Consistency: forces behind Ownership & Possession


(Below is a manuscript snippet of my book, Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. Please subscribe to the mailing list on the right to order the book when it launches. This post may be moved into a Premium Area after a certain period of time).

Consistency: valuing who we were

Stemming from the attachment to our own identities is the need to behave consistently with our past actions. Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely describes this as *self-herding*, where we believe something is good (or bad) on the basis of our previous behavior. Often times we buy certain items and brands just because we bought them in the past and we would like to stay consistent to our own choices, even though the particular product or brand may no longer be the best for our current needs.

Psychology Researcher Robert Cialdini also shares many researches relating to how we behave based on our past actions. In fact, studies have shown that people instantly become much more confident in certain racehorses the moment they place a bet on the horse.

This is like a person estimating that a horse has a 30% chance of winning (which is pretty good given how many horses there are on a track) prior to making a bet, and then after placing the bet, suddenly believing that the horse has a 60% chance of winning.

This is because the horse suddenly transformed from “a good bet” to “my bet,” and we learned from the Endowment Effect that once something becomes our own, we immediate place much higher value on it.

Consistency can make us Better Citizens if we believed we were Good Citizens

Our need to be consistent to our past can also cause us to do unreasonable things for others. In 1966, psychologists Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser did an experiment where they went door-to-door to ask Californians whether the residents would agree to have a big public-service billboard installed in their front lawns.

The researchers showed a picture of a beautiful house almost completely obscured by a six-by-three feet and poorly lettered billboard that read“DRIVE CAREFULLY,” and asked if residents would agree to have it installed. Understandably, only 17 percent of the residents complied.

However, there was one particular group of residents that reacted to the offer positively, with 76 percent of them agreeing to the installation. Why did this particular group respond so favorably? It turns out that two weeks prior to this intrusive offer, another “volunteer worker” went to those residents and asked if they would display a harmless three-inch-square sign that read “BE A SAFE DRIVER” in their windows. Since the request was fairly trivial, nearly everyone agreed to it.

What the residents didn’t expect, was that this small act of public service would cause them to start believing they were publicly conscious people who cared about drivers in the neighborhood. As a result, when the tiresome request came two weeks later, in order to be consistent with their publicly conscious self-images, they were inclined to accept such offers with less hesitation. Of course, there were elements of Core Drive 1: Epic Meaning & Calling involved too, but as you can see in the control group experiments, the Epic Meaning & Calling alone was not enough to motivate people to give up their beautiful house views.

What’s astonishing is that even with a third group of residents, whom two weeks prior were only asked to sign a petition that favored “keeping California beautiful,” compliance rate of the “DRIVE CAREFULLY” billboard still increased to 50%, even though the petition had nothing to do with safe driving. This suggests that the compliance has less to do with the effects of repetition priming, but more to do with that sense of ownership towards being a public service person.

A reader of Robert Cialdini’s book Influence once wrote that when his insurance sales staff started to ask, “I was wondering if you would tell me exactly why you’ve chosen to purchase your insurance with [our company.]” as opposed to simply setting up a physical appointment to sign the paperwork, sales immediately rose by 10% to 19%. This worked because as people recited their reasoning of taking an appointment, they are convincing themselves of certain values that they should stay consistent with and follow through on.

3 thoughts on “Consistency: forces behind Ownership & Possession”

  1. This (BE A SAFE DRIVER) also reminds me about Bateson’s Pyramid where a change in the (almost top) Identity level trickles down to a change in behaviour.

    Do you know of game or gf examples in the area of personal development / behaviour change that make specific use of this Identity principle?

  2. I recently read the book and it’s really nice stumbling into all these little blog snippets, thus refreshing and repeating interesting content.

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