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Griskevicius once worked as an intern at Morgan Stanley with a trader who was aggressive in the office, but refused to make investment decisions when at home. Much later Griskevicius realized that his colleague had somehow understood just how cautious he became when he wasn’t at work.
Changing evolutionary goals
To test this theory, Griskevicius and some colleagues asked people in a research project how they viewed a $100 loss or $100 gain, but only after aiming their subjects at different evolutionary goals. They did it by asking folks to read a story before answering questions. Some subjects read about a home intruder, while others were given a romantic story about strangers meeting on vacation that ends with a passionate kiss.
Those who read the creepy story had their aversion to loss skyrocket. That’s because the researchers had triggered the self-preservation evolutionary goal and only then asked about the $100.
The women who read the vacation story had far less aversion to loss. As for the men, well, they no longer had an aversion to loss at all. The guys had been manipulated into mate acquisition mode and they didn’t care about losses anymore. All they cared about were the $100 gains.
This kind of result, Griskevicius said, is actually predictable, and you can see why that kind of understanding of evolutionary goals would be so useful in business. Not to act in a predatory way, he said, but as good business practice.
“I teach persuasion and influence, and I have lived and breathed sales techniques and psychological tricks and manipulations,” Griskevicius said. “The reason many are effective techniques is that they’re taking advantage of evolutionary biases. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t fall for these techniques.”
His understanding of evolutionary goals usually allows him to see the tricks coming but regrettably, Griskevicius said, it doesn’t make him a particularly savvy consumer. When his daughter turned 4 years old recently, the Disney Store was selling her favorite princess dress for $50, a pretty steep price. But then, his care of kin evolutionary goal popped up.
He paid the 50 bucks — the deeply rational choice.
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