Here is the full transcript of psychiatrist Raj Persaud’s TEDx Talk presentation on The Psychology of Seduction at TEDxUniversityofBristol conference. Rajendra Persaud, also known as Raj Persaud is an English consultant psychiatrist, broadcaster and author of popular books about psychiatry.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: The psychology of seduction by Raj Persaud at TEDxUniversityofBristol
What’s the one decision that you are going to make in your life that’s going to determine your future mental health, happiness and well-being more than any other decision you’re going to make? Well, that decision is who you choose to marry. Or put another way, who you choose to enter into a long-term, committed monogamous relationship. If you get that decision wrong, and you end up with the wrong person, then that’s going to cause you more unhappiness and distress than any other decision in your life. In fact, it’s going to be so bad that you might as well get a season ticket to my psychiatric clinic.
Now, the survey data suggests that around the world 99% of the population desire a single committed, monogamous long-term relationship. It’s something that everyone wants, so how to get that decision right is extremely important. There are many different aspects of that decision we could discuss – we could talk, for example, about how to know when you’ve met the right person. But because it’s a big and complicated subject I’m going to focus just on one aspect in the short time I’ve got to talk to you today. And that aspect is going to be: how to seduce. Or to put it in more common British parlance: how to pull.
I became interested in the subject as a psychiatrist, when I had a moment of epiphany in a clinic. I was working in the outpatient department at my psychiatric hospital. I was consulting with a young lady who was pretty depressed, and all of a sudden she announced in the middle of the consultation: “Dr. Persaud, I don’t need Prozac, I need a boyfriend.” It was at that moment that I realized that more success in relationships would go a long way to improving people’s happiness. That if we could help people improve their relationships and how they conduct relationships it would go a long way to improving their mental health. Hence I got interested in the science of seduction.
Now it’s very important you understand that my interest in the science of seduction is purely academic, clinical, scientific. I have no personal interest in the subject. Indeed before I came this evening to give you this talk my wife said it’s very important you make sure they don’t think you’re some kind of academic geek who started reading about the science of seduction because you found the whole relationship thing kind of puzzling.
When the publishers rang me up for the first time to ask me to write my first book on seduction, I rang my wife, I was very excited. I said, “Darling, the publishers have just rung me up and they have commissioned me to write the very next book they want to publish on how to seduce.” There was a distinct silence down the line, and then my wife said, “Yes, but why you?” Which I thought was somewhat harsh.
The other reason why I think seduction is very important is that it actually goes to the heart of a huge amount of human happiness. You see, people come to me at my clinic and they tell me all about the things they want from life and the world that they are not getting. And they are very frustrated. They may want to date, they may want a Ferrari in their garage, or they may want a million pounds in their bank account. They always tell me what they want and what they’re not getting. What they don’t tell me is what they need to give in order to get what they want.
You see, at the heart of life, is a transaction. You can get what you want from the world and life, but you have to be able to give something that the world wants and you need to give it first. I’m going to let you into a little secret that all of the most highly effective people on the planet already intuitively know, and that is, life is a seduction. We need to seduce the world and the people in it and seduce life into giving us the things that we want. And in order to seduce successfully, we need to make the world the right offer.
You see, in a general sense, we need to be constantly seducing our friends, our lovers as well, but our work colleagues, in a strictly, perhaps not erotic sense of the word, but we need to be seducing them into giving us the things that we want.
Now I know already many of you are going to be a bit disappointed you were sitting there hoping I was going to give you some hot tips on how to seduce in terms of the more narrow erotic sense of the word ‘seduction’. Well, the good news is yes, some of the tips I’m about to give you will be helpful if you came here focused on the more narrow erotic sense of the word ‘seduction’. The bad news is if you have been sitting here really locked in and focused in on getting some hot tips on how to seduce in more narrow erotic sense of the word, well, that says so much about you.
