When Barrack Obama ran for president, he admitted to smoking marijuana in college. And contrary to popular expectation, this admission did not cause him to lose support among voters. On the contrary, sympathy for Obama increased.
This was a prime example of the Pratfall effect.
What is the Pratfall effect?
The Pratfall effect is a cognitive phenomenon in which a person's attractiveness or likability in the eyes of others increases when they make a mistake. This effect was first discovered in 1966 by social psychologist Elliot Aronson and has since been used to explain why people tend to find people who are "imperfect" more attractive than those who seem perfect."
How does the Pratfall effect work?
The effect works by giving the impression that someone has made a mistake, but still remained calm and humble - leading people to believe that the person is not trying too hard or even seems arrogant.
Another way to look at it is that we humans are naturally inclined to be attracted to imperfection because it allows us to better identify with the person and focus on the person rather than their accomplishments.
This can be divided into two types of responses - one where a person acknowledges their mistakes (which increases empathy) and another where they admit their mistakes with humor or wit (which also increases sympathy).
Both approaches help create an atmosphere of well-being around them that allows people who observe them closely to appreciate what makes them unique and imperfect, as opposed to everything else around them that appears flawless.
Examples of the pratfall effect
An example of the pratfall effect is when someone who is normally very confident trips over his or her own feet in front of an audience - instead of getting laughter or disapproval, people often feel sorry for him or her because he or she shows a vulnerability that reminds us how human we all are at heart.
Another example would be when someone is giving a presentation and accidentally slips up on some words - instead of losing credibility because of this, these slip-ups often spark more interest in what they are talking about because of their uniqueness.
Advantages and risks
Being aware of the "pratfall effect" can be beneficial in many different situations, such as public speaking or interviews, because it allows you to show confidence in the face of occasional mistakes while appearing humble and credible.
However, it should also be noted that constantly making mistakes can lead to some people being seen as careless or irresponsible over time.
You should also avoid deliberately making mistakes in order to gain sympathy. These artificial slip-ups are usually more than transparent and morally questionable to boot.
As you can see, it is not necessary to be perfect and without mistakes. On the contrary, it can go down better in one's own environment to admit mistakes and to take them with humor instead of hiding or dramatizing them.
How does it look for you? Do you have any other examples of this psychological phenomenon?