Say what? How words affect our behaviour in powerful ways

Most of us believe that we are fully aware of and in control of all aspects of our behaviour. We assume that we possess a complete understanding of our underlying motivations and think that we would not be influenced by subtle or subconscious ‘tricks’ that attempt to change our behaviour. However, an emerging line of research has built an incredible knowledge base demonstrating that these beliefs are misguided.

Goal-setting behaviour

A fascinating study that beautifully illustrates this phenomenon was conducted by psychologists John Bargh and Peter Gollwitzer, pioneers in the study of goals and goal-setting behaviour. In one of their experiments on the topic, they asked their participants to play a “resource-dilemma” game. Although many versions of this game exist, in their study, participants were engaged in a computerized simulation where they were ‘fishing’ from a communal pond. The goal of the game is to catch as many fish as possible, to maximize profits and ‘win’ the game.

However, the challenge for the players is that they can only take out so many fish before the pond is depleted. Once this occurs, everyone in the village will go hungry. Therefore, there are difficult decisions to make in terms of how many fish to catch as well as to put back for the betterment of the community.

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