Commitment and Consistency

Posted by Beetle B. on Thu 04 May 2017

We have a deep desire to be/appear consistent. This is why when people bet on a horse, they are more confident it will win after they’ve place the bet than before.

When we make a firm decision or choice, we are more likely to be content with it. Also, see The Surprising Science of Happiness TED talk.

If you ask someone to look after your things in a public space (e.g. as you go to the restroom), they are much more likely to watch it vs if you did not ask (and they were sitting next to you). 95% vs 20% success rate. When you confer a status of trustworthiness to someone, they don’t want to act inconsistent with it.

Consistency has value: Not having to revisit your choices often is a useful shortcut in life to avoid being overwhelmed. Another benefit is that you don’t have to deal with dark thoughts like regret.

Commitment Is The Key

The trick: Get someone to make a commitment. After that, they will act as if they are consistent with it.

Even asking you to agree to a statement is a commitment.

Example: People were given a survey where they were asked if they would spend 3 hours volunteering for the American Cancer Society. Just a survey - no commitment. However, some days later, the American Cancer Society called on them and asked if they would do it in practice. High success rate.

A similar tactic is used to get people to vote. A few days before the election, ask people “Will you vote on Tuesday?”

Merely asking “How are you doing?” will make it more likely for someone to agree to buy cookies for a cause. But saying “I hope your day is going well” is not effective (no commitment was involved).

You can get a lot by getting people to make a small commitment, and incrementally increase it. When American soldiers were in a Chinese POW camp, the Chinese started by asking some soldiers whether the US is imperfect in any way. Not the whole country, but some small part of it. Then later on they asked them to list the imperfections. Then later they asked them to read the list aloud to others. This kept increasing till the POW is accused of being a collaborator. At that point, the POW has embraced the label and will continue to act consistently with it (to the point of preventing others from escaping).

Another example: When people were asked if they would allow a huge, ugly Drive Carefully sign in their neighborhood, only 17% agreed. But in another neighborhood, they started by asking if they’d put a small Drive Carefully sign in their window (most agreed). Then some weeks later, they asked about the big billboard. They got 76% to agree. In fact, in another neighborhood, the small sign was Keeping California Beautiful. Even that worked (50%), because the sign made them feel they were responsible citizens.

Bottom line: Be wary of agreeing to even trivial requests.

The Magic Act

Get people to write down a commitment. It will greatly increase their follow through.

Remember the competitions where someone has to write a good 150 word essay on why a product is good? This is why.

The Public Eye

The more public the commitment, the more effective.

Jury study: A hung jury is much more likely when the voting is public than anonymous. People feel they need to stick to their initial stance.

The Effort Extra

The more effort expended into making a commitment, the stronger the commitment.

Basis of hazing and initiation ceremonies.

The Inner Choice

Rarely is public service part of hazing. Why?

The reason is that a person’s commitment is strongest if they believe there was no extrinsic motivation to go through the pain. If there was, they could rationalize they performed the act for the public good, and then there is no struggle to be consistent with their actions.

More powerful than active, public, and effortful combined!

If you want your kids to strongly believe something, eliminate external pressures (bribes, threats, etc).

Getting people to “self-commit” is extremely powerful. They actively will go and find more reasons and values to remain committed. You don’t have to actively convince them - they will do the work for you!

Study: In a neighborhood, residents were asked to reduce gas consumption with the promise that the top N people will be listed in the local news. But later, they refused to publish the names (with a good excuse). The outcome: savings increased even more! Once the extrinsic motivator was removed, they were even more committed!