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Influence and Persuasion: How Information Goes Viral w/ Dr. Sander Van der Linden


Coach Mike Bayer: Welcome back to Always Evolving. I have a great guest today who is going to help us figure out what's real, what's not real. We're living in a time where it's pretty confusing, where everyone thinks that they know the truth. We have Dr. Sander Van Der Linden. I [00:00:30] didn't quite say that rightThat's all right, Van Der Linden, kind of like Van Der Beek, but Linden.


Coach Mike Bayer: And can you and we're going to be talking about what's the truth and why stuff goes viral, and can you kind of give kind a general outline of why, why are you someone we should trust?


Dr Sander van der Linden: Well, that's a great question. I mean, I don't I think trust is is a concept that you earn by displaying trustworthy behavior. And I think that's often, you know, one of the interesting things about [00:01:00] trust in terms of how we study it is that we always advise people to, to display trustworthiness and that, you know, that revolves around honest communication and informing people rather than necessarily trying to persuade them of a particular point. And as a scientist, I try to give people a broad overview of the evidence so that they can then make their own judgment as to what's real and what's fake. And that's really a lot of what we do revolves around empowering people to make better decisions [00:01:30] for themselves. So I think that's a key part. So I wouldn't say trust me because I'm an expert. I would say listen to what we have to say and then make up your own mind.


Coach Mike Bayer: You're a professor of social psychology and society in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge,


Dr Sander van der Linden: That's right. 


Coach Mike Bayer: You're also the director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab.


Dr Sander van der Linden: That's right. We study how people make decisions.


Coach Mike Bayer: Now, what got you really interested in studying this?


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, you know, when I was young, I always [00:02:00] was fascinated about trying to understand why people do what they do. And I had a teacher and one of the questions that he asked in the class was try try to give us an answer as to why do you do what you do when you do it? And I think there was such a great question that it really got me thinking about, you know, why is it that we choose to do what we do when we do it in a particular situation? And obviously, psychology provides [00:02:30] a sort of systematic approach to trying to understand that problem. I mean, there's other disciplines like sociology and so on of people trying to understand society. But I think from an individual level perspective that I really found that intriguing. I used to prank my friends a lot to try to understand how they would respond to a problem. And I really you know, it sounds kind of interesting, but I really enjoyed that process because you can, you can, I figure it out. You can learn a lot about people [00:03:00] by kind of observing them in in a particular situation. And I started experimenting on my friends a little bit, and it soon became clear that I was quite the experimentalist in terms of trying to understand behavior. So that ultimately led me to to try to pursue psychology.


Coach Mike Bayer: And what what have you found in the research that you've done that is pretty relatable to what we're currently in with the Times?


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, so, you know, part of what I study, you know, my core discipline is influence and persuasion. So I try to understand how people [00:03:30] are influenced by information by other people and how we're persuaded and how that process works. But then the flip side of it is that we try to understand how to help people resist persuasion when they don't want to be persuaded or when, you know, it's likely that they're manipulated by false information or misleading information. So that's kind of what our program of research revolves around. And one of the things we found is that, yes, you know, the brain is easily misled by lots of things, you know, by other people, by [00:04:00] the way we say things, how we say it, by how information is framed, presented. But on the on the positive side, you can help people spot misleading techniques and you can help people resist persuasion attempts to kind of defang, attempts to manipulate when we don't want it.


Coach Mike Bayer: And why do you think it is that even with evidence and with facts, right, let's say truth, because, you know, and obviously there's different versions of the truth and there's perception of the [00:04:30] truth and what's real. But what I've found really interesting, especially since my background is working with celebrities and advising them, is that when somebody loves someone, even though they haven't met them, they have a belief about them. And it's almost like even with evidence that they may not be that person. Why is it that a fan can't change their belief even when the truth [00:05:00] is there?


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, that's a great question. You know, we can impact at a different levels, so, you know, if we want to start really basic, a lot of people think that what they see is essentially what's there. But that's not necessarily the case. If you think about how human vision works, it's not so much that light bounces off of an object and reflects back onto your retina and then it's processed by the visual cortex in your brain and then the image appears. I mean, part of that's true. But the other part is that the brain is trying to make a guesstimate essentially of what it's seeing [00:05:30] based on information in your environment, based on cues in your environment. So the reason why we're susceptible to illusions, visual illusions, is because the brain in part is trying to make predictions of what's there. And that can be misleading. And that's what they you know, partly that's what they reveal. So what we know is that part of what you see is based on what you want to see, based on your experience of what you expect to see, of what you want to be there and that, you know, plays into how people perceive [00:06:00] the world on a larger level. So we know that that's true in a very basic level. But then if you go to real world sort of situations, what happens is that we often have a desire to process information in a way that's consistent with how we prefer to see the world and how we construe our own identities and realities and the different terms for that.


Dr Sander van der Linden: Some people say confirmation bias. Some people say motivated reasoning. But what they mean by that is that the brain is actually faster at processing [00:06:30] stuff that you're already familiar with or that you already agree with. So, you know, if we do an experiment and ask you to read things or process things and look at the sheer time it takes someone, if you read something you agree with completely, the brain's very fast of processing that. If you read something that's opposed to what you believe, it takes people a lot more time to try to digest what's going on there. And so there's this natural resistance to stuff, to being confronted with stuff that doesn't jive with what you already believe and want to be true. And those motivations [00:07:00] can be quite complex. Sometimes the motivations come from the fact that you have important relationships with other people that dictate how you want to see the world or what your reality is. And sometimes that conflicts with that. So.


Coach Mike Bayer: Can you give me an example of something that's like we have a situation we've all seen in the media and your like, interpretations


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah,


Coach Mike Bayer: Of it?


