Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind:

“You’re letting those people into your brain and they’re going to influence your thoughts. I find that I even dream about some of the people I follow [on social media]. We need to be really mindful of who we let into our stream of consciousness.”

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more psychological insights into everyday life.

4 Practical Ways to Recover from Work (Backed by Science) – Part 1 of 2

You have to be able to reset properly on a daily basis.

Otherwise you’ll turn up to work the next time running on fumes.

Works takes away a lot from you; it drains your resources (e.g. energy, mood etc.)

You need to replenish and be able to build up those resources through the right types of activities so that you’ve properly recovered during your free time.

It’s important, not just because recovering from work properly translates into better productivity (at work and at home), but also translates into better psychological health and overall well-being

As recovery becomes increasingly elusive, some become so depleted that they suffer from burnout.

This is the first of a two part series full of practical tips on how to properly recover from work during your free time.

1. Identify activities that replenish your resources

According to Sonnentag (2001), general resource-replenishing activities include:

– Social activities (e.g. meeting up with friends),
– Low-effort activities (e.g. watching TV),
– Physical exercise.

Resource-replenishing activities are called recovery experiences.

Physical exercise is great because it has huge stress-management potential and changes the chemistry of your body, not to mention other help benefits that are worth bearing in mind.

Social activities are great too, although there are notable exceptions when socialising fails.

Resource-replenishing activities can include those that require different sensory activation.

So if you’ve been reading all day at work, try cooking as part of your recovery from the workplace.

If you’ve been staring at a monitor all day, smelling and tasting some good food will surely restore you.

2. Remember what makes a great recovery experience

The best resource-replenishing recovery experiences are those that incorporate the following:

  • Psychological detachment from work 

This means “switching off” and completely forgetting about work during leisure time.

It’s not enough to physically distance yourself from work.

You need to mentally distance yourself in equal measure and think about something else entirely – other than work. 

You can read all about psychological detachment here.

  • Mastery

Mastery can be gained from seeking out and experiencing intellectual or physical challenges; doing something that will broaden your horizons.

This is where low-effort activities fall short. 

There’s no mastery in low-effort activities.

There’s no greater meaning to them, no greater sense of progress or accomplishment.

For me, I gain a sense of mastery from writing this blog, discovering the secrets of human psychology by reading books, or cooking, to name a few examples.

But I also experience mastery in my swimming and cycling, striving to improve every time I hit the pool or hop on the bike.

  • Control

A sense of control (or autonomy) in whatever it is that we do is a fundamental human need. 

We experience a lot of autonomy from deciding our schedule in the sense that we get to choose how we spend our time.

Filling out your taxes after work may theoretically be classified as recovery, but it’s not necessarily something you’d like to be spending your leisure time doing.

In fact, quite often is the case that people procrastinate on filling out their taxes to such an extent that little choice is involved in actually choosing to do this particular activity.

It is a fundamental need to have a choice in what we want to voluntarily spend our leisure time on, a sense of autonomy in choosing what activity we want to participate in.

  • Relaxation

Your activity needs to relax you.

It needs to help you kick back and chill.

Whether this is hitting the pool, reading, or chilling with friends while listening to some tunes, it’s all good if it’s relaxing.

3. Try to avoid low-effort activities if you’re stressed

Low-effort activities aren’t always great for recovery.

If physical activity is the healthy, nutritious meal of all recovery experiences, then you could say that low-effort activities can sometimes be thought of as the junk food of them all.

You might feel you’re recovering while chilling on the sofa, but if you’re still thinking about work or are worrying about a job-related task while doing so – you’re not recovering from the workplace properly.

In such a scenario, you’re still activating the same job-related functional systems and you’re still experiencing prolonged activation – it’s as if you’ve never left the office.

Low-effort activities can backfire on your recovery this way.

Be done with work the moment you are done with it.

Be done when you’re done.

4. Learn to disentangle from worry

Worry is a future-focused emotion.

You think of an uncertain event in the future and imagine the anxiety stemming from an outcome that hasn’t materialised and doesn’t simply exist.

By worrying about a future event, you are not living in the present moment.

Don’t let worry poison your leisure time.

Instead, learn to relate to it differently.

