Prepared by Philip Zimbardo and Cindy X. Wang
Dr. Z’s 20 Hints About Resisting Unwanted Influences On You
(Here is a set of general advice that I typically offer to students at the end of my courses at Stanford University, whether the course is Introduction to Psychology, Mind Control, or Exploring Human Nature. They cut across the different varieties of influence and are really generic recommendations of how to become more influence savvy.)
- Do not maintain an illusion of “personal invulnerability” – If it can happen to them, then it can happen to you too.
- Be modest in self-estimates – it is better to perceive yourself as vulnerable and take necessary precautions than to go “where angels fear to tread.”
- Engage in life as fully as possible, yet be mindful and aware, attuned to the moment, and prepared to disengage and think critically when necessary – people are generally good and trustworthy, but others make their careers as “influence professionals” who try to get you to do what they want.
- Be aware of Cialdini’s contexts and principles of compliance; when you sense you are operating on one of the principles, look to the relevant context being manipulated on you and pull back; where the context is obvious, expect the principle to be activated.
- Be ready to say the three most difficult phrases in the world: “I was wrong”, “I made a mistake”, and “I’ve changed my mind.” Cut bait, accept immediate loss of money, face, etc. that could lead to bigger long term losses – Dissonance and consistency then go limp in the face of such self-honesty.
- Separate your ego from your actions; maintain a sense of positive self-esteem, that is independent form the occasional failure and your stupid actions at times (Laugh at yourself once a day. This is especially true for shy folks.)
- Separate messenger from message in your mind, process each systematically not heuristically, be aware of being tired, a “cognitive miser,” wanting simple short cuts, giving in to non-verbal tricks. There are no free lunches and no quick and dirty paths to anything worthwhile – sloth and greed breed gullibility.
- Insist on a second opinion, a delay in signing contract while thinking about it away from the situation; never immediately sign on the dotted line.
- Develop ‘Discrepancy Detectors,’ alerting mental and intuition systems that stem from vague feelings of something wrong, something in the situation or the story you are being handed that does not fit to analysis to counteraction -> dissent -> disobedience.
- Try playing devil’s advocate, be the deviant, to assess the reactions against you and that position, when the influence agent says he/she is only doing X for your good.
- Avoid ‘Total Situations’ where you lose contact with your social support and informational networks (cults and the most powerful forces of social influence thrive there), you do not want all your reinforcers to come from these new sources.
- In all authority confrontations: be polite, individuate yourself and the other, make it clear it is not “your problem” in the process, or situation; describe the problem objectively, do not get emotional, state clearly the remedy sought, and the positive consequences expected – hold off on the threats and costs to them or their agency as last resort.
- When in some situation of authority encounter, you are being challenged – ask for identification, demand to see it, get person’s name (write it down) and all details about the encounter.
- Never allow yourself to be cut off emotionally from your familiar and trusted reference groups of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers – do not accept putdowns against them.
- Remember all ideologies are just words, abstractions used for particular political, social, economic purposes; be wary taking actions proposed as necessary to sustain that ideology – always question if the means justify the ends, and suggest alternatives.
- Think hard before putting abstract principles before real people in following other’s advice to act in specific ways against what they represent.
- Trust your intuition, gut feelings when you sense you are becoming a target of influence, put up your counter-arguing mentality, and dig down for sources for resistance.
- Rules are abstractions for controlling behavior and eliciting compliance and conformity – challenge them when necessary: ask, who made the rule? What purpose does it serve? Who maintains it? Does it make sense in this specific situation? What happens if you violate it? Insist that the rule be made explicit, so it cannot be modified and altered over time to suit the influence agent.
- When developing causal attributions for unusual behavior – yours or others – never rush to the dispositional, always start by considering possible situational forces and variables that are the true causal agent, and seek to highlight them and to change them where possible.
- Imagine Dr. Z as your conscience, your personal Jiminy Cricket (from Pinocchio) sitting on your shoulder and saying be cool, be confident, be collected—to avoid becoming a Jack Ass.