Dr Sander van der Linden: Sure, I mean, you know, let's you know, let's make a famous example, let's pick Trump's inauguration [00:07:30] turn out that was all over the news with the photos of how many people were present. I think it's an interesting example, and I use it in my book, actually, because, one, of course, we don't know the actual number. I mean, people scientists can make estimates, but it's not important. What's important is that people are perceiving, looking at the same picture of how many people turn out to that inauguration and coming at very, very different conclusions of how many people were there. And I'm not you know, I'm not there is some objective estimate or a range of estimates. But the interesting thing is why people diverge. [00:08:00] And I think that has to do with the fact that, again, when you're looking at the same truth and the same evidence, people come to different interpretations because you have a strong prior belief or identity that weighs in, in terms of how you want reality to be constructed. Now, if you're a Trump fan, you're going to see more people present in that picture or it looks like a larger share than, let's say if you were a liberal or a Democrat, you're going to see a slightly different picture. And that's even regardless of the ground truth. But your perception [00:08:30] will be colored in that specific case by your political beliefs because


Coach Mike Bayer: But


Dr Sander van der Linden: It's


Coach Mike Bayer: Why?


Dr Sander van der Linden: A political


Coach Mike Bayer: But


Dr Sander van der Linden: Situation.


Coach Mike Bayer: Let me yes, so let me ask you, because I'm, I would suggest in some very like, why couldn't someone look at the photo even if they don't like Donald Trump and go, oh, wow, there's a lot of people? Or why does it have to be painted through some lens that it's that [00:09:00] it's a failure? Like why is that important to a person?


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, I think, you know, it also has to do with the narrative around it, I think in an ideal scenario, you in an ideal sort of situation, we'd have people look at, look at these things and say, look, I like Trump, but yeah, there weren't as many people present as in other inaugurations. And that would be a rational thing to say. But when you prime people to view the world through a particular identity, in this case a political identity, [00:09:30] it kind of takes over a lot of our information processing space. And so it has to do with the fact that these identities become salient when you pressure people in a certain situation. So this is a political situation, but it could be a personal situation, too. You know, when you confront a celebrity with a problem they're not willing to deal with. The fact is that you're you're putting them in a in a defensive position, which is not conducive to that type of reasoning that you're hoping to elicit from them. People don't become more open minded when you directly [00:10:00] confront them with something that challenges their belief. And I think that's that's one of the key sort of takeaways from this.


Coach Mike Bayer: Let me ask you, because I had this moment app on Twitter, actually, basically I watched the Michael Jackson documentary Finding Neverland. I don't know if you've seen it. Now, I can tell you and I'm not just talking about this documentary, but any documentary, it's [00:10:30] just someone's version of the truth telling a story. You know, we like to believe that this documentaries are truth, but really it's a lens at which somebody wants to tell a story. Right. And anyone can be edited any such way to tell a story. And I remember afterwards I tweeted out something like, you know, my heart goes out to the people who were victims [00:11:00] of sexual abuse or what happened. And and I've met Wade Robson before who is in the documentary. And I wasn't even accusing. I just anyone that has to go through an experience of sexual abuse is just horrible. And I literally had thousands of Michael Jackson fans coming after me. I had some, like, reporter calling me a loser. And and it was very interesting. A lot of these people have probably never met Michael Jackson. [00:11:30] They probably just like me, don't know all the details of the story, but the intensity at which someone who doesn't even know anyone would go a thousand percent this is the truth. Without any critical thinking or going, why are you lashing out at me? What do you actually think is happening? Do you think that I'm going to suddenly be more open to your ideas when you insult [00:12:00] me? And and it's just an interesting approach. I know you talk about that with the whole trolling online, but to me was just like, what? What are you guys so passionate about? Like,


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah,


Coach Mike Bayer: Respectively, he's dead.


Dr Sander van der Linden: No, absolutely, I mean, that's that's not how you're going to get a more sort of open minded way of thinking from people. And, you know, the Michael Jackson example is interesting because you tend to get this type of response [00:12:30] by, again, making a certain identity salient. For most people, Michael Jackson isn't necessarily a polarizing figure. But but for people who are either diehard fans or victims, you know, for those groups, it might be quite intense. Right. But what's happening is that at a deeper level and this is something we call cognitive dissonance. And so essentially what's happening here, the dissonance is that you're being confronted with a situation where either you're going to have to change your beliefs about a person or you're going to have to change [00:13:00] your essentially your own behavior and thinking. And so, so so, you know, when you're confronted with the choice of I'm going to reject those facts, that evidence or I have to change part of who I am and who I affiliate with which which of the two is the easier choice. Right.


Coach Mike Bayer: But why?


Dr Sander van der Linden: So most.


Coach Mike Bayer: But yeah, but to that point, why is it so important for someone to defend a singer who's not alive as if, like to me, where [00:13:30] where does someone's brain go? I'm going to thought police other people's versions of their own thoughts and feelings. It's just it's very odd to me because it seems like a waste of energy.


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, I think it's it's very much a function of how much have you invested in a particular view of the world or a particular person or affiliation? And I think that's that's the key driver in the motivation [00:14:00] here for people to do things, is that if you define part of who you are quite strongly, let's say as a Michael Jackson fan, then this is going to be a big, big problem for you if you're a Woody Allen fan. Any any controversial sort of political debate, if you take that example, let's say you like Woody Allen movies, but you don't like some of the stories that are that are online, you know, relating to this person. Now, you're in a situation [00:14:30] where you're either going to have to change how you view that person and whether or not you like that person or you might reject some of the evidence that's out there and often often changing your own views, your own thinking and your own affiliations. That's that's not the easy option for people. And so the easier option is just to reject what you hear and see. And I think that's often what's what's happening. But it is very much related to how much are invested in it. People who do not strongly identify, who don't have a strong connection with someone you don't you typically don't see that kind of problem there. [00:15:00]


Coach Mike Bayer: Well, yeah, I mean, I'm not typically invested in anyone that I've never met or spoken to, I just think that's so bizarre. And even though I work in entertainment and such and I'm around celebrities, I think it's so bizarre that people are obsessively committed to somebody being a certain identity when they've never even spoken to them. Let them talk to them. And I just and maybe it's always existed. [00:15:30] And now those people just have more free range because there's social media to express their opinions. And before they would just show up at the hotel and sleep there for two days. And and that was just some version of it. But like you talk about the art of persuasion and how to have something go viral and persuade people a certain type of way. And what have you found?


