If I ask you, “Are you unhappy?” what kind of thoughts have I triggered in your mind?
For most people presented with this question, the mind invariably wanders off to some of the unpleasant episodes in life. There’s nothing to worry if this was a question asked in a happiness survey by an innocent volunteer. But such questions are typically framed by people who are in the business of persuasion or manipulation. This is a trick question which is designed to lead your mind precisely to those thoughts which the questioner wants you to think.
Robert Cialdini, in his new book Pre-Suasion, has termed this persuasion strategy as Target Chuting. He writes –
If I inquired whether you were unhappy in, let’s say, the social arena, your natural tendency to hunt for confirmations rather than for disconfirmations of the possibility would lead you to find more proof of discontent than if I asked whether you were happy there. This was the outcome when members of a sample of Canadians were asked either if they were unhappy or happy with their social lives. Those asked if they were unhappy were far more likely to encounter dissatisfactions as they thought about it and, consequently, were 375 percent more likely to declare themselves unhappy.
And the reason for such tendency is our good old confirmation bias. Its scientific name is positive test strategy, writes Cialdini, “But it comes down to this: in deciding whether a possibility is correct, people typically look for hits rather than misses; for confirmations of the idea rather than for disconfirmations. It is easier to register the presence of something than its absence.”
And once your attention has been drawn towards a specific set of thoughts, the mind tends to assign unnecessarily high weightage to those thoughts.
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