Field of Dreams with a New Season
The respected psychologists Frank Flynn and Vanessa Bohns have conducted numerous studies looking at many different requests; from soliciting charitable donations to borrowing a stranger’s phone to asking people to fill out lengthy questionnaires. In each case study participants are first asked to predict the likelihood that the people they ask will agree to their request. And in most cases they underestimate their success rate—by around half.
So why do we typically underestimate the likelihood that people will say ‘yes’ to our requests? One reason is that requesters tend to focus attention on the costs that others will incur if they do say ‘yes’ to them (such as their time and resources). In contrast, potential helpers are much more likely to pay attention to the social costs of saying ‘no’.