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, so we were looking at, you know, why does stuff go viral? And in particular, positive things [00:16:00] for change, that was interesting. You know, I do a lot of some fake news and hostility and polarization gets a bit depressing sometimes. So we also look at the positive side of things and why do good things go viral? And I started looking at at all of these big campaigns and I was fascinated by the the ice bucket challenge. I don't know if you remember that from twenty sixteen. Did you participate in it, Mike? Did you


Coach Mike Bayer: I did


Dr Sander van der Linden: Know.


Coach Mike Bayer: Not, you know, to be honest, and I'm all about I probably donated money, but I'm the opposite. I'm the guy. When it becomes so popular [00:16:30] and mainstream, even a movie, I'm the one that's like I'm good.


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, so so that, you know a lot and that's the thing, you know, a lot of people donated and didn't necessarily participate in that campaign, but I was fascinated by it because I was like, why are people outside pouring a bucket of ice water over their heads? You know, that's a commitment. And and it's really interesting. So I started studying that. And, you know, obviously they raised a huge amount of money for a very important cause. But I was I was looking at it was the most unprecedented viral campaign [00:17:00] at that time. You know, it was huge on Facebook. And it was I realized after a while it was just brilliant the way they constructed that campaign because it actually involved. How does it spread? It spreads because you have to tag other people in your social network, challenge them directly. Who wants to be a bad person? If somebody tags you on Facebook and say, you know, donate to this good cause and you say no thanks publicly on your Facebook, that's not going to look good. Right. And so, you know, it went viral. It also had this moral element to [00:17:30] it. It's just really devastating disease. It's an important cause. And so I started noticing these ingredients and sort of looking at other campaigns that went viral on Facebook and elsewhere. And that's where really this analogy came from, of what I call smart campaigns. And smart campaigns include social factors of social influence. So you challenge other people and you see other people doing it. And, you know, it becomes very important for you socially because it's happening in your network. It has a kind of a moral cost to it and [00:18:00] it's emotional.


Dr Sander van der Linden: So, you know, whether it's positive or negative, a lot of these things are emotional. Even a cat video is emotional because it makes you feel something that makes you want to share it. Right. And so it has a lot of, a lot of these ingredients and that's kind of what we looked at. But then the bad thing, I wouldn't say bad thing. I mean, the the not so good thing is that what I found is that this is what I call the half life of online altruism, is that when stuff goes viral that quickly and that massively, it it just burns out immediately after. So they try to redo [00:18:30] the campaign the year after. It didn't work. And that's I think because, you know, it was branded as this one off thing and it goes viral and everyone thinks that they've done it. And now they're in the psychology of, yeah, I've been there, done that. I'm not going to continue to engage with that cause. And that was that was really striking to me. And I started looking at are there other causes that have grown slower but more sustainably? And, you know, there's a few and one interesting example was the no shave November movement, which started out with a bunch of dudes. [00:19:00] And and it's grown into a big societal movement, not just any more about men's issues, but but, you know, including lots of other people's issues. And they they grew fast, but not as viral, but they raised the same amount just over a longer period. And they're still going in contrast. So sometimes actually the slow burn can be the more sustainable approach to to these sort of campaigns.


Coach Mike Bayer: Do you find that there's and by the way, I created something called the best self challenge I [00:19:30] talked about in my last book, One Decision, I thought it was going to be the biggest thing ever. I dressed up like a white walker. It took me two hours to put contacts in. I was


Dr Sander van der Linden: Uh


Coach Mike Bayer: Absolutely


Dr Sander van der Linden: Huh.


Coach Mike Bayer: My eyes. I feel like I'm practically blind to myself. And some people engage. But it it was a very it was very hard to get the engagement. But do you find that like right now what went viral is the girl who did have you seen the gorilla hairspray.


Dr Sander van der Linden: No, no,


Coach Mike Bayer: Ok, this girl sprayed her hair instead of using hairspray shoes, gorilla glue, and essentially [00:20:00] her hair became a just you know, basically it was like a steel enclosed covering on her head. And she she kind of went viral. And it seems like a lot of this stuff that I've seen that goes viral, whether it's Takashi's six nine, is like a hip hop guy or there seems to be a lot of like what's shocking, I mean, or the guy who I guess is, you know, doing a skateboard [00:20:30] and singing Stevie Nicks, that goes viral. But it's like, do you find that there's more that is shocking and that's why it goes viral or is it more because there's a cause related or.


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, I know, so what I was looking at was specifically for cars related campaigns, I should say that. And, you know, because one other factor that wasn't in there that you just mentioned that's very important is novelty, which includes the shock factor and new things. And one of the most important things of why things go viral is also [00:21:00] it's novelty. And and that's a factor, too, which isn't always specific to a cause. But but here that's that's, you know, the, the, the cat. The cat Zoom you know, some guy thinks that he's logging on, but but really he's talking as a cat. And so, you know, it's novel. People think it's funny. It goes viral. So that's that's that's you know, that's part of it, too. But I guess the question I was posing in his research was, if you are successful with using some of these ingredients and getting [00:21:30] the initial virtuality, how are you going to sustain it? Because it seems to be a paradox that viral growth of that magnitude cannot be sustained indefinitely. It just never happens almost and almost, you know, it seems like that isn't even possible or feasible. So the question is kind of what do you leverage it into?


Coach Mike Bayer: Well, what what advice do you have for someone who is wanting to get more engagement, grow their social media, persuade more people to care about them? [00:22:00] You know, I always say when I'm working with brands or clients who are looking to grow, I always go, well, why does anyone care? Right. Give someone a reason to care, because otherwise, how are they going to subscribe or get into considering there's millions of options? But have you been able to kind of take a look at like what is really helpful for someone who's wanting to grow their presence or.


