By Dan Monheit 24.2.22
A book? Me? Honestly, I had no idea anyone would notice I’d written a best selling book now available on Amazon with free shipping. I really wasn’t going to bring it up, but since you’ve asked, let me explain.
We should start with the technically correct, PR friendly answer.
As an ad guy, I’m lucky enough to contemplate and influence human decision-making for a living, working with marketers who bet their careers on making something that’s not happening, happen. As part of this, I’m often asking questions, and in turn, being asked questions about why people do the things they do.
‘The Why, The Book’ contains answers to thirty of the most interesting questions I’ve been asked, all viewed through the lens of behavioural science. My aim in publishing the book is to help marketers understand the biases that shape our choices, and in doing so, create better products, experiences and ads.
And now the real answer…
The Authority Bias refers to our tendency to attribute greater weight and trustworthiness to the opinions of people with actual, or perceived authority. This authority can be achieved through fame, status, hierarchy, qualification, wealth or other means (e.g. turning two years worth of beautifully illustrated emails into a book).
A classic study conducted by Charles K. Hofling in 1966 set out to examine how nurses responded to orders from doctors that violated hospital protocol.
Hofling had one of his researchers call 22 different nurses across the US, posing as ‘Dr. Smith’. The ‘Doctor’ would instruct each nurse to administer a patient with 20 milligrams of a (fake) drug called Astroten. Bottles of Astroten had been mocked up and placed in the nurses cabinets beforehand. Each bottle included a label that stated 10 milligrams as the maximum daily dosage.
‘Dr. Smith’ promised the nurses that he’d sign off on the medication later, but no paperwork or prior warning about ‘Dr Smith’ had been provided. Though the ‘Doctor’ was never seen or vetted, the sheer perception of authority was enough for 21 of the 22 nurses to ignore their extensive training and agree to proceed with the high risk dosage, against hospital protocols… eek.
Clearly authority can be highly motivating! While I’m not a doctor, and no patients or nurses were harmed in the writing of this email, there is a little something magical about having ‘best selling author’ added to my bio, intros and tombstone.
Achieving ‘authority’ status can be hugely beneficial for individuals and brands alike. Thought leadership, pioneering research and public accolades can all help accelerate the ascent. For brands that aren’t yet at ‘blind follower’ status, the solution may lie in attaching yourself to authorities in whichever attribute you’re seeking to convey. Dentists endorsing your new brand of chewing gum? Authority. A shiny award in customer service from Choice? Authority. Becoming the author of a best selling behavioural science book for marketers? Well, we’ll see.
PS If you missed the last edition, you can still check out why everyone keeps saying that Chat GPT is the start of the AI apocalypse here.
Bad Decisions Podcast
Learn more about Authority Bias in episode 34 of the Bad Decisions podcast.
Got a question?
Is there something you’ve always wondered about?
Send it through to AskDan@hardhat.com.au
If you’re a fan of having your curly questions answers, secure your copy of the newly released Amazon #1 Best Seller ‘The Why, The Book’ by Dan Monheit here.