PERFECT IMPERFECTIONS: THE PRATFALL EFFECT

PERFECT IMPERFECTIONS: THE PRATFALL EFFECT

Have you ever looked at a rainbow and complained that the width of one colour was narrower than the other colours and that the rainbow was not perfect?

This fiercely competitive world we live in constantly reinforces the need to be “perfect” – have an ideal body and a brilliant mind, get the best grades, be in a perfect relationship, have the perfect job, and even have a perfectly curated social media feed. This drive to be perfect in mind, body and career is catalysed by social media which not only glamorizes productivity but also reinforces the development of these unrealistic standards and gives us more reason to fear mistakes and not accept our flaws. 

Increasingly we are developing these irrational ideals and unrealistic expectations and internalising the contemporary myth that everything, including our own selves, should be perfect. 

However, what if this illusion of perfection was broken and we were told that our flaws and our occasional mistakes make us more likeable than individuals who often present themselves as flawless or perfect? 

THE DISCOVERY OF THE PRATFALL EFFECT

In 1966, Harvard University Psychologist, Elliot Aronson, along with his colleagues, Joanne Floyd and Ben Willerman performed an experiment which demonstrated that “the attractiveness of a superior person is enhanced if he commits a clumsy blunder.” For the experiment, the researchers recorded an actor answering a few trivia quiz questions. The participants were 48 male undergraduate students divided in four groups. Each group was instructed to listen to one of the four scenarios:

• A superior person answering 92 % of the questions correctly

• An average person answering 30% of the questions correctly

• A superior person answering 92% of the questions correctly and spilling coffee over himself (committing a small blunder or pratfall)

• An average person answering 30% of the questions correctly and spilling coffee over himself (committing a small blunder or pratfall)

The concept of “superior” and “average” was reinforced by having these contestants (actors) reveal personal information about themselves. 

After the tape was played to the sample of students, they were asked about their impressions of the contestant they had heard. The results were in line with Aronson’s hypothesis – the students found the superior committing a blunder to be more likeable. In the words of Aronson, “the pratfall made the contestant more appealing as it increases his approachability and makes him seem less austere, more human.” However, it was also inferred from the experiment that the likeability of the average person decreased upon committing the same blunder or pratfall. 

Other factors which have an influence on Pratfall Effect are the level of self-esteem of the observer, their gender and the seriousness of the mistake committed.

THE PRATFALL EFFECT

Pratfall” is an informal English term which means “an embarrassing mistake or failure”. From the above-mentioned experiment, it can be understood that Pratfall Effect refers to the tendency for attractiveness to increase after an individual makes a small blunder or mistake when the individual was already seen as competent or attractive. In a nutshell, Pratfall Effect simply means that a person’s likability will increase if they are not seen as flawless or perfect in a domain but they are perceived as attractive in some way and/or are seen as being competent in that domain. 

An image of perfection might be intimidating to others and usually, it is not suitable for developing healthy interpersonal bonds. It increases insecurities about personal flaws and imperfections. However, no human is perfect and flaws, mistakes and imperfections make us all human. Thus a blunder or pratfall makes individuals more relatable, approachable and therefore more likeable. 

PRATFALL EFFECT IN EVERYDAY LIFE

Several examples of the Pratfall Effect can be cited from our daily lives. Starting from our interpersonal relations to the advertisements which appeal to us, from our chances of getting a job offer to the kind of movies we enjoy, the Pratfall Effect has a role to play in all these spheres. 

One embarrassing event and we feel it is the end of our romantic story. However, Pratfall Effect states that it, in fact, might be just the beginning of our story! The occasional embarrassing mistakes committed by us and our humble imperfections increase our humanness and we tend to be perceived as attractive and endearing.

Psychologist Joanne Silvester conducted an experiment and discovered those interview candidates who admitted past mistakes at job interviews were more appealing. This perhaps could be the reason why Raju Rastogi from the movie Three Idiots was offered the job interview despite him mentioning his past failures. 

The Pratfall Effect or occasionally referred to as the “Blemishing Effect” has been heavily used in the marketing and advertising industry. In a book titled The Science of Story Selling, author Gideon F. For-mukwai states reasons why this effect matters in advertising and marketing a brand. The humanising effect of the flaw makes the brand more relatable to the consumers and it reflects humility, sincerity and the grounded nature of the brand and the entrepreneur. 

Leading consumer psychologist, Adam Ferrier, conducted research through ZenithOptimedia in which he asked a large number of the sample which of the two cookies, pictured below, they preferred. The only difference between the cookies is in the shape: on has a perfect round shape with smooth edges, while the other has a rough edge.

 Interestingly, it was observed that 68% of the sample preferred the cookie with the rough edge. 

Striving for perfection is not bad, but expecting ourselves to be perfect at all times and in all spheres is not right. Humans are beautifully flawed beings. We are not meant to be perfect. We are not even close to being perfect, but whatever we are, that is enough. We don’t need to be perfect to inspire others. We should allow ourselves to make mistakes and let people get inspiration from how we tackle those mistakes. After all, the Pratfall Effect only implies that “it is more than okay to make mistakes once in a while”.

Shatakshi Sen

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