November 9, 2020 Leave your thoughts

Pursuit of social influence!

Uri Hertz discusses his two new papers showing how we aspire to influence others and what that tells is about human mental health.

In the last few weeks the entire world followed two men in their mid-late 70s spending time, money and energy in order to spend even more time, money and energy, while holding the most influential position in the world. In our studies we are interested in the way people compete for influence, and in their social motivation to do so. In a paper from 2017 we found that participants adapt the way in which they communicate information to manage their influence over the receiver. In two new papers we look more closely into the social motivation underlying this effect, and how altered metacognition in psychiatric disorders is linked relates to influence management.

Figure 1. In Advising Game, two Advisers (blue and black) compete for the attention of a Client (red). The client has some money and wants to buy a lottery ticket but does not know which lottery ticket is better. The advisers have some primate information about the better lottery.

In both papers we used our laboratory model for social influence which we call the Advising Game (see Figure 1 or play the game here and here for a lot more info). A participant plays the role of an adviser (Figure 1, Black), competing with a rival adviser (blue) for influence over a client (red). We have previously shown that when people play this game, they adapt their advice confidence to maximise their influence over the client: when the participant is ignored, they exaggerate their confidence in order to gain influence, and when they already have influence, they become more conservative and under-confident. This laboratory model has been very useful: we have recently put out another separate pre-print about ideal strategies in elections which you can read here.

In one study, we examined the participants’ motivation for influence and asked: would people be willing to PAY to gain social influence in a make-believe, imaginary social game? And if so, by how much?

One might ask, but why should people pay to gain influence over imaginary others? But don’t people pay for fake followers on Instagram? Behaviours such as this show that our idea, as crazy as it may sound, may be tapping into a very important question: is social influence valued, by the human mind, on a similar level as primary rewards such as to money, food and sex?

To examine this question we had participants play the advice-giving game and allowed them to pay for influence. On every trial, choosing to forgo some of the real-life earnings from participating in the study would increase the probability of the client choosing them over their rival in the following trial. We found that most of our participants, both online and in the lab, were willing to pay from their own pocket for increasing their influence over the client without ever knowing who the client was having any idea what that influence might be good for.

We then examined whether payments were made to cover previously made mistakes, or to advertise recent good performance. We found that participants were most willing to pay for influence after their advice turned out to have been correct, but not after having given wrong advice. Participants, therefore, were more likely to spend their money on pursuing influence when they believed that they were good advisers. Sense of competence motivated them to promote themselves for influence (One wonders if such sense of competence also drove the two elderly men to pursue influence?)

Our second work examined the changes of social influencing strategies in mental health disturbances that affect metacognition, our ability to evaluate ourselves. Using the same Advising Game, we examined the way individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and nonclinical population, seek to attract the client’s attention. Previous works indicated that people diagnosed with schizophrenia tend to demonstrate altered reports of their confidence, and also have difficulties in social interactions. Advice giving, and influence seeking, in our task requires communication of confidence about outcomes, i.e. metacognitive judgments. We therefore examined how these groups of participants perform in our task in order to understand the link between metacognition and social interactions.

We found that the the schizophrenia group expressed their confidence dramatically different from those of the control and bipolar group. Individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia gave very overconfident advice, and their metacognitive accuracy, (i.e., the relationship between how confident one is and the probability of being correct) was lowest.

In addition, like the healthy control group, Schizophrenic patients did not adapt their advice according to their social influence level but, rather than strategically seeking to increase their advice, they were more affected by their own performance in previous trial.

Individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder were mostly under-confident in their advice, and were also mostly affected by their own performance in their communication of advice and not by their level of influence. Both clinical groups used confidence reports differently from the nonclinical group – they were either over or under-confident in their advice, and they neglected the role of confidence as a social signal. The two patient groups did not use confidence as a mean to manage influence, but as a reflection of their previous performance.

These works have been in the preparation and submission process for very long time, and their publication in such proximity was a really nice ending to two long stories. Both were a collaboration with brilliant colleagues: Cecilie Traberg, Lilian Tyropoulo, Vaughan Bell, Joe Barnby, and Andy McQuillin .


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