Friday, April 5, 2013

#95 / Bad Behavior And Good Behavior

I have long believed that most people do what they are expected to do. A recent article in the New York Times cites sociological evidence that this is actually true. 

Robert Cialdini, now a professor emeritus of psychology at Arizona State University, and the author of the book Influence, puts it this way: "when we don’t know what to do, we look around to see what our peers are doing. From that we learn what is appropriate, and what is practical." 

This means that publicizing and punishing "bad behavior" is not the best way to get "good behavior." 

Bad behavior is usually more visible than good. It’s what people talk about, it’s what the news media report on, it’s what experts focus on. Experts are always trying to change bad behavior by warning of how widespread it is, and they take any opportunity to label it a crisis. “The field loves talking about the problems because it generates political and economic support,” says Wes Perkins, a professor of sociology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. This strategy might feel effective, but it’s not — it simply communicates that bad behavior is the social norm. Telling people to go against their peer group never works. A better strategy is the reverse: give people credible evidence that among their peers, good behavior is the social norm.

This sociological truth, that models of good behavior lead all others into good behavior, might also mean that it is actually true that a small number of "righteous" people are in fact sustaining and supporting the continued existence of our human world - just as the Jewish Wisdom books tell us.

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