Underestimating our influence over others
In one line of research, I explore social influence via the levers of self-conscious emotions, such as guilt (Bohns & Flynn, in press) and embarrassment (Bohns & Flynn, 2010). In particular, I have looked at the extent to which we realize how much influence we have over other people through these levers. People typically do not appreciate how much they influence others' behaviour (Flynn & Bohns, 2012), especially in relatively individualistic cultures like Canada and the United States (Bohns et al., 2011). For example, in the prosocial domain, Frank Flynn and I have found that people don't expect that the simple act of asking for help will elicit the kind of assistance it invariably does (Flynn & Lake (Bohns), 2008; see also Newark, Flynn & Bohns, in press). I am currently exploring whether this effect extends to unethical domains. Just as participants in my previous studies exhibited surprise at how willing people were to help when asked, people may be similarly surprised at how willing others are to engage in unethical acts when asked.
In another line of research, I explore the relational and intrapersonal effects of interpersonal complementarity. I have examined the conditions under which complementarity (as opposed to similarity) is advantageous for relationship partners working together to achieve joint goals (Bohns et al., 2013) and for interaction partners working together on a task (Bohns & Higgins, 2011). I have found that complementarity is advantageous, i.e., "opposites attract," when two individuals can take on their preferred separate roles, i.e., when they can “divide and conquer” goal-related tasks. I have also examined some intrapersonal effects of interpersonal complementarity. For example, people tend to complement another person's nonverbal dominance behaviour, i.e., curl up into a slumped, submissive posture when someone else is interacting in a powerful, dominant manner. As a result, Scott Wiltermuth and I have found that interacting with someone powerful actually makes us physically weaker, i.e., we temporarily experience a lower threshold for pain and weaker handgrip strength (Bohns & Wiltermuth, 2012).