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The Lazy Man's Guide to becoming the Big Man on Campus

By Thomas Ahonen

Updated March 11, 2019 Updated March 11, 2019

This week, I’m using my psychology degree to give you tips on how to experiment with your life to make people think you’re the big man on campus (or big woman on campus) that everyone should get to know… with little to no effort at all!

Let’s discuss.

Now I don’t have any of my textbooks from the past few years next to my work desk, but I’ll give you some un-cited musings and tips with a little bit of background. People are funny creatures, once you’ve explored a bit of how they work, you can really use it to your advantage. Let’s start with where you’re living…

Tip 1: Get your student housing in order

If you have a dorm/student housing situation where you have a hallway with one entrance, can you pick out which person is most likely to be popular? If you’re thinking to yourself, “well, that’s impossible, you can’t tell a popular person by their room number..” You’re half right… but the trick here is actually a phenomenon of the familiarity effect/exposure effect.

Think about when you’re shoe shopping at one of those places like Aldo, you’ll know when they’re trying to push a shoe when you see it in the window, on the center table, on top of every shelf that sits above the displays and probably with a stilletto jammed into the cashier’s ear so you see it every time you talk to a worker.

Yeah they’re pushing that shoe, but it’ll also sell better… not because it’s a better shoe, but because you’ve seen it more times than any other shoe in the store. People have a natural affinity for things that are familiar.

Same works here.

The person furthest way from the entrance  will find it harder to make friends in the hall… whereas person in room closest will likely be the social hub for the floor.  Why?  Because think about it, their room is positioned next to the exit, where everyone has to walk by every day.

Person closest to the exit, if they leave their door open, will find that since everyone else in the hall has to walk by their door, will get a natural flow of people that want to talk to them.  They’re seen every day, they will be more familiar than the person furthest from the exit, whom if they left their door open, would get nobody walking by it naturally. That’s not to say that they won’t have any friends, but they’ll have to make an effort to get people to come to them.

Moral of the story: If you’re lazy and you want people to take an interest in you, request a room in student housing by an entrance and leave your door open for a week and see what happens. People will poke their heads in because they’re nosy and curious and as long as you’re not a total psychopath, they’ll probably say hi. Invite them in, watch tv, whatever, the work was just done for you.

Tip 2: Make people think you're the Big Man on Campus

Studies on music downloading have shown that people like what they think other people like. There was this experiment where a bunch of unknown songs were put on an intranet and some fake stats were put next to them and on another intranet, the same songs, without stats were presented.

They found (and I’m gisting here), that when the songs were presented without stats of how many times the songs were downloaded, they all had similar download traffic… but when you put some false numbers of

Song 1: 1,223,000 downloads

song 2: 99,092 downloads

song 3: 14,482 downloads

song 4: 752 downloads

What song would you download first if you were looking for new music? Yeah you might not like it, but you’re going to typically see if you like song 1 first, because clearly it is out-performing the other songs.

Moral of the story? People gravitate towards perceived popularity when presented with unknown variables. How to make it work for you to become the big man on campus? Well I don’t know, but you could always leave one of those dry-erase boards outside your door and leave a few fake messages for yourself.

Or if you’ve ever seen Clueless and you’re feeling bold, you could pull a Cher and send yourself flowers in class. If you’re taking the easy way out to making friends at university, the ends of this tip are in your imagination.

Tip 3: Use the Benjamin Franklin Effect

If you encounter someone who really doesn’t like you, you could spend days, weeks or months trying to feud or change their minds. What tactic would you typically try? Buying them a drink? Sending a card? Texting every day?

You’ll be wasting your time. Here’s why.

The easiest way to get someone who doesn’t like you to change their mind is to ask them for a favor. If you want to change someone’s cognitive patterns, you’ll need to actually dig your fingers in there and move some things around.

Asking someone for a favor, anything from borrowing a small sum of money to help with building an Ikea wardrobe, means they have to justify to themselves why they’ve helped someone they didn’t like. I say small favor because the person needs to actually do it, not say no… but once they’ve helped you out, essentially what will happen is that they need to rationalize taking time or resources to spend on you by changing their mental image of you from awful to someone I helped out, so they can’t be that bad otherwise I wouldn’t have done it.

This is generally known as the Benjamin Franklin Effect  and when used wisely, can really go a long way to making you the big man on campus.

There you go lazy people. My easy tips to become the Big man on campus: picking the best student housing, making people think you’re amazing and the Benjamin Franklin Effect… Now order yourself some takeout, because you’re probably hungry and can’t be bothered to cook.

This article was originally published in July 2012 . It was last updated in March 2019

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