So the other thing I want to say before I finally reveal these tips is what I like about them is how democratic they are. What they kind of say is that anyone can become more seductive. It doesn’t really matter how hot you look, or how cool you are. I find that most people seem to have rather low self-esteem when it comes to seduction. They kind of think, “I can’t be really seductive.” What’s really amazing about the social psychology of seduction is what it says is anyone can become more seductive and indeed some of these tips are so powerful you can leap ahead of even the hottest person that you know or the coolest member of your social group and become more seductive than them.
So, the first tip comes from a really interesting social psychology experiment. In the social psychology experiment, the social psychologist and academic working in the university department recruited some students to be confederates of the experimenter. He sends the students out on a date, they invite people to come on a date with students. The person invited to come on a date thinks it’s just a date but actually there’s a social psychology experiment going on. The social psychologist instructs the students who was a confederate of the experimenter to throughout the date agree with everything the other person is saying. Then at the end of date it’s revealed that actually there was a social psychology experiment going on and a rating is secured for how attractive the student confederate was found given how they behaved during the date.
In the first condition of the experiment, the student confederate goes out and just agrees with everything the other person says on the date and an attraction rating is secured at the end and people are found moderately attractive in that condition.
In the second condition of the experiment, the student confederate is sent out on a date and is instructed to disagree with everything the other person says. So it goes a bit like this: “I really like this restaurant you picked, it’s very lovely, what do you think?” “No, I don’t like it.” “I thought the fish was rather nice, what do you think about it.” “No, I don’t like it.” It comes as no surprise if you spend the whole date doing that disagreeing with everything the other person says you’re not really found very attractive at all. So far, so obvious.
Now the third condition of the experiment is where things get really interesting. And in the third condition of the experiment the student confederate is sent out with the instruction to spend the first half of the date disagreeing with everything the other person says and then to switch and start agreeing for the second half of the date. And amazingly enough, you’re found most attractive of all in this condition. Now why is that?
There’s rather some complex psychological theories going on as to what’s going on here, so I’m going to cut to the chase and give you what I think is the most profound and important theory. You see the other person on the date didn’t realize there was a Machiavellian manipulative plot of thought whereby you were watching for the clock to hit a certain time and then you’re going to switch. What their experience of you was that you were rather difficult in the first half of the date and then you warmed up to them. And they think they had an impact on you. They think they warmed you up. And there is something about having an impact which is very seductive.
Now there are many objections to this experiment. People always say: “Yes, yes, I can see that seductive, but you’re playing a game. Why can’t we just be ourselves?” Well, you can just be yourself if you want but be aware of something, which is that there are many people out there that are playing the game of life, and they are playing it rather hard. And as a result, they are terrifically successful. They are really good in job interviews, and they’re very good as politicians at getting elected. So if you are not going to play the game of life, that’s fine, but be aware that you might run into trouble if everyone else is playing the game of life.
The other important idea here is that we can divide relationships into 3 key phases: attention, interest and maintenance. You walk into a bar you see a very attractive person “Wow!” They’ve got your attention. Hopefully you’ve got their attention. Then you go over and talk to them, and get to know them and now you’re entering the interest phase and maybe after a few days or weeks, you might transition into the maintenance phase which is a long-term commitment.
Now the key point about this idea is that different skills are required depending on which phase you’re in. It’s a profoundly important social psychological model in terms of getting a handle on and understanding business relationships, friendship and of course romantic seductions. Now, even if you want to reject the attention, interest and maintenance phases, it is a very powerful model. We all know people who we think: “This is a wonderful person, how come they are single?” Well, maybe they are very good at maintenance and they are not so good at attention or interest. So the model is really helpful in diagnosing problems in terms of seduction.
And one other point I want to make is even if you end up in a long-term committed relationship doing maintenance, if your relationship is going to be successful and last 40 years or 50 years I believe you’ve got to cycle back through attention, interest and maintenance. You’re going to be constantly cycling through in terms of a long-term relationship, in terms of getting your partner’s attention again, getting them interested again in you, and that constant cycling means that life and even long-term committed relationships are a long-term seduction. Life is a seduction, even long-term marriages are a constant seduction. And the attention, interest and maintenance model is really helpful in understanding that.
