WHAT MADE YOU THINK BEING GOOD TO PEOPLE ALL THE TIME WILL EVER GET YOU WHAT YOU WANT
SHE WALKED toward the cafe table where I waited anxiously. As usual, she radiated the confident good looks that made her one of the most striking blondes I had seen in all my eighteen years. But immediately I sensed something wrong. I noticed it as she sat down next to me. My date’s eye shadow made a futile effort to hide her slightly bruised left eye. This flaw in her otherwise perfect appearance caused me to ask about the bruise. And she responded by telling me all the details of a rocky love affair she was locked into with another man. As you can imagine, her answer to my unfortunate question ruined my whole evening. And I considered the episode a curse at the time-never having cared for listening to my date recount how she just can’t get over some other guy. But looking back, I realized that I was having my nose rubbed in my first priceless lesson in manipulation. And later it hit me that my rival had almost made my date into his personal slave by using manipulation. Her account of the relationship went this way: “I’ve been dating Bill off and on for about a year, even though I know damn well he’s no good for me. Just look at my eye. He even hits me sometimes when he gets mad. “Day before yesterday, I told him for the hundredth time that I was leaving him, and that it was all over. He said, ‘Okay, but let me kiss you good-bye before you go.’ That kiss lasted five minutes, and I wound up spending the night with him. I just can’t get over him. He got mad at me the next morning and hit me. That’s where this came from,” she explained, gesturing toward her injured left eye. As my date described her affair with this slugger named Bill, it was obvious that she was addicted to him. I also sensed that during that five-minute kiss, Bill had once again grabbed command of her emotions and pulled her back under his control. After listening to her story, I doubted that she would ever muster the strength to get out of the situ- ation. And she confirmed my doubts by admitting to me that the cafe we were talking in-which she had selected for our date-was, in fact, Bill’s favourite watering hole and hangout. She wanted to be there. She suspected that “he might show up here with another girl, and I just wanted to see what she looks like.” I made this my last date with Bill’s slave. I was young and green at the time. But still I was dry enough behind the ears to know that I didn’t have a chance with her. As an epilogue, I might add that the last time I saw Bill’s sometime lover, she was planning to make a clean break. She’d finally decided that the only way to get over Bill was to resort to moving out of the state. I hope she went through with it. But if Bill drove her to the bus station and gave her one of his irresistible five-minute kisses, I would wager every penny I own that she never got on that bus. For months after this scene, I tried to figure out the source of Bill’s almost mystical power over this girl. And finally, several years later, as I read about a psychological experiment with a pigeon, I came to understand his manipulation. This might sound farfetched, but if you’ll compare Bill’s manipulation to the pigeon story below, I think you’ll draw the same conclusion I did. At the centre of this pigeon story lies one of the most powerful traits of human nature. Understanding this human trait and capitalizing on it will get you what you want out of a person. The most important pigeon story you’ll ever read Imagine a pigeon in a cage, with a bar it can peck on to get a pellet of food that it likes very much. This pellet of food is a reward, or reinforcement, for its pecking. You would assume that the more often the pigeon received the pellet of food, the more often it would peck the bar. But importantly, this didn’t turn out to be the case. The experiment yielded these results: First, when the pigeon never got food as a reinforcement, it stopped pecking the bar altogether. No surprise. Second, when the pigeon got the food reinforcement every time it pecked the bar, it only pecked the bar a moderate number of times. Finally, and most important, when the pigeon got the food reinforcement intermittently (that is, sometimes it got the food reward for pecking the bar, and sometimes it got no reward for pecking), it pecked the bar like crazy-frantically and incessantly. The experimenters believe that this intermittent reinforcement is the strongest motivator for getting the behavior they wanted from the bird. When you compare the pigeon experiment to my experience with Bill’s woman friend, you’ll see a striking parallel between the two. This parallel provides us with the key to Bill’s appeal. It also gives us a pretty shocking insight into human nature. Actually, our human nature more closely resembles that of animals like pigeons than we like to think. We humans can’t resist intermittent reinforcement much more than the pigeon did in the experiment. When we get reinforcement every time we see a person (that is, when they treat us well every time we interact with them), we begin to take that person for granted a little. Just as the pigeon only pecked on the bar moderately in the face of constant reinforcement, we humans only respond moderately well to a person who always treats us favorably. We begin to take him for granted. This