Imagine you need to ask for money, borrow a phone, or take someone's seat. Do you think the requestee will answer with a "yes"? According to recent research, we are erroneously pessimistic about our chances of having our daily requests accepted. Cornell University psychological scientist Vanessa Bohns's new Article in Current Directions in Psychological Science encompasses data produced by studies conducted over these last years. The psychology article sheds light on these social behaviors, as well as on the reasons behind them.

We underestimate people's influence on others, says study

In one study, participants had to ask strangers in the street whether they could borrow their phones to make a call. However, first, they were asked to make a prediction. Their general prediction of three out of 10 strangers saying 'yes' proved to be pessimistic following the results of the experiment. In reality, it took six strangers to reach the goal of finding three helpful strangers that answered with a "yes." Bohns wrote, “In essence, by refusing a request, one risks offending one’s interaction partner—a violation of intrinsic social norms that would ultimately embarrass both parties.

As a result, many people agree to things—even things they would prefer not to do—simply to avoid the considerable discomfort of saying ‘no.’”

With or without an incentive, we are likely to say 'yes' to a request

In another study, participants were asked to vandalize a library book by writing on it in, and only learned afterwards that it was not an actual library book.

“More than 64% agreed to vandalize the book—a far cry from requesters’ prediction of 28%.” In a similar study, an incentive was added. In hopes of convincing them to vandalize the library book, the participants were promised a dollar or candy in exchange. However, the added incentives were to no avail. The participants were just as likely to spoil the book for free as they were for an incentive.

Bohns and her colleagues will look to help us better understand our Influence on others with further psychological research.