Perhaps the most expert exponent of attention, interest and maintenance was Casanova. Not least because Casanova was brilliant at attention and interest but really bad at maintenance. Casanova was a real figure. He lived in 18th century Venice. He was an adventurer and a nobleman and is said to be perhaps the most successful seducer of women in history. And he’s got the final tip I want to give you at the heart of the secret of seduction.
You see, many people think that Casanova would walk into a bar in 18th century Venice, see an attractive member of the opposite sex and pull like that. But actually that’s not true, he would walk into a bar and see an attractive woman, but then spend many months courting her, as was the courtly custom of the day before being finally successful. And there is, by the way, an important lesson for us all. If you go into a bar tonight and pull like that, I’m afraid to tell you that’s not really a seduction. A seduction is when you meet someone who is disinterested in you, or only moderately interested, and you convert that interest into rabid desire. That’s a seduction. And the problem with the modern world, and websites, tinder and apps, is that it’s kind of doing away with the whole seduction idea and we are losing the skill of seduction with very ominous social implications, in my opinion.
Now the story goes that Casanova walks into a bar one night, sees a gorgeous woman, she’s an actress, physically very desirable, falls immediately in love with her, desires her. The actress, besides being physically stunning, has an interesting characteristic. You see, she has a speech impediment, a lisp. She can’t say words properly that have the letter R in them. Many of you will know a famous TV presenter here in Britain, called Jonathan Ross, whose nickname is Rosie, who has a very similar speech impediment. He can’t say words properly that have the letter R. She has this speech impediment. Without really interacting with the actress, Casanova turns on his heels, goes home and does a mysterious thing. He spends the next 3 days and nights writing a play. And this play has a very special feature. It has no words in it with the letter R.
Three days and nights later, he returns to the bar, presents the play to the actress, and the seduction is successful. But here is my pop quiz psychology question for you, you see, what Casanova could’ve done, he could have said: “I can’t help noticing you’ve got a bit of a speech impediment there. Tell you what, I’ll pay for elocution lessons, I’ll buy you speech therapy.” No one can deny that speech therapy is more pragmatically helpful to the poor actress than a play that has no words in it with the letter R. However, it’s the play that’s the seductive move. It’s the play that’s sexy. Why is that? Well, let’s look between the lines. What you are really saying when you offer someone speech therapy? What you are saying is: “there is something wrong with you, it needs fixing.” After it’s fixed, then I’ll have a relationship with you. That’s not a very sexy message. But, guess what? It’s kind of what we’re saying to a lot of people, a lot of the time.
What does the play with no words with the letter R say? What it says is: “don’t change a thing! You’re perfect as you are. And my job is to help the world recognize the perfection that I see.” That’s a sexy message.
The other thing the play does is this. It’s terrifically specific, the actress knows that Casanova is interested specifically in her. A lot of young men going on a date, nipping to the petrol station because they’ve left it to the last minute, they buy some petrol station flowers, present the petrol station flowers to their date with a grand gesture, and are somewhat perplexed if the date is less than overwhelmed with the presentation of the petrol station flowers. You see, you can’t go into a petrol station and buy a play off the self that has no words in it with the letter R. The actress knows that Casanova was interested in her and no one else. It’s specific.
But here is the final point and the most profound message in terms of the psychology of seduction. What Casanova has done brilliantly is and here is the key catchphrase you need to remember: he’s filled the unmet need. The actress has an unmet need for parts that have no words with the letter R and Casanova diagnoses the unmet need and meets it more completely than it’s ever been met before. If you find someone’s unmet need and fill it in a way it’s never been filled before you will be successful in seducing them.
So your mission is a two-pronged attack. You’ve got to find out the unmet need, and then you have to fill it in a way that’s never been filled before. Now I can sense in me that you have a lot of questions. “How do we find out the unmet need? How do we fill it?” And I apologize I’ve run out of time, so I won’t be able to answer those questions. But, is it possible that leaving you wanting more is a kind of a seduction?
Thank you very much.