ingratitude instinct proved to be my undoing with Bill’s woman friend. She liked me, but she knew I would always be good to her. She knew she could have me any time. Put simply, if you treat a person well all the time, you are going to be taken for granted. In fact, some people would say you’re almost as well off to mistreat a person all the time, thus avoiding the whole relationship. This situation points up an important facet of human behavior: people take for granted what they know they can have. This trait is important, but the final result of the pigeon experiment uncovers an even more significant part of human nature. And it’s one that can make you a manipulator. Human nature’s most powerful quirk Recall the surprisingly potent way intermittent reinforcement spurred the pigeon When it got only sporadic reinforcement for pecking the bar, the pigeon never knew whether it could have the pellets of food or not. So the bird pecked the bar like crazy, which showed that intermittent reinforcement most powerfully goaded the pigeon’s pecking. Isn’t the similarity close between the sporadic pattern that set fire under the pigeon and the tactics Bill used to control his girl Bill used intermittent reinforcement like a master. He did it by treating this girl like a queen, his five-minute kiss being one example. Then at other times, he hit her and gave her no reinforcement. So she never knew whether she could have Bill or not. This pattern of sporadic reinforcement kept her acting like the pigeon. She was figuratively pecking madly at the bar, desperate for any reinforcement that Bill might give her. My date never knew exactly where she stood with Bill. Since she didn’t know whether she could have this man or not, taking him for granted proved utterly impossible. This led her to want desperately what she felt she could not have. And exploiting this natural desire on her part gave Bill his puppet like control over her. In this human quirk lies a shoving, bone deep urge of human nature: People want what they cannot have. From this desire come many of humanity’s great foibles. This trait causes people to want material possessions they can’t afford. It leads men to burn themselves out pursuing women they cannot have, and it drives women to self-destruct over men they chase fruitlessly. Any person who can harness this law of human nature for his own purposes can wield an awesome influence over other people. As Bill no doubt realized, intermittent reinforcement is the best tool for exploiting people’s desire for things they can’t have. When you use this tactic, you make the other person think that you’re the thing he can’t have. Or your business deal is the one he can’t have. He can never take you for granted, because you alternate between the caress and the bite, between treating him well and treating him badly. He senses that he can’t have you, and his instincts make him want you, sometimes almost desperately. This vulnerability to intermittent reinforcement explains my date’s situation, which looks ridiculous on the surface-a beautiful girl scrambling after a man who beat her, when she could have her pick of men. Of course Bill had probably never heard of the pigeon experiment. And I doubt that the term “intermittent reinforcement” would have meant any more to him than “amortizing his ischial tuberosities.” Rather, I assume that his technique emerged from years of trial-and-error in his love life. That’s how most people learn it. If you asked Bill how this tactic works, he would likely reply, “Well, I treat women real nice most of the time. But if you want to control them, you’ve got to be mean sometimes to keep ’em on their toes.” Before I go any further, I want to insert here that I don’t condone beating women-never having hit an ad ult in my entire life. Certainly, there are many other ways to withdraw reinforcement. Also, coo side ring the inroads the women’s movement has made, I believe such a neo-Nazi tactic would prove counterproductive today. Since I act only as a reporter, debating the morality of intermittent reinforcement lies outside the boundaries of my calling. I only report what works, not what is moral or immoral. Finally, don’t assume that just because this case dealt with a woman falling victim to intermittent reinforcement, that only men can use it. In fact, I’ve watched many more males fall for women who are using this tactic than vice versa. Intermittent reinforcement applies to your love life. If you survey your past love life a moment, you probably can recall instances where you’ve been taken in by intermittent reinforcement yourself. Surely at some time in your life, there has been a certain person you just couldn’t get over. You felt a magnetic attraction to him or her that bordered on addiction. Sometimes he or she charmed you into walking on air, but at other times you were maddeningly ignored or treated coolly. Possessed, you jumped between the highest highs and the lowest lows, feeling the whole time the awkward sensation of never knowing where you stood. You couldn’t shake her, or get off the emotional roller coaster. I’m sure you’ve endured this kind of tiger’s-back love affair before. I know several women have affected me this way. These women were practicing in- termittent reinforcement on me on purpose or by accident. I was so attracted to them that my human nature bulldozed my common