I'd bought Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People at a used book store years ago and later read it. The message I took away from it was that if we lead people to believe that we find them interesting, then we can get them to behave in a way that benefits us.

Everything about the book seems absolutely counterintuitive to me as it seems to advocate at a fundamental level ingenuousness.

The techniques outlined seem quite transactional in that (to me at least) they teach that if we stroke others' egos we will receive a reward, almost as if other people are arcade or casino games to be played for profit.

Was Carnegie's advice ever studied to find out if it eventually leads us to actually becoming more interested in others, or is it really all just 'transactional'?

  • 2
    We do want theory questions here... this site however also asks people to adequately describe their problem and pick words carefully. The wikipedia page on psychopathy that you quoted half a sentence from also has a whole list on symptoms, and on top of that the sentence that you did quote also goes on to describe abusive behavior. Did the book ever recommend being abusive to those lower in the hierarchy?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 6:54
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    Also, while there is something to say about asking questions about theories, the way your question is currently written, it doesn't seem to me like you're looking for e.g. research into the effectiveness of the methods described in the book, but for a discussion (primarily opinion based) of whether not this is psychopathic. Which is a discussion that doesn't belong on IPS, see our help center which tells you to not ask questions asking whether something is rude/racist/psychopatic, but instead to focus your question on solving your problem. I'll try to re-word things accordingly.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 6:56
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    I would say it looks okay to me at this point... but having made the edit, it would be a weird thing to state otherwise about 'my own' work :-P I think we'll need more eyes to confirm whether this is okay or not :-)
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 10:31
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    @Tinkeringbell My only concern with the current form is that the canonical answer is probably 'no', but given the difficulty in proving a negative, it's likely to remain unanswerable.
    – Sarov
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 13:22
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    Even animals understand that "if we stroke others' egos we will receive a reward" is a strategy that works. Carnegie didn't invent it from nowhere. See youtube.com/watch?v=Y2T4caGlK80 (or hundreds of other cat videos).
    – alephzero
    Commented Aug 23, 2021 at 19:07

2 Answers 2


actually becoming more interested in others

What does this mean? How do we measure it? These are questions that need (or at least, should) to be answered before we can even begin studying this question. In this answer, I will sketch some of the difficulties in answering these questions, and argue that the state of the art in psychology/neuroscience/etc. is not capable of resolving them. As such, even though cannot answer the question whether this has been studied, I argue we ought to be skeptical of the results if it has.

What's the difference?

What is the difference between being interested in another and behaving as if you do? I'm sure you tell yourself a different story if you believe you are genuinely interested in someone, rather than faking it. However, that's exactly the story I'd tell myself if I'm not interested at all, but want to fake it effectively. In fact, why do we care about what stories people tell themselves at all? These things don't seem to tell us more than the actual human behaviour, and the influence it has seems to be rather limited. Off with their heads!1

... or at least, that's what the proponents of Behaviorism would have thought of the matter. Skinner believed that, as a result of his behavioral experiments on animals, there is no need to posit the existence of any internal experience or thought in order to describe behaviour in humans and other animals. At the time (early 20th century), this seemed a reasonable restriction. After all, how on earth could we figure out what happens on the inside of the skull?

Now that we can do exactly that (with fMRI, for example), behaviorism seems less attractive. As we can now measure activation of certain brain regions not only correlated with behaviour, but also with observation, limiting yourself to behaviour seems too strong. (unless you would extend "behaviour" to include activation of brain regions, but now we're just arguing semantics)

So, let's ask again, what is the difference? Perhaps there are distinct brain states correlated with genuine interest and fake interest that nevertheless can fool others. That is an interesting hypothesis. Big, if true. I mean, if we have some sort of device that can tell us whether you're faking interest, we basically have invented a (highly specialized) lie detector. While there is some work on fMRI lie detection, the type of 'deceit' we wish to detect here seems too complex for the current techniques to capture.

How do we measure it?