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, I mean, generally, I mean, the fact is, I've sort of identified a pretty general, but I think it's useful to consider, you [00:22:30] know, people often ask me, you know, why isn't climate change going viral as, as a cause, you know, or why, you know, we need, we need, we need more traction on, you know, getting people on board with these big issues. And it's sort of like, well, you know, the way that it's presented to people isn't it isn't always that attractive for people to join that cause, you know, if you have a cause, you know, if you want to increase your own presence, I think making it inherently social is is absolutely crucial. And so the one thing about the campaign that they did [00:23:00] so nicely was that it requires other people to actively join and challenge other people. So that's an important ingredient. But also, people were seeing their friends and peers participate. So in a typical experiment, you know, let me give you a mundane situation. If you go to a museum and you ask people to donate, let's let's say I put a box there and put nothing in there. Nobody's going to donate. If I manipulate that box and I put lots of cash and lots of coins in there, all of the sudden people are going to throw in lots of money because they think that that's the norm. [00:23:30] Right.


Coach Mike Bayer: Well,


Dr Sander van der Linden: And so 


Coach Mike Bayer: you Know, you bring up this point, which I, I and I've been saying this, and for the people listen to this podcast, I've been like, you know, I kind of vacillate. And I never I tried not to be in a place of being a, quote, hater. Right. Like I see on MySpace, all these coaches and they buy their followers and they preach authenticity and preach just be yourself and [00:24:00] put out content that represents who you are. Well, you can go to this website called Social Blade Dotcom. You pull it up, you can look at it from Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and you can go on Instagram. You type in their name and it's going to tell you what their engagement is, how many comments they got and what I found. It's it's interesting you say that because I refused to do that. Right. Like, I refused to deal with a lot of my peers are doing, which is optically [00:24:30] presenting themselves as being five times as large as me in terms of following. But the reality is more engagement. And I have 20 percent and I get more in and I just find that it works for a lot of people because there's this opt out. No one's like going on social blade. And let me go check on the consumer even doesn't even realize that people are buying followers and they believe like one hundred million [00:25:00] people are not following Kevin Hart. OK, one hundred million people aren't. It's not true. One hundred million people aren't. Now, maybe his manager bought followers or someone did it behind the scenes, but I do not believe for a second one hundred million people are into Kevin Hart. I don't you know, and I and I think that there's this uptick and he's not a peer of mine. And I'm not mean to call now. He's a very funny guy. But I just think, like, if you look [00:25:30] at Instagram and what adults are doing to be perceived as more popular, it's just ridiculous to me. But it works in persuading people to believe you're bigger than what you are.


Dr Sander van der Linden: I absolutely agree with you and I should say that, you know, this is called false amplification and we help people spot false amplification and a lot of our interventions like buying fake followers and stuff [00:26:00] like that. So I think a good way to see it is to an ethical way to see it is to try to use your presence in a way that that creates social engagement. So, you know, the content you got to put out stuff that people want to share with other people because it has some social value. I think that's the key thing, that if you're putting out content and it has no social value, people are not going to share it. Maybe you want to connect with other people, have big social networks so that you could, you know, you could leverage a larger sort [00:26:30] of audience. So there's, I think, ethical ways to to use social influence. But I completely agree with you that a lot of people use it in a bad way and that they're they're kind of falsely amplifying their their own optics but have very low actual engagement. And, of course, it's much more important to have deep and meaningful engagement than to to look like you have a lot of followers. I absolutely agree with that.


Coach Mike Bayer: And but that is a way of persuading someone if they're not knowing on the other end is the optic [00:27:00] that you're very important, you know, that you're very popular, that you're missing out if you're not following that person, let's say, or if you're not buying that product or this is the biggest product all these people are using. So you should use this product like that's probably part of this art of persuasion to get people to subscribe or buy you or your brand or what you're selling. Right.


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, it's a classic technique, it's the social influence technique, so we call social proof. If other people [00:27:30] are doing it, then it must be something interesting. And you know that that goes into, you know, one of the universal principles of influence is or persuasion, social influence.


Coach Mike Bayer: So go


Dr Sander van der Linden: 


Coach Mike Bayer: 


Dr Sander van der Linden: 


Coach Mike Bayer: 


Dr Sander van der Linden: 


Coach Mike Bayer: 


Dr Sander van der Linden: 


Coach Mike Bayer: I'd go through with me the elements of persuasion for good or bad, and I know that I'm and I understand we go both ways. I think sometimes I can get a little frustrated with social media just because I'm like I just even posted this video yesterday for Valentine's Day because I saw all these [00:28:00] posts and people just, you know, starting to be in love and whatever else I'm like, do you need to tell me, like, does it really? Are you trying to persuade me that you guys are in love, so I go, you guys are so cute, is it that and I'm not saying someone shouldn't share aspects of their life, but I also know a lot of relationships. I worked with so many couples and I see them posting how in love they are. And I'm like, they don't even sleep in the same bedroom, you know? [00:28:30] But I guess it's persuading people that everything's OK. But go go through with me, the persuasions.


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, yeah, some of the key principles, and again, for good or bad, because there are some good reasons of why we pay attention to them even when they're being misused. So, you know, one of the one of the big ones that we just covered, which is social proof, you know, lots of other people are doing it. We kind of distinguish what we call descriptive norms, which is information about what other people are doing versus prescriptive norms, which which is basically somebody else telling [00:29:00] you what to do. And it's and it's interesting to distinguish between those two because it's different if you see a lot of people adopting a behavior that sends a cue to you that, you know, that's something you might want to consider. But a lot of people telling you what to do, pressuring you, what to do is much more direct form of social influence. And so they're slightly different. Then there's expert authority. You know, you started out with the joke about why should we trust the experts? You know, sometimes it's obviously for legitimate reasons,


Coach Mike Bayer: So


Dr Sander van der Linden: But


Coach Mike Bayer: The


Dr Sander van der Linden: Other


Coach Mike Bayer: First [00:29:30]


Dr Sander van der Linden: Times.


