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You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

Some had ticked only three adjectives the same as the ‘other’ person and so the perception was that they had very little in common. Some had selected ten of the same adjectives and so were considered to be neutral. But then there was a small group who believed that the other person had chosen seventeen adjectives that they themselves had selected. On the face of it, they had a lot in common with the ‘other’ person thanks to the researchers manipulating the results. But would it make them more likely to do something for that other person? After all, we know from basic psychology that people like people who are like themselves. The second part of the experiment provided the results.

The participants were then introduced to the person with whom they had swapped lists. Or so they were told. Naturally, this ‘other’ person was a member of the research team. After a brief chat, came the moment of truth. The researcher, in passing, asked the participant if they would do them a favour. They asked them if they would mind reading an 8-page essay and then provide a page of feedback? Naturally, not many people would be keen to do this rather onerous chore for someone they had only just met. Yet 77% of those who had selected 17 out of 20 adjectives the same, obliged. One even offered to clip the person’s toe nails and perform a back wax.

Only kidding.

Of those whose results made them appear to be dissimilar to the other person, only 43% said yes to providing the feedback. Fewer still say they would be happy to trim body hair of any sort.

Just kidding again.

So, what have we learned? Well, it seems that fleeting attraction and perceived similarity can be remarkably powerful in changing 'no' into 'yes'. Whilst relatively small requests are processed in an automatic way using simple rules-of-thumb, when it comes to considering the same request from a stranger, we make a snap judgement based on trivial information and how much we like them.

So the next time you need a favour from a perfect stranger, be sure to point out the similarities between you before you ask. I do it on trains all the time. It really does work.


Philip Hesketh is a professional speaker on the psychology of persuasion. His first book ‘How To Be More Persuasive and Influential’ is an Amazon best seller. His second book, ‘The Seven Golden Rules For A Happy and Successful Life’ is a relevant but irreverent interpretation of the historical but hysterical facts of The Wars of The Roses and the reigns of Henry VIII and his three children.


Philip Hesketh ~