As an economist it is difficult to come to terms with what we learned about social cognition. All of economics assumes that we are rational beings who are consistent and do not have internal dissonance. After learning about social cognition it is clear that we are so far from rational beings. We do not know what we want, when we want it, or why we want it. We believe that we are our own persons, with strong attitudes and opinions that are concrete against the ocean of all of our surrounding inputs. That is not true tho. We are much more of a sponge in the ocean than something concrete, constantly changing our attitudes and wants depending on the situation.
Social psych has shown how individuals cognition is much more driven by schemas and heuristics rather than well thought out beliefs and attitudes. While these schemas are important and allow us to move throw the world in a simpler manner, it certainly hurts our accuracy on reality. We are so detached from reality that unrelated priming will have incredible impact on our conclusions on a person. I am of course referring to the “Donald Studies.”
This was a study where the participants read either a list of positive words or negative words, adventurous and independent, versus reckless and conceited. Then they read a description about “Daniel,” the same description for both groups. The first group which read the positive list had a 70% positive impression for “Daniel” versus only 10% from the second group. This is amazing to me, and also very important. Not only am I a social person who cares about making good first impressions, but it is part of my job.
For this past year I have been working in business development for a mergers and acquisitions firm. What that means in plain English, is that my company marketed and sold other companies, and it was my job to get people to sign on with us and have us sell their companies. This is no easy sale like a pen or even a car, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for most of these people. They have spent their whole adult lives working on building this business that is a baby to them, and now they have grown it to a size large enough to sell and then retire off of that sale. It is shocking and worrisome that what I say to these prospects matters so little to whether or not they like me and my pitch.
I have a learned a lot from this job, a lot of which falls in line with what we have learned in this class, but this issue of priming still haunts me. If they are in a bad mood, if something bad happened immediately before my call, I am done. I can give the best pitch and be as charming as possible, but if they are primed for something negative it will not matter. It is nice to believe that they will engage their higher level thinking to decide which mergers and acquisitions firm will be best for them and their business, but I doubt that is how they decide. I believe it has much more to do with who is the lucky one to interact with them after a positive prime. The real trick to sales then is to have them primed positively before your interaction, how to do that though I have yet to discover.