Coach Mike Bayer: The first sorry, sorry, doctor, but the first headline is if you were to, like, put it in a box, you would call it what?


Dr Sander van der Linden: So the first one was social proof and the second social proof, yeah, proof that others have validated a behavior or opinion because that's really what people want to know. Is this socially acceptable? And if everyone's doing it, then that's the cue that must be valuable. And, you know, again, I want to stress this comes from a place of intuitive reason. [00:30:00] There's this classic experiment where they have a bunch of people at the end of the street, a street corner. They're just looking up to the sky. And these are Confederate's of the experiment. Right. And then they have people, actual people walk by and they wonder if people will automatically look up and take that as social proof that something's happening. And so what they found is that if it's just a few people on the end of the street at the corner, not a lot of people look up, but the larger the crowd, the more people start to look up before they reached the crowd. And and that has a legitimate [00:30:30] reason. If aliens were coming down, who knows what's going on, the planes crashing, who knows what's going on. Right. And so it has value for you. It's a low cost sort of thing for you to follow the crowd and see what's going on. But at other times, people can use it to mislead you. And so that's you know, that's the the both sides of the story. And it's the same with the next principle, you know, expert authority. People are more persuaded by it, by experts who have you know, you have credentials, Mike. If you use them, you can use them for persuasive purposes. You know, other people can use their credentials for persuasive purposes. [00:31:00]


Dr Sander van der Linden: And sometimes that's legitimate because they they're trained and specialized and, and it's useful. And, you know, the problem is that we see a lot of, you know, critiques of athletes and a lot of distrust among, you know, scientific authorities, which is very problematic. But but sometimes, you know, people can abuse their credentials as well. So it's good to pay attention to that. Another one is called reciprocity. And that's you know, that's [00:31:30] that's really an interesting and an important one is that, you know, we're social beings. People have very much to care about, tit for tat. And, you know, if you do something for me, I'll do something for you. And the way that that's implemented in a in a daily situation, if you want to use it as a tactic, you know, people will say, you know, if you do something nice for someone and they say, oh, you know, things you say, don't worry, I know you would have done the same for me. And that, you know, that creates a [00:32:00] sense of reciprocity between two people. And so that is very much a principle of persuasion. A lot of situations. It's sort of a tit for tat technique that the people are leveraging that creates a sort of a persuasive element. So that's another, you know, another principle. And then, you know, I don't you know, there's a bunch of them, but I think these are these are some of the some of the key ones that you can get people to commit through this principle [00:32:30] of of reciprocity, for example, if you want something from somebody.


Coach Mike Bayer: So but reciprocity doesn't work in terms of being outside of it in your personal life, like, does it show up in ways of a brand? I mean, I guess reciprocity would be like by three, get one free or get a discount code or kind of giving someone some incentive to buy something, I suppose. [00:33:00] Right.


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, that's a clever way of thinking about it, you know, the three for one, it's kind of, you know, I do you do something for you, you know, I get so it's it's a very kind of basic principle. Same with the expert one. As you said, you know, on a cereal box, nine out of ten know pediatricians recommend this is breakfast cereal and so, you know, whatever. And so, you know, it gets to people and that's only natural. And there's another there's a related concept called pre suasion by [00:33:30] my colleague Bob Cialdini, who's is real interesting. Persuasion, is all about getting people ready to be in the mindset of being persuaded because a lot of people aren't open to persuasion. And so, as we've just talked about, you know, people are in a very different mindset. They want to persuade you, for example, instead of you persuading them. And so this idea of pre suasion is getting people ready to to be open to persuasion. That's really the first step. And then I spend a lot of my time actually trying to, [00:34:00] to help people recognize and resist persuasion.


Coach Mike Bayer: Got it, and so so that's the other side of it is in terms of being resistant to persuasion, what are the, the kind of different categories?


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, and so we've kind of identified what we call the six degrees of manipulation, and there are sort of the flip side of some of these of some of these concepts. So the first level and through some of our game, gamify interventions that we have that we train people on is, as one [00:34:30] called, impersonation. So you see impersonation and lots of forms, but you could you can impersonate a politician, but often it's an expert. People are impersonating experts. With covid, you see that, you know, a lot of people impersonate a medical sort of identity to try to sell you all kinds of, you know, health crap that doesn't work, but they will make money off of it. You also see it in the forms of you know, there was actually one example, the model [00:35:00] of this is somebody who created a Twitter account for Warren Buffett, misspelled Buffett, the last name. So it wasn't his actual account, gained hundreds of thousands of followers in a very short amount of time. But they were just tweeting out nonsense, you know, invest in what makes you happy. And, you know, that's so. So that's, you know, a big one sort of impersonating other people, which includes this sort of fake experts and things like that. And so we help people sort of recognize impersonation. The second big one is the use of emotions to persuade [00:35:30] people, including fear mongering and other and other techniques. And that, you know, that's a really common one. You know, you'll see you can write the same headline, the same news story and say, you know, horrific, terrible event. Or you could say, you know, there was a negative outcome for for some event,


Coach Mike Bayer: Our


Dr Sander van der Linden: Right?


Coach Mike Bayer: People


Dr Sander van der Linden: It has.


Coach Mike Bayer: Stepped up. I mean, it's really however you want to frame it, right?


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, it's very much related to the framing and using using emotions to frame [00:36:00] things for people, because that's also partly what contributes to the polarization, is that you could you could have a not so favorable headline about a political candidate or a president. But there's different ways of phrasing it by framing the headline in a very emotional way. You get people riled up from the outset because it's negative or it's, you know, or it's positive, but so that, you know, the use of emotions is is very prevalent. Also in fear mongering you know, a lot of conspiracy theories will involve elements [00:36:30] of fear and trying to get people to, you know, be scared of something or scared of other groups of people. And so that's you know, that's a very common technique that's used to to manipulate people. And then we got another polarization as another technique, and that's that's really


Coach Mike Bayer: What is it called?


