Captivate: The Best Toolbox of Social Hacks by Vanessa Edwards

It’s a great day to learn! and If you’ve ever wanted a tool-box of social skills, I wouldn’t recommend spending $1000 on body language and dating experts, instead I’d just recommend to read this entire book from front to back. Hey guys, it’s Practical Psychology and today we’re going to be reading Captivate, and hopefully by the end of this video you’ll understand why looking into someone’s eyes for over 7 seconds has the same effect as looking at them naked.

The first big takeaway from this book is to know that emotions are hard to fake through body language, especially microexpressions. Vanessa warns against being a “yes man” and saying yes to any social gathering, as this will put you around people you don’t want to be around, in places you don’t want to be, and it’ll show. She suggests instead to pick where you want to go and be comfortable when developing a social skill, or implementing any of the hacks in this book. Pick a place where you will thrive, that will boost your confidence, and it’ll show in your microexpressions, or tiny subconscious facial expressions you can’t control, but other people can pick up. Also, if you do have to be somewhere you don’t want to be, pick the place in the room you’ll at least be the most comfortable.

The next thing I learned is that first impressions are super, super important. Vanessa and her team knew this, but proved it by showing a couple of clips from a class to participants and asking them to rate the teacher. It didn’t matter if they showed them the entire semester of classes, 30 seconds, 10 seconds, or even 2 seconds of the teacher, the participants rating results were all about the same. This shows us that within 2 seconds, someone has judged, or rated us. Another study did basically the same thing on two TED talks. Now, these talks where on the same topic, both published in September 2009, both were around 18 minutes long, but one had 23 million views, while the other had under a million. So Vanessa and her team analyzed a whole bunch of TED clips and found a few common hacks to engage the crowd better. They found on average the least popular TED talkers used 272 gestures, and the most popular used over 600, which apparently they painstakingly counted one by one in the name of behavioral science. So hand gestures are important, but they also found having an energetic tone and open body language were very common as well!

One thing that is difficult to measure in TED talks in eye contact, because the talker doesn’t really look at the camera. However, we can measure eye contact’s effects on likability in other ways. One method was the world’s biggest eye contact experiment ever. Over 100,000 people from over 150 cities were asked to participate in one minute of sustained eye contact with a stranger. The results get me excited. So, many of the participants hugged afterwards, most felt an intense emotion for the other person, and some even cried! Apparently looking at someone that long is a form of vulnerability, and it has almost the same effect on the brain as looking at each other naked. Vanessa says in most situations anything over 7 seconds of direct eye contact is above average and will induce likability. There’s also evidence that looking into the eyes of a future-rapist will deter them from performing a rape.

There’s a chapter in the book about conversation sparks, which are what Vanessa calls conversations that don’t include small talk. Fun fact: talking about something more than the weather, a sports game, or exchanging casual “how ya doing”s can produce more dopamine in the brain, the chemical that is responsible for addictiveness and will help the other person remember you better. Here are some freebie examples you can use to hack this; Change “how’s work” to “Working on any exciting projects lately?”. Change “How are you” to “What has been the best part of your day so far?”. Change “been busy” to “What do you do to unwind?”. Change “Do you understand what I’m saying” to “naw what I’m sayin man?”.

Another thing about conversation sparks. Vanessa says to find and use “Hot Buttons”, which means to find words that sparks the other person’s interest. If someone mentions motorcycles, digital marketing, or psychology hacks to me, I’m sure to perk up! Find hot buttons by watching their reactions, and listening to what they say. There was a study done on OKCupid, a popular online dating website, that found that when participants were messaging other people on the site, they would have an enormously increased rate of a response if they used words like “zombie, vegetarianism” or their favorite band. Funny enough, “Literature and grad school” were also on the hot button list.

Now let’s get onto two very interesting psychological effects. The first is called Pygmalion effect, and I have to tell a story for you to understand it. There was a famous Greek myth about this famous sculptor, and his name was Pygmalion. I’m probably saying this wrong, as it’s one of those words I’ve only ever read. He bought a large piece of ivory, and carved, the most beautiful woman he could out of it because he was lonely, or weird, or well, that’s what they did in that day when they were bored. He was ashamed of this, and people made fun of it, like they would today, so he asked Aphrodite, a god of beauty to the Greeks, to allow him to meet someone as beautiful as his sculpture. Anyways, he went back to his statue, and weirdly kissed it, but felt that the lips were warm. Kissed it again and the statue came to life. He ended up marrying this woman in the myth. Anyways, there’s a psychological effect named after this guy, and it is summed up in: “Great expectations are met with greatness”. It’s actually been proven, too.

When voters are told they are more “politically active”, they vote more than a control group. When donors are told they give more than average, the end up donating more. In fact, when a computer gives automated compliments to students, those students perform better on the tasks (aka homework), even if they know the compliments are computer generated. So use this to your advantage, and tell people around you what they are good at. Now, I wouldn’t lie, but find their strengths and highlight them to not only help improve them, but also give them a dopamine rush around you, making them like you more.

The other psychological effect is called “Similarity-attraction effect” and this is when people like people who walk, talk, speak,and think like them. Like “birds of a feather flock together”, but this is usually just for friends – in some cases couples are happier when their masculine and feminine qualities compliment each other, so don’t use this as a cliche. Use this effect to get people to like you by doing whatever you can to come to the conclusion of “me too” instead of “not me”.

Good: “I like Game of Thrones” “Me too…. this episode blah blah blah”

Bad: “I like to travel” “I’ve never been to a beach before”

Hacking: “I’m a vegan” “Isn’t Ellen DeGeneres a vegan? I love watching her show!”

If you want to advance this for even more social points, just ask them to teach you something. People love talking, and they like teaching even more. Here’s a tip I’ve used a couple times – let them teach you something even if you already know. Yeah, I know how veganism works, but you explaining it to me will get you to like me, I’ll learn more about your opinions, and maybe I’ll even learn something new about veganism.

The last thing I want to leave you guys with out of this toolbox is to use stories. A study done by Vanessa and a fellow researcher wanted to find out commonalities of viral articles written on the New York Times and other popular outlets. So they analyzed them. They found that out of 559 articles, 65 were tutorials, 69 had to do with history, 84 were funny, 109 were actually reporting important news, and a whopping 195 of them were stories. Hooking someone and leading them on to a climatic ending is important to get and keep attention. Just take a look at Charisma on Command, his videos routinely go over 10 minutes and the best ones include tons of stories!

If you want to check out this full book, or want to listen to any audiobook for FREE, there’s an Amazon and Audible link below, respectively. I hope you guys enjoyed this video and learned something!


Theodore created PracticalPsychology in his mother's basement after quitting university at age 19. From there, a dream was born to change lives by helping people understand how their brain works. By applying practical psychological principles to our lives, we can get a jumpstart on the path of self-improvement. 1,500,000 Youtube subscribers later, and that dream continues strong!

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