Thursday, April 4, 2013

Split-second persuasion: The ancient art & new science of changing minds

Split-second persuasion: The ancient art & new science of changing minds
by Kevin Dutton

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

When you read that Kevin Dutton has been published in journals that include Scientific American Mind, Journal of Experimental Psychology, and Cognition and Emotion, you get a glimmer of the depth this book is likely to have. He is a Research Associate of the Faraday Institute with a background in psychology, and after completing his PhD in Psychology at the University of Essex he worked as a Senior Research Fellow in the same University on A Cognitive Bias in Emotional Disorders.

There are almost 20 pages of notes and an 11-page index. The book clearly reflects the thinking and research of a highly educated, deep-thinking, persuasion theorist. This is NOT a lightweight, self-help, psychobabble sort of book — even though the title of the book might lead you to believe it is.

What keeps this book readable and engaging is the enormous number of examples used — and how reader-engaging many of them are. There are 253 pages of text, but readers are bombarded with thought-provoking, enlightening, and incredibly fascinating facts, illustrations, statistics, and examples. Whether you accept anything the author says, you could read this book just to become exposed to all this additional, supportive material and be throughly entertained.

You may just end up fascinated with the author’s incredible breadth of knowledge and range of exposure. (Incidentally, many of the humorous examples Dutton uses throughout the book have made their rounds on the Internet. This in no way diminishes Dutton’s use of them or their use to support points in the book. What it shows more than anything is that Dutton collects his material from a wide range of sources.)

The summaries at the end of each chapter are great. They don’t just take you back over the content of the chapter, they highlight key points you may have missed and forecast what is to come — just what a good summary in a textbook should do!

Dutton is a fine writer, and he is able to make the social-science research he cites, the studies he uses, and the incredible number of facts he conveys, palatable and understandable by the lay — general — reader. It is impressive.

I loved — and found very useful — his five major axes of persuasion (SPICE): 1) Simplicity, 2) Perceived self-interest, 3) Incongruity, 4) Confidence, and 5) Empathy (p. 161). The explanations and supporting examples for each of these — alone — make this book a valuable reference (pp. 162-194). To purchase the book just for this information alone could be easily justified.

I could say this book is for the serious reader, or those committed to finding keys to effective communication/persuasion, or for those looking for both breadth and depth in the area of communication/persuasion, but the book — quite surprisingly for its overall substance — is accessible and engaging.

One quotation from the book offers an example of the language and depth of analysis provided at various points throughout the book:

"For SPICE, too, there are implications. A style of persuasion that engages, simultaneously, all three of the brain’s influence hotspots (incongruity — the anterior cingulate cortex; simplicity, perceived self-interest, confidence, and empathy — the ventromedial prefrontal cortex; with the combination of all five elements disengaging, rather than engaging, the redundant anterior insula) is undoubtedly going to be powerful. Under some circumstances (one thinks, for instance, of neonatal persuasion: crying pitch activating the anterior cingulate cortex, and kindchenschema networks in the prefrontal cortex) irresistible even" (p. 243).

I am not suggesting this is a typical paragraph; however, it reveals the credibility, background, and thinking of the author. Also, it offers a counterweight to the notion that this is a popular, self-help type of book that the title might convey.

The author’s sense of humor, his use of examples and illustrations, his wonderful and captivating narrative, and his overall language and style of writing, make this an outstanding (serious) reader’s choice. Also, as an added bonus, for those who have an interest in persuasion theory, the fact that Dutton is Brittish, provides an interesting dimension for he adds research and depth to which American theorists might not be exposed.

This is a five stars out of five-type book. Well done Dutton!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Essays, SMOERs Words-of-Wisdom, Fridays Laugh, book reviews... And Then Some! Thank you for your comment.