sense. And I did everything in my power to please them. Notice that “1 did everything in my power to please them.” This statement describes what you can siphon out of a person by using intermittent reinforcement the right way. Specific tactics in intermittent reinforcement To apply intermittent reinforcement, you follow two clear-cut steps that take advantage of the fact that human beings want what they can’t have. First, you set up a pattern of reinforcement by giving your manipulatee something he wants. Second, withdraw it, and watch the person come under your control as he struggles to have the reinforcement restored. This technique sounds simple. And it is easy to understand, but it’s hard to carry out. It’s difficult to make it work, because you have to first be able to reinforce the person you want to manipulate. (That is, you must provide something he wants.) You give this reinforcement by charming the person, paying him money, or furnishing him something else he wants badly. But unless you can give your manipulatee something he really wants, he won’t care a whit if you withdraw his “reinforcement” by acting coolly toward him, refusing to pay him, or whatever. In fact, you probably don’t even reinforce most of the people you know, so trying intermittent reinforcement on these persons would be a waste. The people you can manipulate with this technique are therefore limited to those you reinforce. But by concentrating your efforts on these people, you can almost lead them like children. At least seventy to ninety percent of the time you have to be good to the person you plan to manipulate, and give him something he wants. You may do this by whatever method you choose. In choosing the correct reinforcement, you’ll need to figure out what would thrill this person the most. Try to put yourself in his place, and ask yourself what would boost your manipulatee’s ego. What does he really like In a business situation you may select praise, money, or some other reward. Assuming you have completed step one, you should be giving the subject of your manipulation what he wants. But don’t get carried away with the reinforcement. The first thing you know, your manipulatee will take you for granted, and then you won’t be able to wrench the time of day out of him. Keep him on his toes. The moment you detect the slightest hint that your “pigeon” is taking you for granted, withdraw his reinforcement on the spot. When you feel taken for granted, you know that you provided what he wanted too constantly, and that the time has long since passed to withdraw it. Applications in your love life To illustrate, let’s apply intermittent reinforcement to your love life. Assume that over a period of several days you’re trying to charm a woman, and acting as friendly as possible toward her. She seems to be responding well to your overtures. But sometimes you feel like she pays less than rapt attention to what you say. Immediately you know the time has come to back off, and be a little cool and uninterested. Ignore her for a while. But don’t act like a hurt child, and look foolish in the process. Instead indicate through your behavior that you can more or less take her or leave her. If possible, subtly make her jealous by talking to other women in front of her. Remember, people want what they can’t have. Now she may begin to doubt that she can have you. Your independence and confidence are attractive. You’re saying in effect, “I want you, but I can always have other women if you’re not interested. Take it or leave it.” Now she doesn’t know exactly where she stands with you. If you charmed her to begin with (if you reinforced her), you can bet that she’ll be chasing you in no time. Her human nature will surge, and she’ll begin to want what she can’t have-you. Intermi ttent reinforcement has put her under your control to some extent. Soon you should have her working madly for the kind of reinforcement she has come gto. enjoy. After you withdraw the reinforcement, usually wait for her to make the next move toward you. If she doesn’t come after you, then you probably weren’t reinforcing her to begin with. (Or she’s pathologically shy, which is highly unlikely.) Better concentrate on someone else and come back to her after some time has passed. As a last resort when your intermittent reinforcement fails, read “If All Else Fails, Try the Dirty Way.” This article reports a backup alternative that remains after your abortive manipulation fizzles. Understanding intermittent reinforcement takes a great deal of the mystery, and romance, out of the “helplessly loving in vain” syndrome that we’ve all seen. But any measure of mystery that this knowledge subtracts it repays by giving you a firmer control of your own love life. What you get out of a love affair is left less to the whims of fate, which can often be cruel to you. Instead you can take what you want by allying yourself with one of the powerful quirks of human behavior. While you’ll find the most use for this technique in your private life, don’t overlook the opportunities to use it in your business dealings. For instance, if you’re a manager, don’t worry about chewing out a good employee. Being rough on him sometimes will probably make him work better for you. Intermittent reinforcement, like any tactic that works in your love life, can also be adapted to a business setting by a clever mind.