Dr Sander van der Linden: 


Coach Mike Bayer: 


Dr Sander van der Linden: 


Coach Mike Bayer: 


Dr Sander van der Linden: My favorite


Coach Mike Bayer: 


Dr Sander van der Linden: 


Coach Mike Bayer: Paralyzation?


Dr Sander van der Linden: Ones polarization. Yeah.


Coach Mike Bayer: Polarization


Dr Sander van der Linden: And


Coach Mike Bayer: So polarizing.


Dr Sander van der Linden: It's kind of like, yeah, polarizing. It's one of my favorite ones because it's hard for people to to wrap their heads around that one. So often in our training, [00:37:00] we give people examples of of polarizing content. But the thing is, the example might be polarizing for you because you're in the group that doesn't like the posts that we just showed about somebody. And then we show the exact same posts about the other group. And then we tell people, look, it isn't about the content of it. This sort of stuff is just designed to make you want to hate the other group even more. And you've got to recognize that when when it's out there, that sometimes it's not about the actual content, it's not what the other person has done, whether [00:37:30] it's a celebrity or a politician, you know, and you already have your prior feelings and beliefs about this person. This is written in a way to to polarize two camps further. And that's you know, there's certainly not a good thing. So that's polarisation. And, yeah, then, you know, we have discrediting, which is which is about discrediting other people using techniques like your fake news is one of the biggest ones. Now, essentially, if you don't like somebody else's opinion, they're fake news, but it includes things like ad hominem attacks. So attacking the person rather than the content of


Coach Mike Bayer: Yeah,


Dr Sander van der Linden: What


Coach Mike Bayer: Like


Dr Sander van der Linden: They're writing. [00:38:00]


Coach Mike Bayer: I'll sometimes get people go. He's a life coach. What does he know? Meanwhile, like, I found a treatment center for over 15 years and two books made New York Times, you know, like I've done so many. I was a counselor. But it's a very quick discrediting because they don't know the story. And and by the way, someone could still not like me or want to work with me. And I'm not for everyone. But there's I think there's a quick discrediting and the same could apply. If someone's a doctor, [00:38:30] they can get discredit really quickly because they went through academics these days.. You know, I've seen it every which way where there's like a label becomes somehow triggering to someone's instant reaction instead of getting to know someone.


Dr Sander van der Linden: Absolutely, and ad hominem attack is all about finding something that's completely irrelevant about the person and then using that to discredit their legitimacy. Exactly. And that it's used so much and people do really fall for it because it's an easy [00:39:00] yeah, it's an easy one. And so, yeah. So that's you know, we help people identify that and try to try to sort of resist that because discredit especially in I suppose in. Yeah. In your field. And, you know, it happens a lot with celebrities do actually that, you know, a lot of attempts to discredit a particular individual just because, you know, you don't like them.


Coach Mike Bayer: You


Dr Sander van der Linden: And


Coach Mike Bayer: Know,


Dr Sander van der Linden: So that's


Coach Mike Bayer: I've and


Dr Sander van der Linden: You.


Coach Mike Bayer: I've and I've experienced it where I've been, it like the thing is like when somebody wants to [00:39:30] how shall I say this? When somebody wants to not have any accountability, what I find is a very quick thing someone can go to is discrediting black and white, which would be polarization so that the person can continue to do what they want to do and blame. You know what I mean?


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, definitely, [00:40:00] yeah, no, I fully agree, so that's that's a potent one. Yeah, and sort of the last one that we already talked about a little bit is trolling and the sort of, you know, and what to do there. And, you know, I find it even in my own field, you know, I find it difficult because it's it's so easy to get baited by a troll and to engage with them, especially if they appear to be legitimate or they have a large audience. And I see it all the time. But still, you know, there are some [00:40:30] let's say, you know, I don't know, you have your hundred thousand Twitter followers and some other some other guy is essentially trolling you with a big audience and trying to bait you into engaging with them. And and people weigh the options. You know, they think, look, I think it's helpful to try to weigh the options. If you engage more people actually see the troll right now. They're get notified, they see response, they get a larger audience, because now all of your friends and friends of your friends are seeing what they wrote about you. And then [00:41:00] you engage and you up the popularity of the whole discussion. And ultimately, is that a good thing? Sometimes, you know, you just got


Coach Mike Bayer: Sometimes


Dr Sander van der Linden: To respond.


Coach Mike Bayer: It could be if you're if you're trying to pull someone's emotions for justice and you know. Right.


Dr Sander van der Linden: Absolutely, absolutely. And it comes together that you could use the emotion technique is often paired with the trolling attempt. That's definitely and also the ad hominem attack comes in. And so trolling kind of that's it's an interesting one because it all sort of comes together and in the trolling attempt. But it's difficult for people to resist [00:41:30] because you just got to tune out and and let them sit in their own, you know, their own echo chamber with the low engagement on it on a tweet until they get bored of it. And that's, you know, that's difficult for people to do. But, you know, as they say, don't feed the troll.


Coach Mike Bayer: Well, I think also it's what's interesting, Dr. Phil always says, never give energy to the lower energy, because if you do, then you're matching that energy. And I've learned a lot from him doing that. You know, I always find it I find it interesting [00:42:00] that a lot of the people that somehow get caught, like I do not troll people, OK? Like I don't go on and troll people. I don't make fake accounts and troll people I never have. Even if and what I find is a lot of the people that when I've when I've looked at some profiles and, like, figured out who some people are is they'll say in their bios, like their [00:42:30] mental health advocates or their anti-bullying. And I think they really


Dr Sander van der Linden: Entire


Coach Mike Bayer: Lack a


Dr Sander van der Linden: Boeing.


