Other people influence us and we don't even know it

An article published in the latest issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science finds that we are tied to each other-- what other people do and how they express their feelings is a contagious, strong influence. Stirring in the background of our minds are the influences of other people that affect us without our knowledge or recognition. For example when researchers showed individuals a picture of a library and instructed them to go there after the experiment, participants began to speak more softly, without being aware of why. Similarly, when primed to be rude, individuals interrupted a speaker, while those primed to be polite did not.

The article argues that we should not assume we are aware of most of the important influences on our behavior and judgments, and to accept that there are influences we do not know about. Only then would one have a chance at counteracting those influences and regaining control. At the same time, however, we can be reassured by the knowledge that these automatic influences over us are typically benign, and help keep us in touch with our present circumstances while our conscious mind is time-traveling into the past (memory) or the future (planning).

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The article published in the latest issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article please contact journalnews@bos.blackwellpublishing.net.

Current Directions in Psychological Science, journal of the Association for Psychological Science (formerly the American Psychological Society) presents the latest advances in theory and research in psychology. This important and timely journal contains concise reviews spanning all of scientific psychology and its applications.

Dr. John A. Bargh is professor in the department of Psychology at Yale University.

Erin L. Williams is a Ph.D. candidate in Psychology at Yale University.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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