Saturday, July 13, 2013

Goals Are Contagious

Perception-Behavior Link
In my previous post we learned about Perception-Behavior Link . This tells us that when we observe the behavior of another, we activate the same neurons in our brains that are active when we ourselves are performing that action.[1]
High & Low Roads to Imitation
Perception-behavior link is further divided into two distinctions – Low Road to imitation, and the High Road to imitation[2]. The previous post focused on the low-road to imitation – mimicry of observable behavior such as facial structure and posture. 

Automatic Goal Pursuit & Trait Inferences
Today’s post expands on our understanding of perception-link behavior by introducing the “high road to imitation”. We are not only wired to automatically copy observable behavior. We are also wired to automatically copy behavior that goes beyond information presented to us like traits, stereotypes, and goals.[3] In other words, by observing someone we automatically make inferences on their goals and then engage in mimicry of these inferred goals.

The takeaway from the High Road to Imitation is two-fold.  

Social Perceivers Often Infer Beyond the Information Given
These inferences are based off of a handful of leading heuristics. An example would be inferring high career goals based on a person’s perceived social class.

Goals and Traits are Highly Contagious
We alter our behavior to correspond with our inferences of a person’s traits, stereotypes, and goals. Therefore, even if we do not actually witness the behavior, we nevertheless engage in automatic goal pursuit by inference.[5] The implications are numerous. For instance, seeing a well-dressed business-person could motivate you to aim harder at a work promotion. This goal contagion occurs irrespective of whether the observed person does in fact have the goals or traits of a competent businessman. Merely by inferring based on social and environmental cues, you could be motivated to copy your interaction partner’s goals or traits.

[1] Ap Dijksterhuis & Pamela Smith,  et al., The Unconscious Consumer: Effects ofEnvironment on Consumer Behavior, 2005, 195.
[2] Id.
[3] Id. at 196.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.

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