Most people will get these questions wrong – how many can you answer correctly? (Answers at the end of this post).
2. Are you more likely to give to charity after riding up or riding down an escalator?
3. What is the first color that we develop to see as children?
4. What are at least three physical similarities we look for in a mate?
5. Which non-reproductive biological system do we subconsciously detect through scent that attracts us toward another person?
Each of these questions are answered in the book Riveted, by Jim Davies, which discusses the science of what compels us toward certain art, movies, musical genres, people, and beliefs.
In this post, I’m going to discuss three of the seven foundations of compellingness discussed in Davies’ book.
We are interested in people.
We are wired to find social relationships important.
We spend most of our time thinking and talking about other people, we anthropomorphize animals and inanimate objects, and we’re addicted to social media and having an invisible audience to witness how good we looked while drinking a Green Tea Frappucino by the pool last Saturday.
We even prefer paintings and pictures with people in them.
Other people give our lives meaning and purpose; they make life interesting and fulfilling.
That’s why understanding social situations and people is so critical to our success.
If we don’t understand social relationships, we will quickly fall behind those who can leverage their networks to obtain knowledge, protection, and opportunity, regardless of our intelligence or specialized abilities.
Understanding the structure of one’s social surroundings and one’s place in them is crucial for happiness, reproduction, and even survival.
We pay particular attention to things we hope or fear are true.
What intrigues you about the Bierstadt landscape painting below?
It may be the lighting, the mountains, the lake, the contrast, or simply the idea that some guy painted this bad boy.
From an evolutionary perspective, it depicts a place conducive to our survival. It has a view of water, wildlife, various flora, low-branching trees, and may also appeal to our exploratory nature. Each of these fits into the “hope” part of this theory.
Sexual images are also in the “hope” category. Attractive images trick our minds into thinking we’re presented with a chance to reproduce (for some, this is an enormous stretch of hope).
We’re also compelled by art that depicts danger as it seems to threaten our survival and demands our immediate and full attention. Danger falls into the “fear” category.
Similarly, religious and superstitious rituals are compelling because it can feel dangerous to not perform them. In fact, religious rituals closely parallel schizophrenic and obsessive-compulsive behavior.
In the book Pitch Anything, Oren Klaff says that we only pay attention to things if we think we will either mate with it, kill it, or eat it (in the case of black widow spiders, it’s all three and in that order). Otherwise, we lose interest in it.
In practical terms, if you’re interviewing for a job, looking for a date, or giving a presentation, you want to seem novel, unpredictable, and “dangerous” (highly competent, outgoing, important, ambitious, competitive, etc.).
If you’re too ordinary, predictable, or shy, people will get bored and lose interest in your presentation, your conversation, or just you in general.
We are attracted to incongruity, apparent contradictions, novelty, and puzzles.
Magic tricks, humor, superstition, religion, UFOs, mysteries – they all appeal to our love of incongruity.
We’re naturally curious, and incongruity generates a desire to comprehend. However, if something is too easy to figure out, we’ll lose interest; if it’s too difficult, we’ll lose hope (see Million Dollar Math Problems).
This is important for marketers, entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, and creators of all sorts. If something is too bizarre, abstract, or absurd, most people reject it. If it is too mundane, people will ignore it.
The sweet spot is to have a product or idea that is minimally counter-intuitive, meaning it is ordinary in most ways except for one minor difference. Not only are these ideas better understood and remembered, they’re also less threatening and easier to accept.
If you’re going to present an idea to your coworkers, boss, peers, spouse, or whoever – remember that most people are risk averse. The bigger the change, the more they will resist it.
To learn about the remaining four foundations of compellingness and for many more fascinating ideas, read Riveted, by Jim Davies.
Answers: 1) Call of Duty. 2) Up the escalator. 3) Red. 4) Wrist diameter, ear lobe length, nose breadth, eye spacing, lung capacity, finger length. 5) Immune system. For explanations, read the book.
***To learn more about psychology, human behavior, and what makes us interesting, check out Riveted, by Jim Davies.***
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