Home » How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow (Transcript)

How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior by Leonard Mlodinow (Transcript)

And my favorite experiment in this realm was done in France, where French researchers hired two actors to stand on street corners, in a town in Northern France, on sunny days in the summer, and proposition all the single, young women who walked by. And to all the young women they said the same thing. Here’s the script translated into English. The difference between how they treated the women was: to half the women they provided this light quarter to half second touch on the forearm or the shoulder, and to the other half, they didn’t. And the question was, would they increase their success rate with the touch? And the answer is yes, they did. By a great deal. They were successful in getting the phone number of the women 10% of the time without a touch and 20% of the time with the touch. So it doubled their success rate.

Now, of course, picking up a woman is a sexual related activity, so you might think that touch is expected to have a greater influence there, but this same experiment has been done in many other contexts. For instance, waiters and waitresses in restaurants increase their tips by 30% if they give their customers a light touch. So this is something again that happens subconsciously. When they interviewed people after the experiment, most of them did not remember even being touched, and they all denied that the touch is what influenced their decision.

In my last minute, I want to convince you that these unconscious processes also affect you because a lot of people hear these things and go: “Yeah, other people are silly, aren’t they? But it doesn’t work with me.” So, before this talk, at the beginning, I did a little experiment. I asked you how much you would expect to pay for this hotel room. And I divided you into two groups. And, typically, when I do this experiment, group one tends to average around a $1,000 or $1,200 in their answer. And group two tends to go to like $200 or $300. Let’s see, what you guys did. Sean? Thank you.

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Wow! OK. Group one $1,857 and group two $131. So, how did I, the magician, influence you subliminally to make these guesses because I didn’t twist your arm, and I didn’t give you any different data on the two rooms? Both groups took in exactly the same data, and, somehow, you made different conclusions.

And the difference was this. Group one was asked first this question, “Does this room cost $5,500 a night?” I think, the answer is pretty clearly no. But group two was asked, “Is this $55 a night?” The answer is also no. So, when you answered the second question, you probably didn’t think you are basing your answer on the first question, but you were. This is the context, just like the checkerboard was. And just like the words were to the backward song.

So, let me end with the quote from Carl Jung, who I don’t agree with his specifics of what he believed, but I think he was right when he said: “These subliminal aspects of everything that happens to us may seem to play a very little part in our daily lives, but they are the almost invisible roots of our conscious thoughts.”

Thank you.

Unidentified Speaker: Leonard, Thank you, thank you so much. So, you know that how do we choose, you just proved that we don’t really choose.

Leonard Mlodinow: You choose, but you don’t exactly know how you’re doing the choosing.

Unidentified Speaker: Thank you very much.

Leonard Mlodinow: Thank you very much.


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