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Touch is a powerful force in any social interaction.  There is much research to demonstrate the beneficial effect of touch.  For example, several studies have found that touch can help bond, increase tips, and develop a connection between others.  However, recent research has demonstrated that in a competitive situation, touch can be considered negative and may be considered as a way of exerting dominance.

Take for example in the recent election cycle.  After Mitt Romney’s son made the comment about wanting to take a swing at Obama, Romney’s son then tried to exert dominance in the third debate by patting President Obama on the back.  President Obama then responded by touching Romney’s son at the end on the back.  Politicians are very astute in their knowledge of touch and constantly jockey to get the last “touch.”

Recently, researchers have proven this exact point. Jeroen Camps and his colleagues had 74 student participants perform a maze challenge in a race against a partner. The race was a competition.  In some of the experiment, the partner patted the losing subject on the shoulder three times, smiled and wished them good luck on the next one.  The control group didn’t have the touching of the shoulder.  Next the subjects entered into a game that required cooperation — the Dictator Game.

The revealing finding was that participants who’d been patted on the shoulder shared…[less] with their partner, suggesting that touch can backfire when it’s performed in a competitive context, perhaps because it’s interpreted as a gesture of dominance. Interestingly, there was no link between participants’ awareness of whether they’d been touched and their sharing behaviour; participants who remembered the touch rated it as neutral; and the partner wasn’t rated as more unpleasant in the touch condition. All of which suggests the adverse effect of touch on later cooperation was probably non-conscious.

A second study was similar but this time participants and their partner…either competed against each other on a puzzle or they cooperated. Again, afterwards, the partner wished them luck, smiled, and either did or didn’t pat them on the shoulder at the end, before they both moved to another room to play the dictator game. The results were clear – in a competitive context, touched participants subsequently shared fewer movie-prize credits with their partner, compared with those participants who weren’t touched. By contrast, in the cooperative context, touched participants went on to be more generous with their partner, as compared with participants who weren’t touched. (Camps, J., Tuteleers, C., Stouten, J., and Nelissen, J. (2012). A situational touch: How touch affects people’s decision behaviour. Social Influence, 1-14 DOI:10.1080/15534510.2012.719479; BPS Digest)

“Despite what some people might think, touching someone else may thus not always have desirable social consequences,” the researchers said. “A simple tap on the shoulder, even with the best intent, will do nothing but harm when used in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

The ramifications for touch can be significant in negotiations and mediation.  You have to be careful to think about whether you are in a competitive negotiation or cooperative process.  Many negotiations in the litigation context can be extremely competitive and win-lose zero sum game.  On the other hand, if you are negotiating a joint venture in a cooperative setting or assisting as a mediator, touch might be beneficial.  The importance of this research is that you must be careful to analyze the situation before first engaging in touch.  Then consider what the effect might be on the other and how they might interpret that touch.

By Steven G. Mehta

Recently, I have been looking into the concept of the backfire effect. That effect plainly states that when people are entrenched in their view, the more information that you provide them to combat their belief, the more they believe in their position.

Here is a video explaining the concept.

By Steven G. Mehta

Recently, I was at a soccer tournament recently and a goal keeper saved a goal.  At the same time, one of the parents jokingly stated that the Goalkeeper had saved the world.  How, I asked.  The parent then reminded me that a religious organization had recently professed that the world was going to end on that exact date and time.  At that same time, the Goal keeper had saved the goal, and as a result saved the soccer team from total destruction.  The next day, the religious organization claimed that they had miscalculated and that the new date was really the end of the world.  That world saving goal keeper got me thinking about why people are convinced about their positions and why they don’t change their mind even in the face of overwhelming evidence.  That process brought me to the the concept of the Backfire Effect.

The Backfire effect is as follows:  When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.

This happens all the time in mediation.  Many times the parties are so unwilling to consider the other sides’ viewpoint and all the evidence you present does not convince them to change their opinion. How can this be?  David McRaney, in his new book, discusses this principle.  McRaney explains in as follows:

In 2006, Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler at The University of Michigan and Georgia State University created fake newspaper articles about polarizing political issues. The articles were written in a way which would confirm a widespread misconception about certain ideas in American politics. As soon as a person read a fake article, researchers then handed over a true article which corrected the first. For instance, one article suggested the United States found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The next said the U.S. never found them, which was the truth. Those opposed to the war or who had strong liberal leanings tended to disagree with the original article and accept the second. Those who supported the war and leaned more toward the conservative camp tended to agree with the first article and strongly disagree with the second. These reactions shouldn’t surprise you. What should give you pause though is how conservatives felt about the correction. After reading that there were no WMDs, they reported being even more certain than before there actually were WMDs and their original beliefs were correct.

They repeated the experiment with other wedge issues like stem cell research and tax reform, and once again, they found corrections tended to increase the strength of the participants’ misconceptions if those corrections contradicted their ideologies. People on opposing sides of the political spectrum read the same articles and then the same corrections, and when new evidence was interpreted as threatening to their beliefs, they doubled down. The corrections backfired.

According to McRaney, once you have placed a topic in your belief system, your brain then tries to defend you from altering those beliefs.  This allows you to stick to your beliefs.  In other words, it is hard to develop a belief, but once it is in your system, it is hard to get out of your system.

In mediation, the same principle holds true.  Many times a person is so invested in his or her opinion about the merits of the case that person will never change his or her mind based on the evidence.  The more evidence you present to substantiate the facts, the more the person is convinced of his position.

So just to keep track of the title, we have connected the End of the Worlders and mediation.  How in the world will Austin Powers, the International Man of Mystery connect to this crazy backfire concept.  Have a look at the following clip:

Here, the evidence continues to develop that Austin owned a certain item.  As more evidence is presented, he becomes even more vehement in his opinion that the item in question is not his.  At the end, he never agrees that the item was his.  Here, his belief system (of him being the debonaire secret agent) prevented him from conceding that he owned an item that was contrary to that image.

So now that we have identified this problem, how do we deal with it?

First, you cannot expect to convince this person on a rationale level about this topic.  You have to try other ways to convince this person that is consistent with his or her beliefs.   Many times, I have told parties that I understand their position.  I also get them to recognize that there are other people in the world that don’t agree with their position.  I also get them to understand that those people could be on the jury, and that no matter how strong the party’s belief is, it is also true that he or she will never be on the jury that decides this case.

Second, many people have the misconception that people are rationale decision makers.  The reality is that all of us are irrationale all the time.  We make impulse purchases.  We make emotional decisions.   The decision to support a team, the decision to marry our mate, the decision to buy one brand over the other.  All of these decisions are emotional.  When faced with the backfire effect, you can try to persuade the person on an emotional level rather than an intellectual level.  Appeal to other interests such as prestige, fear, failure, success, perception, bias, ego, etc.  Using those interests rather than the strictly logical will likely yield better results in attempting to persuade the backfire effecters.

So for the End of the Worlders, perhaps you might use their faith as the tool to assist in persuading, for Austin Powers, perhaps his ego, and for the mediating parties, their fear of the unknown.

Steve’s Book

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