The more you understand about the limitations of human cognition, the easier it is to make people do what you want.
Depending on your perspective, that’s either totally scary or totally awesome.
Either way, it helps to learn how these psychological tricks work so you can better protect yourself from them. One such trick is called the “disrupt then reframe” technique, or DTR. Basically, it involves confusing people so they don’t consider their decision to help you out that carefully.
The researchers who discovered the effectiveness of the DTR technique conducted a series of experiments in which undergrads went door-to-door selling Christmas cards to benefit a charity.
In one experiment, some salespeople simply stated the price of the package: $3. Other salespeople used the “disruption” technique: After stating that the price of the package was 300 pennies, they waited two seconds and said, “That’s $3.”
Still other salespeople used the “reframing” technique. They said, “For a package of eight note cards, the price is 3.” After a two-second pause, they added, “It’s a bargain.”
The fourth group of salespeople disrupted and reframed. First, they said, “This package of cards sells for 300 pennies.” After a two-second pause, they said, “That’s $3. It’s a bargain.”
Results showed that salespeople in the first three conditions were able to persuade about 30% of people to buy cards. But among the salespeople who used the DTR technique, a whopping 70% of people agreed to purchase a pack.
In a subsequent experiment, the researchers eliminated the possibility that salespeople’s expectations were contributing to their success when they used the DTR technique. They also found that switching the order of the steps in the technique (first reframing and then disrupting) didn’t work as well.
A few years ago, other researchers conducted a meta-analysis of multiple studies on the DTR technique, and confirmed its effectiveness.
The researchers in the original study say this strategy likely works best in situations in which people are torn between two options. In this case, people were likely caught between their desire to support the charity and their desire to avoid door-to-door sales.
The “300 pennies” statement disrupted their routine thought processes, and while they were distracted trying to figure out what that actually meant, they just accepted that the price was a bargain.
The main takeaway from this research: If you’re looking to persuade someone to do something and you sense they’re on the fence, confuse them. Then tell them how easy the task will be.
For example, if you need a coworker’s help on a project, you could say something like, “It’ll take 85 minutes.” Then two seconds later, say, “It’s super-simple!” That way, they probably won’t have time to figure out that the project will take an hour and a half and might not be so simple after all, and will just agree.
Of course, if you feel like someone’s trying to use the same technique on you, your best bet might be to take a few seconds before giving an answer, so your mental gears have a chance to kick in. There’s no guarantee you won’t get sucked in — but you’ll at least have a better shot at making an informed decision.
Author: Shana Lebowitz
Shana is a strategy reporter for Business Insider. Before joining Business Insider in April 2015, she covered mental health for Greatist and personal finance for LearnVest. Shana studied English and psychology at Brandeis University and received her master’s degree in English literature from Columbia University.