The Bermuda Delta

The knack of flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. – Douglas Adams

There are two types of people who fly with Delta: those who couldn’t find a cheaper flight with another airline, and masochists.

On the night before my flight to Austin, Texas for social psychology’s annual conference, I, Luke (my labmate), and Micah (my roommate) had our flights cancelled out of Columbus. And in typical Delta fashion, it was a 4-hour wait to speak to a representative.

Because we had already registered for the event, or rather, because there were so many opportunities for knowledge at the conference, or rather, because we really wanted a weekend of heavy drinking with few responsibilities, we were determined to find an alternate route regardless of how hard Delta tried to stop us.

Which, all thing considered, was remarkably hard.

So with Luke on hold in one room, Micah looking up alternative flights in another, and me combing Delta’s fine print for possible ways to sue them, we finally got through to a representative.

And as though the bat-signal had been cast onto a dark sky, the three of us assembled around the phone expecting to get what we wanted. For how could any representative stand a chance at denying the desires of three social psychologists trained in the empirical art of persuasion?

Answer: she could determine you were taking too long and hang up in three minutes.

Back to the bat cave!

However, after waiting another couple of hours on hold, we once more got through. And this time, we had enough time to employ some psychological “tricks.”

One of the most profound findings in persuasion is a simple one: Reaffirming the other person’s freedom increases his/her likelihood of granting a request.

For instance, if you were to ask a friend to borrow his car, don’t say, “Yo dude, can I borrow your whip?” (Well, don’t say that for a number of a reasons). But what you should really say is this: “Hey, you’re completely free to say no to this, but can I borrow your car?”

Even vegetarians salivate at a picture like this. They were as delicious as they look.

Even vegetarians salivate at a picture like this. The ribs were as delicious as they look.

By reminding people  that they have the choice to deny you, they no longer feel the innate “threat” you’re trying to pressure them into something. For according to the reactance effect, when people feel that they are being forced into doing something–when they feel their freedom is being constrained–they usually want to do the exact opposite.

For example, when researchers told participants that that a persuasive message was surely going to convince them of its appeal, participants were less persuaded compared to when they got the exact same message without that introduction. In fact, participants were often persuaded in the opposite direction of the message when it opened with how certain they were to be persuaded by it–an affirmation by the participant that their “freedom” wasn’t restricted.

Now whether or not the employment of this tactic was the reason that Delta was able to reschedule our flights, it got done.

And oh yeah; the conference. It was fun.

Seventy-five degree weather, BYOB putt putt golf, lots of interesting talks about phenomena in psychology, and most importantly, big ol’ Texan barbequed beef ribs.



P.S. Stay tuned these next few posts if you’re interested in learning about psychological discoveries that could change your life.


Worchel, S., & Brehm, J. W. (1970). Effect of threats to attitudinal freedom as a function of agreement with the communicator. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 14(1), 18.

Author: jdt

Jake writes weekly posts every Wednesday on the intersection of psychology and philosophy. To learn more about him, or to propose a topic you'd like him to cover, go to

Share This Post On