These results have some odd implications. They suggest that politicians interested in firing up their base – getting people to make calls, knock on doors, and donate money – might in some cases be better off making a half-hearted, logically-flawed, and poorly-delivered case for themselves. Hitting their supporters with a dose of incompetence might motivate those supporters to rush to their phones to drum up more support. And cash.
Nor is getting others to advocate on our behalf a strategy used solely by politicians. Fans of the television program Arrested Development may recall the Bluth family matriarch, Lucille – not the world’s most nurturing mother – winning her estranged children back by uttering a simple but powerful phrase: “I’m a horrible mother.” At which point, of course, her children rushed to her side with effusive praise and promises of devotion.
Sometimes, then, the best way to win is not to make a strong case for your point of view (or worth as a mom), but instead to make the weakest case you can – and let others do the advocacy for you.
Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would like to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and regular contributor to NewYorker.com. Gareth is also the series editor of Best American Infographics, and can be reached at garethideas AT gmail.com or Twitter @garethideas.