9 Psychological Laws That Control Your Actions Against Your Will
There are many events that take place in our life that are often hard to understand. How do fortune-tellers predict the future so precisely and why are broken windows so disturbing? Scientists have already created theories that explain what these things mean that happen around us. It turns out that people act according to a script and our behavior is actually pretty predictable.
We at Bright Side have read many psychological books and today we are going to share some secret knowledge with you — everything that happens to you is not random. People’s strange actions can also be explained with the help of science.
1. The theory of broken windows
The criminology theory of broken windows was implemented by 2 American sociologists — L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson. These scientists were trying to figure out the reason for the increasing crime rates in New York City in the 80s. They came to the following conclusion: minor offenses like scattered garbage or graffiti actively affected the crime level in general.
Here is an example from real life: if there was at least one broken or missing window in a building, people passing by assumed that no one cared for the building and that there were no responsible people to clean up the mess. After a short time, all the windows will be broken, while the people living in this area will become more confident in their ability to get away with things. Moreover, they will soon conclude that they won’t get punished for more severe crimes.
The fan of this theory — Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York (1994), managed to decrease the crime level in the city by double what it was. This theory can be applied anywhere — in international politics, at the state level, at home, or at work.
2. The theory of learned helplessness
Learned helplessness is a behavioral disorder where a person isn’t trying to do anything to improve their lives, even though they have opportunity to do something about it. Why is it called ’learned’? Because no one is born with the idea that overcoming obstacles is useless. This thought appears after going through a lot of stress or multiple failures. People give up and start believing that nothing is dependent on them, especially after having received numerous blows from life itself.
Here is an example from real life: A person has failed twice to pass the tests needed to get into a university, he works hard for very little money, and he can’t break up with a toxic partner. The solution seems quite simple — get prepared for the exam, find another job, get divorced, and your problems will disappear. But the one who is driven into helplessness doesn’t see an easy way out and will continue to tolerate pain.
What to do?
- Forget about being perfect — there are very few things that you can do 100% perfect in life.
- Decrease your expectations, including the negative ones. We tend to be scared of trouble even though it hasn’t happened yet.
- Learn to stay optimistic. There is a term called learned optimism and you can learn it with the help of several exercises. Here is a test that will help you to define the level of your optimism.
3. The theory of a reality tunnel
According to this theory, a person sees the world through the filters of their own experience and beliefs. Upbringing, education, and all the joys and failures that have ever happened to us make up the material of our reality tunnel. That’s why people often have different reactions to the same things.
Here is an example from real life: Looking at the Mona Lisa, the famous painting by Leonardo DaVinci, one person will see a mysterious smile, another one will find mathematical perfection in it, while the third one will see a fat, browless woman. None of these people is mistaken because they all live in their own reality tunnels and strongly believe that they are right.
All this happens because, according to the reality tunnel theory, there is no common truth. It is impossible for it to exist because it’s very hard to escape your own familiar, safe, and comfortable tunnel.
4. Hedgehogs’ dilemma
People tend to stay close to each other and most of us need family and friends. However, close relationships are sometimes followed by pain. The imperfections of our loved ones sometimes cause us to become estranged and move away. However, after some time we make the same mistakes by searching for closeness and suffering from it later.
A German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer called this the hedgehogs’ dilemma or the porcupine problem. He shared the following parable in his work:
“A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However, the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. In the same way, the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature.”Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga und Paralipomena: kleine philosophische Schriften
The key to happy relationships lies in love and friendship, as well as in the ability to give to another person enough warmth and keep personal space at the same time. Don’t tolerate quill pricks and don’t run away from close relationships at the same time. Keep a sensible distance where you maintain your own harmony.
5. Foot in the door
At first, a person does you a little favor and later you get trapped because their demands and requests become bolder and bolder, while you are not able to say, “No.” The trick called “foot-in-the-door” is widely used by marketers who want to sell you their goods.
Here is an example from real life: Service providers tell you, “Get a trial version of our program” or “Subscribe to our services — the first month of the subscription is free.” The consumer hasn’t paid a penny yet, but has already gotten trapped because it’s easier to sell the extended subscription to the one who has already tried the free version.
If a seller is promising you a big discount or a deal a-la " Buy 3 for the price of 2," it means that they have read one of those psychological books and are trying to get their foot in your door. They are well aware that you’ll come again and spend a large amount of money in their shop.
6. The theory of creeping normality
People are able to accept the most terrible changes in their life calmly, if these changes happen gradually.
Here is an example from real life: Residents of big cities are ready to tolerate smog and environmental degradation in their city because these changes don’t happen quickly and people have time to get used to the bad.
This theory can provide answers to many questions — from big historical events to ordinary routine things. Why didn’t German people stand against the Nazi government and its concentration camps in 30s and 40s? Why do people keep living in a marriage that is destroying their psyche? The answer is quite simple — they got used to it and accepted it because the changes didn’t happen overnight. Their reality changed and slowly made abnormal things seem normal.
7. The theory of anonymous authority
According to this theory, it becomes easy to manipulate people with the help of magic words. Phrases like “according to scientists” or “experts claim” that are not even backed up by obvious scientific research are easily perceived as truth. We subconsciously listen to anonymous authority (an expert or a scientist) that might not even exist at all.
Here is an example from real life: A commercial for pills says that the efficiency of this drug has been proven by scientists. It makes the viewer start to trust this statement. How can one not believe scientists?
Don’t trust depersonalized information. There are phrases used in commercials, on the internet, and in newspapers that are lies. Here are some of them:
- Phrases without precise numbers like, “most scientists” or "some people“(who are these people?)
- Use of passive voice — “it is considered” (who considers it?)
- Phrases like, “Up to 100%” (is it 2% or 99%?)
Ask for proof in any unknown situation and only trust those who can provide it.
8. Self-fulfilling prophecy
Sometimes prophecies come true, but there is no magic in it. The trick is that if you believe in this prophecy, it will happen. This paradox is actively used by fraudsters.
Here is an example from real life: A fortune teller predicted to a man that he would end up in the hospital in a day or 2. So the impressed man goes on with his life, immersed in sad thoughts about a possible illness, and isn’t aware of his surroundings. Eventually, our hero slips, falls to the pavement, and ends up in the hospital with a sprained ankle. The “prophecy” of the fortune-teller did happen, but not because she can see the future — the man himself made the “prophecy” come true.
It’s enough for a person to subconsciously believe in someone else’s idea to begin to generate thoughts that confirm this idea. Unfortunately, other people’s ideas are not always good. However, you can escape a self-fulfilling prophecy if you try to create your own positive affirmations.
9. Baby duck syndrome
A freshly hatched duckling takes the first moving object it sees for its mother and continues to follow it everywhere. A human, a dog, a goat, or even an inanimate object can serve as a “mother.” Scientists call this behavior “imprinting” and they also say that all humans have this characteristic in themselves.
The baby duck syndrome appears when a person encounters a new environment and starts to consider the object they see first as the best. Moreover, it is very difficult to persuade this “duckling” to try something new and it’s almost impossible to prove that new things can be better than old ones.
Here is an example from real life: “Paper books are better than digital ones” or “Mobile phones with buttons are more reliable than sensor phones,” or “This new design is awful,” — these are the phrases indicating a person has baby duck syndrome.
This effect makes a person biased and hinders them from listening to the opinion of others. However, new things can be good and comfortable too.
Which of these psychological laws have taken place in your life? Please tell us about it in the comments!
Illustrated by Leonid Khan for BrightSide.me