What do you think would motivate people more — getting them to focus on what they are about to do or asking them to think about whether they will do it or not?
When a group of students were given one or the other of these contemplative tasks before facing an anagrams exercise, the ones who had asked themselves whether they would do it completed more anagrams than the group who were just thinking about doing it.
In another experiment, just writing ‘Will I’ rather than ‘I will’ several times before the task meant that students were likely to commit themselves to more time exercising during the coming week. Interestingly, just writing the word ‘will’ was not enough — it had to be the question form.
Free will = motivation
The authors of the study (Ibrahim Senay et al.) suggest that prompting people with the questioning phrase ‘Will I…’ leads to ‘interrogative self-talk’. They argue that asking yourself questions rather than making declarative statements is more likely to lead to intrinsic (or internal) motivation because you have a greater feeling of autonomy. You are able to choose and, if you have chosen to do this, it must be more important to you. Other researchers have shown that a belief in free will can have a positive influence on your behaviour.
The power of consistency
I run workshops on influencing skills and a couple of the snippets of research that I mention seem to relate to this:
- Voter turnout in an election increased to 86.7% in people who had been asked to make a prediction about whether they would vote, compared to 61.5% in those who were not asked the question.
- When a restaurant changed the receptionist’s script when taking a booking from ‘Please call if you have to cancel,’ to ‘Will you call if you have to cancel?’ the no-show rate dropped from 30% to 10%.
Professor Richard Cialdini attributes this effect to our need to act in ways that are consistent with our previously established views of ourselves. Asking ourselves questions that draw attention to our motivations force us to define who we are and what is important to us. Having defined these things, we have to act in accordance with them or face cognitive dissonance.
In my workshops and one-to-one guidance, I am increasingly saying ‘Think about this question and feel free to say no. Will you act on what we have discussed today?’
- Think about this question and feel free to say no. Will you rate or comment on this post?
- Ibrahim Senay, Dolores Albarracín, & Kenji Noguchi (2010). Motivating Goal-Directed Behavior Through Introspective Self-Talk: The Role of the Interrogative Form of Simple Future Tense Psychological Science : 10.1177/0956797610364751
- Vohs, K., & Schooler, J. (2008). The Value of Believing in Free Will: Encouraging a Belief in Determinism Increases Cheating Psychological Science, 19 (1), 49-54 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02045.x
- Greenwald, A., Carnot, C., Beach, R., & Young, B. (1987). Increasing voting behavior by asking people if they expect to vote. Journal of Applied Psychology, 72 (2), 315-318 DOI: 10.1037/0021-9010.72.2.315
- Cialdini, R.B. (2000) Influence: Science and Practice. Pearson Education.
Related post: On your best (planned) behaviour