One effective way to do that would be to practice mindfulness so that the worry has less of an impact on you, both emotionally and behaviourally).

“It [mindfulness] is awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of the experience moment-by-moment”

– Jon Kabat-Zinn (2003)

The mindfulness approach encourages people to accept their difficult thoughts and feelings rather than working against them.

“Anxiety is an emotion. It is an emotion that disempowers you and accomplishes nothing. So when you learn how to get into the moment and how to engage in active meditation, you no longer feel anxiety and you get into a state of flow.”

-Mike Cernovich, author of Gorilla Mindset and the popular blog Danger and Play

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, be sure to check out part 2 of this series. Feel free to sign up to the whatmybrosaid email list for more posts like this.

Lead and Be Strong In Your Decision-making

Being strong and firm in your choices and decisions is a valuable skill to master.

It is a skill because in a world that is abundant with options, it can be really difficult to a) choose in the first place, b) be confident that the choice you made is the right one, and c) stick with your decision once you’ve made it and not “flake” on it.

Perhaps more importantly, an opportunity cost of deciding is time and there’s always another option where you could spend it better, spend it elsewhere, or simply to save it.

Because time is indeed a precious resource.

You have probably noticed how the importance of time trickles into and manifests itself in everyday language.

You spend time with people.

You try to find time.

People who would like some of your time ask politely whether you have a moment to spare?

There is no time like the present, so why waste it on trying to decide?

As Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice puts it:

“Time spent dealing with a choice is time taken away from being a good friend, a good spouse, a good parent, and a good congregant.”

You also expend precious mental resources when trying to decide.

In my earlier posts on willpower, you will realise that using up your willpower and decision-making capabilities on one decision means you will have less to use for the other decision.

That’s why Barry urges us to:

“learn to be selective in exercising our choices. We must decide, individually when choice really matters and focus our energies there, even if it means letting many other opportunities pass us by. The choice of when to be a chooser may be the most important choice we have to make.”

And it’s not just trying to make a decision that uses up your willpower, merely thinking about making the decision will have the same effect.

The problem of abundant choice in the world rears its ugly head in the most inconspicuous of situations.

Like on a night out.

In his book Behavioral Economics Saved My Dog, behavioural economist Dan Ariely tackles this topic and comes up with a decent solution.

“When someone asks what do you want to do tonight?, what they are implicitly saying is: What is the most exciting thing we can do tonight, given all the options and all the people involved?

The problem is that figuring out the absolute best solution (the optimal solution) is very difficult.

First, we need to bring to mind all the possible alternatives; next we need to work out our preferences and the preferences of all the people in the group.

Then we have to find the one activity that will maximise this set of constraints and preferences.”

Okay so once you’ve gone through these motions – what’s next?

Ariely suggests:

“To overcome this problem, I would set a rule that limits the amount of time you are allowed to spend searching for a solution, and I would choose a default activity in case you fail to come up with a better option.

For example, take an acceptable good activity (going to drink at X, playing football at Y) and announce to your friends that, unless someone else comes up with a better alternative, in ten minutes you are all heading out to X or Y.

I would also set up a timer on your phone to make it clear that you mean business and to make sure that the time limit is honoured.

Once the buzzer sounds, just start heading out to X or Y, asking everyone to come with you and tell the people who do not join you immediately that you will meet them there. 

After repeating this tactic a few times, your friends will get used to it and you should experience an end to this wasteful habit.”

What you can do

It’s tough making decisions.

But sometimes, among all the options that you’re considering, it doesn’t necessarily matter what you choose.

Dan Ariely explains why:

“The larger point is that once we have spent a substantial amount of time on a decision, and we still can’t work out which option is the best, it must mean that the overall value of the competing options is more or less the same. It is not that the options are identical, but that the difference in their overall quality is hard to distinguish.” 

So if – on a night out for example – you’re having trouble deciding between option A, B, and C which are identical in value then save yourself the trouble and just choose any option.

You’d be surprised to notice that once you’ve confidently made the decision to go to place A and lead the group, that option somehow becomes more valuable because it’s moved the interaction forward.

And your unwavering confidence in your decision and you’re enthusiasm about your choice rubs off on your group of friends.

And more often than not, the choice you made turns out to be the right one.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my email list.