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Surprise can be an effective tool in impacting change

According to a new study, the best way to capture people’s attention and make an impact may be the element of surprise.

Jeffrey Loewenstein, an expert on leadership and creativity, examined the potential that surprise can have on changing opinions, influencing people, and creating a long-lasting and wide-reaching impact.

“You can easily imagine the facial expression of someone who is experiencing surprise,” said Loewenstein, a professor of Business Administration at the Gies College of Business. “But surprise not only generates this emotional reaction, it also is a push to learn, and an experience that people get excited to share with others. Put those things together and surprise becomes a powerful tool for social influence.”

Imagine the excitement you get when you have a surprising experience, such as watching a movie with a twist? Studies have shown that we impulsively seek out to share our surprising experiences with others, whether good or bad.

Loewenstein’s research, published in the journal Topics in Cognitive Science, draws on this premise and shows how in today’s digital age, the ease of sharing information can create a ripple effect with the social influence of surprise.

“We know from prior research that if a story generates a powerful emotional reaction like awe, anger, disgust or amazement, it’s more likely to be shared than if it’s more of a neutral or technical piece,” said Loewenstein.

It’s all about the power of the unexpected, when we learn something new or surprising, it paves the way for that information to be shared and its influence spreads.

The jarring shift caused by surprise could also allow for new ideas and changes in opinion.

“Once you have their attention, you can then follow up the surprise with new information, which might be a different way to think about something,” said Loewenstein. “That’s the kind of opening you have when you surprise people. Critically, there is a second effect because you are not only making one person more open, you are also making them your ambassador. You are likely to generate word of mouth as they share the surprising experience with others. Surprise is a force multiplier for communication.”

Surprise could also be used as a powerful marketing and sales tactic, as consumers would be more willing to consider a new product or service if it was presented in an unexpected and attention-grabbing way.

There are several methods that you can use you to generate surprise, and learning to communicate information in a surprising way could be an essential and influential tool for being heard.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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