This is post 7 in a series. The first post is here. Yesterday we started to get answers from psychological science; today we’re going to get a curious answer from bad science. I’m not kidding. Totally serious.
In 1891 there was this amazingly smart horse named Hans that could answer any question put to him by a human correctly. He would communicate by pawing the ground with a hoof. For math problems he simply counted out the number in hoofbeats; for harder questions he needed the answers to be presented as multiple choice and he would paw out the number of his selection. Hans’ trainer genuinely believed animals could be as smart as humans, and he trained Hans eagerly. The problem is, nobody could actually communicate with Hans to understand what he was doing, and it took scientists a couple of years to figure out that Hans had simply learned to stop pawing at the ground when his questioner unconsciously signaled delight or amazement that Hans had reached the correct number of hoofbeats.
Scientists invented the double blind technique in response to this. They already knew that if test subjects knew the details of the experiment they would give skewed results due to the Placebo Effect. What Hans taught them is that if the experimenter could see the details of the experiment, they could unintentionally influence the test subject as well. In honor of Hans the horse, this is now called the Clever Hans Effect.
Let’s not send the Clever Hans Effect directly to the glue factory of science, however. (Sorry for that metaphor, Hans.) Scientific experiments done without double blind controls are now considered to be highly suspect. Think about that: Just knowing the right answer has such a powerful transformative effect that it literally breaks science. You simply can’t get a clear, unbiased outcome to an experiment if you know the details.
But we’re not after an experimental outcome, are we. And we’re definitely not unbiased. We have a horse in this race (sorry again, Hans).
I first learned about Hans ten or eleven years ago, and because I’m weird this way, I immediately began thinking about using this bias-skewing technique as power for good. I was working with a young man who, up until that point, had not been carrying his weight at work. He was shy and anxious about making any mistakes and would wait for others to make decisions for him. I pictured in my mind what he would look and act like if he were more competent than he actually thought he was. I decided from that moment on that I would treat him like that person. I would stop coddling him and bailing him out. I liked this kid; I wasn’t going to throw him to the wolves. But I also wasn’t going to hold my breath waiting for him to take baby steps in the right direction. I was just going to treat him like he was competent.
To say the results were stunning would be an understatement. This coworker picked up from my tone and bearing that I expected him to deliver, but also picked up that I genuinely trusted him to be able to do it. I thought I would maybe see a small improvement in a few weeks; what I saw was a completely new person the very next day. I mean I literally saw him walk into the project status meeting the next morning and deliver finished, professional-quality work! He didn’t know why, but he’d just had a really productive day and everything just made sense.
I didn’t even know what D/s was back then, but I definitely remembered the lesson. I use it on Beth all the time. When I tell her to do something, I have found nothing so powerful at motivating her as simply expecting that it will get done. It’s not the kind of expecting where I will be disappointed and mete out punishment if she lets me down. It’s the kind of trusting expectation that means I don’t repeat my request because I trust that it’s been heard and is on its way to being taken care of.
This technique actually has nothing to do with dominance, though. It’s all about adjusting your own attitude and behavior and letting that create some space for your partner to move around in. If you’re a sub, here’s an exercise for you: kneel down and let yourself connect with your inner submissive nature. Now imagine your Dom being just a little more dominant than they actually are. See yourself reacting to their words and actions as they come from that extra bit of authority. Picture them holding just a little bit more power over your soul. Notice what it feels like as you respect them for that power. What do you feel as you picture this? Now hold that feeling in your gut and carry it with you, and go about your day. Commit yourself to treating them like they are that person from now on.
I dare you to not see a change in their behavior. Maybe not overnight. Maybe, like with that coworker, expect a small change here and there over the coming weeks. But it’ll be there.
What you’re not doing here is digging your heels and demanding to be topped. You’re not putting your partner on notice that you require their dominance. You are trusting that the dominance will be there but you are not expressing your demand that it be delivered in your own time or fashion. You are simply willing yourself to behave towards him with honor and respect and obedience as if he is already domming you.
In my experience, no Dom can fail to be influenced by the Clever Hans Effect. Promise me you’ll use this power only for good.