It Sure Seems So!
Will an Army officer’s arbitrary opinion determine a soldier’s performance ?
Will the next U.S. President’s productivity be affected by what his cabinet believes about him? ?
Can a stereotype cause you to lose your hearing?
Click the links. According to the studies, the answer is unequivocably yes.
What we believe not only changes our behavior, but it can change the behavior of those we believe it about. It’s called the chameleon affect.
The Chameleon Effect
I’ve been reading about the ways people assign values to situations they encounter. The study, “Social Perception and Interpersonal Behavior: On the Self-Fulfilling Nature of Social Stereotypes,” is a great example of the Chameleon Effect.
Fifty male and fifty female students were recruited for a communication study. The women were simply told that they would be having a short telephone conversation with a randomly selected man.
The 50 male students were given biographical information and photo for the woman they would call. What the men didn’t know was that the photos were fake — half were of a beautiful woman, the other half were of a less attractive woman.
The men had time to review the photos and bios. Then they were asked to fill out an “Impression Formation Questionaire,” which had them rate their first impression about the person they were going to be calling. Regardless of the bio information, the beautiful women were expected to be “sociable, poised, humorous, and socially adept.” The less attractive women were perceived to be “unsociable, awkward, serious, and socially inept.”
The women knew nothing of this questionaire.
The researchers recorded the phone calls. Then they edited out the voices of the men. The edited versions were then played back for a third group of twelve ordinary people, who knew nothing about the study or the people who took part.
After listening to their voices, the jury was asked to rate the women using the same “Impression Formation Questionaire.” Based on the women’s voices alone, the jury attributed the same traits to the same groups of women — they matched the traits attributed to the fake photos by the men in the study.
The explanation? Once the men formed their opinion, every aspect of their conversation reflected their perception of the woman as they had the conversation on the telephone. The women gave the corresponding response to the “cues” the men were sending. [Sway, The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, Braffman and Braffman]
I underscore that the women knew nothing of the photos, or the questionaire, or the impressions the men had formed of them, but the women still changed in response to the ideas the men had about them.
What Can We Do about the Chameleon Effect?
If we unconsciously live up to what other people telegraph, managing expectations takes on a more serious role in managing a career, a business, or a brand. What is a brand if not perceptions and expectations?
If expectations have the potential to change how we behave, how can we keep aware and unhurt by this effect?