NLP Anchoring vs. the Anchoring Heuristic

Just read a recent blog on anchoring here: Mind Control Technique of Anchoring (NOTE: the website is no longer there as of 08-29-2010 but it doesn’t matter).

It reminded me that many people don’t realize that there are two things that are called “anchoring” that are useful in persuasion.

One is from NLP and it’s discussed in the article above. It has also been covered by hundreds of other people in NLP community (including myself) so I won’t go into it in depth here.

I will summarize NLP Anchoring as follows: NLP anchoring involves creating a cue/trigger during a specific emotional state and then using that cue in the future to elicit that emotional state in a different context. In essence, it is the emotional equivalent to Pavlovian classical conditioning.

The other kind of anchoring, often called the “anchoring and adjustment heuristic,” is just as powerful, although different.

“Heuristic” is just a fancy name for a mental shortcut people use to solve problems and make decisions. Humans use “common sense,” and “intuition” to solve many day-to-day decision problems. These little mental shortcuts we use to make decisions have been very helpful to humans. They have allowed us to survive as a species and probably helped us to get to the top of the food chain. In essence, we can take incomplete information and often make relatively good decisions from it.

The problem with these mental shortcuts or heuristics is that in the modern world they can be manipulated to affect our decisions without us knowing. In fact, we are manipulated often by our tendency to use heuristics to make decisions.

Some of the most blatant manipulation of heuristics is done by politicians, media, government press release writers and attorneys.

That said, what is the “Anchoring Heuristic?” Well first off, the true label (given by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky) is the Anchoring and Adjustment Heuristic.

It is a psychological heuristic that affects the way people intuitively assess value and probability. People use this heuristic when they start with an implicitly suggested reference point (“anchor”) and then make adjustments to reach an estimated value.

What I find interesting about this heuristic is that the subject matter of the “anchor” does not have to be related to the subject matter of the estimated value.

For example, an MIT professor had his students write down the last 2 digits of their social security number. He then had them write down bids on items like wine or chocolate. The half of the students with higher social security digits submitted bids which were 60% to 120% higher than the half of the students with lower social security digits.

HERE IS THE IMPORTANT PIECE TO THIS STUDY: Simply thinking about the first set of numbers highly influences the second numbers the students came up with even though the two numbers are unrelated.

Questions to Ponder:

  1. What are some useful applications for the Anchoring and Adjustment Heuristic?
  2. Where might you have been influenced by someone that has manipulated this heuristic?
  3. How does Stepped Awareness fit in with this scientifically proven bias?

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About Christopher Tomasulo

At home Christopher Tomasulo is your average dad with three kids. However, here at Covert Comm he is known as “Doc Sulo” and he mind-warps crowds with a tiny flutter of his left hand. He clothespins ideas to unsuspecting gray matter. He speaks lemon-yellow words that splash into ear canals and squeeze themselves into refreshing influence lemonade. It has also been said he's half-way decent at making complex persuasion and influence techniques simple.
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