We know that situational pressure is much more influential than internal motivation on people’s actions, and so we shall avoid succumbing to The Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE). In addition, we can also use the knowledge to make it easier for people to do things; and that’s what I’m going to explore in this post.

Reflect on how you’ve been getting people to do stuff or how you’ve been made to do stuff, what were the methods used? Can they be easily categorized into carrots and sticks? Most probably yes because humanity has always recognized these 2 means of control, but when you are armed with the knowledge that situational pressure is most dominant; you can deduce that these are ineffective means some of the time. This is because carrots and sticks appeal to the internal motivation of people even though situational pressure is the bigger determinant of behavior. Here are 2 examples given by Gilovich, T. and Ross, L. in their book,The wisest One in the room:

The power of face to face solicitation: Lending $$ to Uncle Sam

During WWII, the U.S government offered war bonds to fund the war effort. In the first drive, publicity efforts were focused on appealing to the prospect of reaping interest rates’ return (carrot). In the 4th drive, the government changed the technique to include face to face solicitation. Under this new situational pressure where the government agents are personally pleading Americans to buy the war bonds, the drive saw a 20% to 47% increment in the buying of war bonds. So the lesson here is this: if you are committed, talk to people face-to-face; they are less likely to reject you because nobody wants to elicit a disappointed response.

Making it EASIER for people to do things: Opt-Out rather than Opt-In

In Denmark, the option for donating your organs is to opt-in, meaning it requires the donor’s signature to agree to donate organs upon death.

On the contrary, in Sweden, the option was to opt-out instead; thus you have to sign in order to not donate your organs upon death.

Naturally, Sweden has a higher rate of organ donation than Denmark. 

The lesson here is this, as outlined in Kurt Lewin’s work:

“When people try to change someone’s behavior, they typically try to give the person a push in the desired direction: using carrots or sticks. Sometimes this works. When motivation is the problem, push is the way to go. But more often than not, motivation is not the real problem. Most people are already highly motivated to become, say, healthier, wealthier, and more productive. In such cases, trying to push/amp up motivation is unlikely to do much good. A more fruitful strategy is to identify, and then eliminate the obstacle standing the in the way of desired behavior.”

In essence, “To produce change, smooth the path or open a clear channel that links good intention to effective action.”(Gilovich and Ross, 2015)


Situational pressure is more proportionately powerful than internal motivation, so rather than using the classical method of carrots and sticks all the time; face-to-face solicitation and removing situational barriers are viable options that can be more effective at times to get people to do things for you. Choose to offer an opt-out option rather than an opt-in one; you will find that things go smoother for you 😉

Signing off,



Gilovich, T. and Ross, L. (2015) The wisest One in the room: How you can benefit from social psychology’s Five most powerful insights. Philadelphia, PA, United States: Free Press.


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