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Each week on Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, explore different aspects of human behavior and the brain.

Why We're More Influential Than We May Think

Being the incredibly social species that we are, we humans simply cannot avoid influencing one another when we interact. Influence is inevitable. 

The question then becomes, since influence is inevitable in human interaction, can we achieve the kind of influence that we intend to have, or that we might think we have in the world? 

On this week’s show, the Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, influence our understanding of the different functions and effects of influence in our lives.

While you might have the best intentions for demonstrating a positive influence on those around you, you might not always achieve the desired result. Influence is a multi-faceted interplay of factors on both sides of the equation, the giver and receiver, so predicting the outcome of the influence of an interaction is impossible. It might be possible to predict a likely result, but ensuring that prediction is not something that can be guaranteed.

Take the example of parenting as a model. Of course, there’s no greater influence in a small individual’s life than the influence of their primary caretakers. You might be frustrated and irritated by some repeated action of the child, like maybe repeatedly stomping because they like the noise, so you might express frustration in a moment of weakness in some kind of outburst. Your outburst might then reinforce the child’s desire to stomp and achieve that level of reaction in you, even if it’s a negative effect. They might stomp just to make you mad because that is something they now know they can do, which they didn’t know they could do before. That’s how it works. Your outburst expression of frustration was intended to stop the stomping, but instead, it encouraged the stomping, in a convoluted way.

We do have the capacity, as people, to develop awareness of the cause and effect relationship between our choice of actions and their typical effects in others. This allows us to have more control over achieving the influence that we desire.

It’s important to be conscious of our influence on others and a challenge to consistently influence in the ways that we intend. It can be done, but it takes lots of work, attention, patience and practice.   

Cirelli, Laura. Einarson, Kathleen. Trainor, Laurel. "Interpersonal Synchrony Increases Prosocial Behavior in Infants." Developmental Science 12 June 2014: Online

Markman, Art. "Why You Have More Influence on Others Than You Think." Psychology Today: 20 May 2014: Online

Rebecca McInroy is an award-winning show creator, host, and executive producer for KUT, KUTX, and KUT.ORG.
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