You may not be convinced by my philosophical objections. Maybe that is the wrong approach, if we can measure something interesting that is close enough, then we can fix the philosophical conundrums later. One's modus tollens is another's modus ponens, after all. Fair enough. Let's try to measure anyway.

Perhaps we can measure genuine interest by testing whether the interest in the person is retained when it is no longer strategically useful. There are many problems with this idea, such as the fact that humans aren't perfectly rational, but more importantly that we are not aware of the mechanisms that produce fake interest, and their side-effects. An effective faker would employ as much of the techniques to generate actual interest as it can afford, because genuine interest is presumably a natural behaviour that has evolved to be highly effective in humans. (unless they have a severe mental deficiency, such as clinical psychopathy. But I presume we want a claim about healthy humans) This means that even the faker can show side-effects that would be strategically useless, if those side-effects are the lesser evil.

So side-effects of genuine interest are out. What else can we measure? Perhaps we could look at the side-effects of fake interest. We could test whether if person A appears interested in person B, person A would later betray person B, or not. However, this runs into the opposite problem. For an ordinary person to betray another, we would expect there has to be some incentive to do so. However, the same incentive could lead to someone with genuine interest to also opt for betrayal!

Well then, what's left? I have no clue.


As I said above, I do not know whether anyone has attempted to study this question. Still, it seems there are several fundamental problems in designing a study to answer this question, and I think it is reasonable to claim that effectively studying it is out of reach for the current state of the art.

1: With apologies to Lewis Carroll.

  • I've been thoroughly enjoying reading your answer through several times. It's quite dense; there's a lot here so I'm taking it slow. It's certainly true that fMRI has taught us that we don't necessarily make decisions for the reasons we think we do, we may sometimes construct and report a constructed rationalization or simply a guess after the fact. But the book instructs with techniques and tools to try to calculate questions to ask that will have the intended effect.
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 15, 2021 at 21:04
  • They are not spontaneous questions, they require visualization of a goal and the planning of a strategy to achieve it. Surely this would light up the brain differently?
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 15, 2021 at 21:05
  • @uhoh I'm not sure what the relevance is of certain calculations that you may be performing simultaneously. These may be detectable, and may interfere with detecting whatever it is that may relate to genuine interest, but I don't see how this changes the situation. Besides, I cannot exclude that one of the effects of the calculations may be that you become more genuinely interested in the target. Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 20:21
  • Your answer discusses the possibility of using fMRI to see if one can discern "distinct brain states correlated with genuine interest and fake interest". The distinction between genuine and fake interest that's raised in the question, to which this post is an answer, is in the context of "how to make friends and influence people". If one is feinting interest in a calculated attempt to win another as friend, or in order to influence them, that would show a different pattern in an fMRI than if one were acting spontaneously and without motive out of genuine interest.
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 22:40
  • This is just a comment on the fMRI paragraph. Your answer focuses on various ways to ask "could we really tell the difference" which is really at the core of my question, and I understand that one may "become more genuinely interested in the target" as a side-effect of practicing the techniques in the book, but the book itself does not seem to go there. It is fundamentally teaching the reader to calculate the best way to induce the desired outcome, a certain behavior of the target, then move on to the next target. If you feel I'm mischaracterizing the book then I'm happy to hear of it.
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 16, 2021 at 22:43


At least, I spent 10 minutes searching Google Scholar for Effectiveness of "How to win friends and influence people" "Dale Carnegie", and the closest thing I found was this, which seems to simply assume that Dale Carnegie is correct.

  • Thanks! Have you checked the link in my comment? I don't know how directly it addresses this, but it does have several references that can be checked out.
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 14:07
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    @uhoh No, I don't have a JSTOR account. It should be as simple as just checking the references to see if it cites any studies, though.
    – Sarov
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 14:15
  • Oh rats! I must have been at a library when I'd seen it before; I didn't realize that it wasn't open access.
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 26, 2021 at 14:22

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