Coach Mike Bayer: Way. Yeah. Oh, yeah. I think they completely lack awareness and somehow believe their behavior is justified. It's, it's very immature. And I find this is with adults. This isn't just with kids or younger people. And it's just interesting to me that someone would take [00:43:00] the energy to go on someone else's account, say something negative. I just don't I don't understand the objective.


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, well, you got to see it from their perspective, you know, what's interesting is that I do a lot of research on things like, you know, conspiracies and fake news and to try to understand what goes on. And there's a lot of trolling there, too, you know, but dark stuff, you know, a lot of in our in our online simulations, we let people go through [00:43:30] what it's like. This is a bit, you know, intense, but we let people go through a simulation of what it's like to troll victims of of an airplane crash, for example, because that's the stuff that's really happening. People trolling the Boston bombing victims because they don't think it was it was real. Right. Or and it gets really dark. And I think you have to imagine that the people who are doing this, they feel marginalized. They feel that people are not listening to them. You know, they've they've sort of lost touch with reality and they're very [00:44:00] upset and they're very angry and they don't feel connected to, you know, they they perceive illegitimate elites and and sort of authority figures as threatening them. They don't have the same kind of level of influence as the people that they accuse of conspiring and generally just feel like they've gotten the short end of the stick and so on an approach that I've adopted. But I get emails all the time from conspiracy theorists and and you know. One [00:44:30] about how Shakespeare didn't write his own sonnets and this guy was convinced and just emailed me on a daily basis about wanting to persuade me that this conspiracy is real. And, you know, I found the best approach to this is just to say, look, you're an intelligent person. I really value what you have to say. It's such a compliment to me that you've taken time out of your day to write me. And I just you know, I wish you all the best in your life and thanks for bringing this to my attention. They never reply again,


Coach Mike Bayer: Well, [00:45:00] you're


Dr Sander van der Linden: You know?


Coach Mike Bayer: Listening, you're better than man than me, I just block them, I only get the


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah,


Coach Mike Bayer: Hell off


Dr Sander van der Linden: That's


Coach Mike Bayer: My


Dr Sander van der Linden: The


Coach Mike Bayer: Page.


Dr Sander van der Linden: Other that's the second best strategy for sure. Yeah.


Coach Mike Bayer: I'm like, you know, my friend Reggie Jackson, he's Lady Gaga, choreographer for the past like 15 years, and we were talking about it and he was saying it's a privilege for people to be on his page. It's a privilege for someone to be able to access or going to any one social media account. And you don't have to accept everyone and you don't need to allow someone to be on your page. And when [00:45:30] somebody wants to be negative or you should do this or the thought policing comes out, I just I mean, it's hard, right? Like I'm with you. When I first started to get a lot of people trolling me, at first I was like, you know, because I come from I'm a I'm a sober dude. Right? So I've been recovering drug addict over 18 years. And part of what we're taught when we get sober is this idea of one person says you're an asshole. Then, [00:46:00] you know, they may be the asshole to people say it. You know, you may be in the three people said, well, you're probably the asshole, right? That's the old saying that happens in day to day life. However, on social media, there's others. I mean, when you have thousands of followers, there's going to be a lot of people calling you an asshole from time to time. Not the majority, but some. And I always operated in like, oh, OK. Well, in the past, is there some truth to this? Like, is there a part of me that I'm not seeing? You know, [00:46:30] I don't want to upset anyone.


Coach Mike Bayer: I don't want to. But what I found is it's best to always stay true to whatever you think, feel, want to express, because as soon as you get into, uh oh, or will people like me for being me or expressing me the way I want to express myself, that's when you start to lose yourself and that's when you start to be wrapped up in this idea that you need [00:47:00] to only portray certain parts of your life and you can't totally be yourself. And I've I find it happens a lot with people who are trying to grow their brands and businesses. You know, even today you have Yelp reviews. You know, I have people in the thing as people control any way they won. I mean, I have books have come out on Amazon. There's people can review it. And I know they did that review did a one star just because they don't like me. Right. They took the time and energy. They're going to rate it on Star [00:47:30] and they never even read the book because they're not a verified purchase and they also aren't even talking to what's in the book. And they there's no regulation. There's no consequences. And I wonder if at a certain point there's going to be some bigger regulation that happens. It's almost like there's a president of the Internet or something like there's going to be this separate society. Right.


Dr Sander van der Linden: Well, you know, it's interesting because people are now debating, especially on social media, [00:48:00] whether there's a need for greater moderation on those platforms in terms of what's happening. And so it's an interesting question. But what's interesting is that since the start of the Internet, people have been moderating stuff. And so it's really not that controversial. You know, the first chat rooms and blogs, they all had moderators to make sure that things are nice and yeah. And so, yeah, no that's very interesting. But it's you know, it is a difficult it is a difficult problem to deal with. You know, when I in my in my public role as trying to explain science [00:48:30] to people, I sometimes engage on Twitter when people say, oh, you know, your fake news or, you know, what do you what do you know? And it's kind of like, listen, I'm not telling people what they what's true and what's false. I'm trying to help people spot the misleading techniques so that they can make their own judgment. And sometimes that's great. And sometimes you just notice that people are just trolls and all they want is to to drag you down with them in some weird discussion. And then you just, you know, as you said, either your block him or you send him a nice


Coach Mike Bayer: Yeah,


Dr Sander van der Linden: Message


Coach Mike Bayer: I had this


Dr Sander van der Linden: Of.


Coach Mike Bayer: Woman, so every time I tweeted something [00:49:00] on Twitter, I had this woman where, like, it was just like an image of the side of her face. And I could say literally, like, you know, I only post positive things not because I'm positive all the time. I just don't think I need to add, like, controversy to, you know, to things. And I remember, like, I would post, you know, something like, you know, I'd sit and meditate and then something would come to me and I would tweet out maybe like, you know, [00:49:30] this moment is what we have right now. Let's get into it. What can you tackle that you aren't currently or whatever, like some coaching strategy kind of thing. And every single time I tweeted, she would be like, well, I think that's not the most important thing right now. The most important thing is love. Or she would


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah,


Coach Mike Bayer: Anything I did, it was like


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah.


Coach Mike Bayer: And so finally her name was like Diane or something. I just blocked her. We get off, I pay you. You add nothing to my life. Like [00:50:00] if you don't like what I'm tweeting, girl, go follow someone else. You can you know, I'm sure there's a Twitter page for coaches that love contradictions. You know, it's just I'm not going to sign up for that and.


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. You know,


Coach Mike Bayer: And


Dr Sander van der Linden: Sometimes.


Coach Mike Bayer: I'd say this, I say this because I also want the people who do follow me to realize, like, you don't have to, like, engage with other people. In fact, I think that's part of the problem that I see even with [00:50:30] friends of mine on Facebook, like just constantly arguing. And that's where neither one is ever going to change their opinion. And both are just trying to feel smarter than the other person. And whenever I have a post like that where I see two people arguing, I just remove it. I'm like, get off my page, both if you like. Why are you coming on my page arguing with each other? Like what? Are you guys don't even know each other?


Dr Sander van der Linden: That happens a lot, you know, on the on the blogs and forums, people have these flame wars of complete anonymous people who are below some post that, you know about something else, start [00:51:00] attacking each other on totally unrelated things. And it's yeah, it's really interesting. I think my you know, the best, the way I like to think about it is the best cure for all of this is something that that we call actively open minded thinking. And I hope that we can all help each other to, you know, cultivate more actively open minded thinking, because I think it is partly the cure to, to, to, you know, all of this polarization. And it just has to do with the fact that we're all in a state of just [00:51:30] being open minded about possibilities and, and not to the extreme. You know, Nietzsche once said there are no facts, only interpretations. I don't think we have to go that far. But I think, you know, the idea is that just being open minded enough to admit or recognize that you might be wrong, that other people might be wrong, that even people you do not like, that they might have good intentions sometimes and vice versa. And that when you're confronted with content that you don't like or that you know, doesn't fit with your reality [00:52:00] or your motivations, your worldview, to sort of think that, well, maybe I could be more open minded about it. Is there some way that I can accept this? Is there some way that I could have some doubt about what I believe? And I think it's good to have a little bit of healthy skepticism, sort of your your inner maybe even an inner inner scientist or whatever. That's the sort of questioning, you know, how confident should I be about everything that I know and just leave a little bit of space to allow for some possibility. And


Coach Mike Bayer: And


Dr Sander van der Linden: That's very


Coach Mike Bayer: In the


Dr Sander van der Linden: Different.


Coach Mike Bayer: Game,


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, go


Coach Mike Bayer: Yes,


Dr Sander van der Linden: Ahead.


Coach Mike Bayer: Sir. [00:52:30] Remember the game, the game that you did with fifteen thousand people, is that a game you can do with any group of people? And how long does the game take and.


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, absolutely, so we have a bunch of different ones, so I made intervention is called Bad News. It's kind of a pun. And so you step into the shoes of, of a nefarious fake news tycoon and it's, it's a simulation and it allows you to to uncover the techniques that are used in media manipulation more generally, sort of all the things that we just discussed. It [00:53:00] simulates a social media feed, so simulates a Twitter and you can start tweeting stuff and you start as an anonymous netizen and then you grow out to be a, you know, manager of a newspaper and really figure out how, you know, how this is all done. Because, you know, what better way is there to inoculate yourself than actually step into the shoes of somebody who's trying to deceive you? It takes about 15 to 20 minutes. So it's a bit of a, you know, time commitment for those whose attention span is quickly revolving these days. So it's about 15 to 20 minutes. It's called [00:53:30] Bad News. Get bad You can it's free. So, you know, it's a public initiative. It's free for anyone to access and play. We have a version that we did for the US election, which is called Harmony Square, and that has a slightly different scenario. Harmony Square is the last democracy on earth, and your job is to just wreak havoc and try to distort the election process, to try to uncover some of the bad things that have been happening and allow people to understand [00:54:00] how that works. It's called Harmony Square. And then we have one Covid too Called go viral. And both of those are shorter. They're about five to ten minutes.


Coach Mike Bayer: And where can everyone find out all this information and follow you, what would be the best way?


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, one good way is Twitter, so I'm on Twitter, it's at Sanader, underscore VD Linden, you can also just Google my name it should come up on my my


Coach Mike Bayer: Right, I'll follow


Dr Sander van der Linden: University


Coach Mike Bayer: You right


Dr Sander van der Linden: Pages.


Coach Mike Bayer: Now and follow Dr. Sander van der [00:54:30] Linden.


Dr Sander van der Linden: Yeah, let me follow you back, reciprocity, Mike, reciprocity.


Coach Mike Bayer: Yeah, we're into the reciprocity game. Well, listen, man, I really appreciate you coming on Always Evolving and sharing with us all this wisdom. I appreciate your continued work. And as you find more findings, reach out to me and let me know and we'll we'll talk about it.


Dr Sander van der Linden: Absolutely. Sounds great. Thanks for having me on, Mike.


Coach Mike Bayer: You got it buddy. All right, everyone, [00:55:00] thanks for tuning in to Always Evolving. And if you would like to join our free empowerment group, it happens every Tuesday, have a different guest speaker. Last week was Dave Hollis. This upcoming week is Gretchen Rubin. You just go to coach Mike Enter your email and bam, you're going to be available to show up for our meeting. And you can also text me the word empowerment three one zero nine eight four eighteen fifty eight. And if you want to work with [00:55:30] me as your life coach, check out the book. One Decision The First Step to a Better Life, which just made New York Times. And we'll be working together soon. All right. Till next time. Keep it magical.