Imagine you’re a student. You’re offered a free lottery ticket with the chance to win a 15 euro book token. You’re shown the ticket, and you notice the number on it. Then you’re given the chance to swap that ticket for a different one. In return for swapping tickets, you’ll get a free gift – a pen embossed with your university’s name. Would you agree to exchange the tickets or not?
When students at Tilburg University in the Netherlands were given this choice only 56 per cent of them went for it, even though their chances of winning the book token were the same and so they might as well have had the free pen.”
Perhaps you’re thinking it was the lousy gift that explained their reaction. Couldn’t the researchers have tempted the students with a slightly more enticing freebie? Maybe, but that’s not the issue. The important detail here is that the students were shown the number on the original lottery ticket. This meant that having swapped their original ticket for another, if the number on the original was drawn out of the hat, they would know they’d made the wrong decision.
That said, if you live in the Netherlands, some lottery organisers are one step ahead. In a fiendish example of the exploitation of regret aversion, they’ve designed a lottery in which everyone’s unique postcode is automatically entered into the draw. Although you can only win if you’ve paid for a ticket, in any given week you can look up to see whether you’d have won, if only you had bothered to enter.
The slogan started as just two words: “Take control.” Cummings loved its simplicity but felt something was missing. So he played around with different variations.
Cummings was well versed in loss aversion and the statue quo bias. He knew that people prefer to stick with things they’re already doing rather than do something new. And while “Take control” was fine, it implicitly agreed to the premise that leaving the EU was action and staying was inaction. Which played right into his opponents’ hands.
If only he could flip things around … make it seem like leaving was the status quo…
So, in a stroke of insight, he changed the slogan. It wasn’t much: just an extra word in between “Take” and “control.” But it completely changed the reference point. He added the word “back.” As in “Take back control.”
“’Back,’” Cummings wrote in his blog, “plays into a strong evolved instinct—we hate losing things, especially control.” “Back” triggered loss aversion. It made it seem like something had been lost, and that leaving the EU was a way to regain that.
When the British Election Study surveyed voters,four times as many people preferred the “Let’s take back control” language.
Excerpt from: Catalyst by Jonah Berger
In a study I conducted with Yonelinas at Davis, we presented volunteers with highly arousing emotional photos (mostly unpleasant photos of mutilated bodies and acts of violence) as well as neutral photos (people reading in a bookstore or employees working in an office). We then tested the volunteers’ memory of half the photos immediately after presenting them; we tested their memories of the rest of the photos twenty-four hours later. At first, it seemed that the volunteers’ memories of the emotional and neutral photos were not different; they remembered them equally well. However, when they came back to the lab a day later, something had changed. Now their recollection of the emotional photos was better than that of the neutral photos. The volunteers’ memories were not always more accurate, but they reported they were more vivid.”
That’s a problem for future Homer. Man, I don’t envy that guy.
Payday is not the only moment when customers spend more. Any time consumers receive a windfall, like birthdays or bonuses, they will increase their spending. Three Ohio University psychologists, Hal Arkes, Cynthia Joyner and Mark Prezzo, ran an experiment in 1994 exploring this phenomenon. When they recruited students for the experiment half were told a week before that they would be paid $3, while the rest expected to be given course credits. However, when the participants arrived at the experiment they were all given the same $3-dollar incentive.
The participants were given the chance to gamble with their cash on a simple dice game. Those who had been given cash in the windfall condition gambled on average $2.16 while those who had been fully expecting the money only frittered away $1.
But they won’t. Decades of research has proved that groups usually come to conclusions that are more extreme than the average view of the individuals who make up the group. When opponents of a hazardous waste site gather to talk about it, they will become convinced the site is more dangerous than they originally believed. When a woman who believes breast implants are a threat gets together with women who feel the same way, she and all the women in the meeting are likely to leave believing they had previously underestimated the danger. The dynamic is always the same. It doesn’t matter what the subject under discussion is. It doesn’t matter what the particular views are. When like-minded people get together and talk, their existing views tend to become more extreme.
In part, this strange human foible stems from our tendency to judge ourselves by comparison with others. When we get together in a group of like-minded people, what we share is an opinion that we all believe to be correct and so we compare ourselves with others in the group by asking ‘How correct am I?’ Inevitably, most people in the group will discover that they do not hold the most extreme opinion, which suggests they are less correct, less virtuous, than others. And so they become more extreme. Psychologists confirmed this theory when they put people in groups and had them state their views without providing reasons why – and polarization still followed.
Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner
Imagine that you are participating in an auction that involves chocolate coins as a reward. You can bid on a lot containing five coins or on a mystery lot that contains either three or five coins— you won’t know which until after your bid is accepted. Logically, the lot with five coins is worth more.
But it wasn’t. Researchers at the University of Chicago staged just this auction and found that the average bid for the guaranteed five coin lots was $1.25. The average bid for the mystery lot was $1.89. When asked, participants said the uncertain auction was more exciting. It didn’t increase the actual value of the reward. It just made the game more fun. Participants paid more to play and said they wanted to participate in the auction again. (The secret, though, was getting caught up in the process. When participants planned their bid in advance, they preferred the certain reward.)
Our perceptional apparatus makes mistakes-distortions—in order lead us to more precise actions: ocular deception, it turns out, is a necessary thing. Greek and Roman architects misrepresented the columns of their temples, by tilting them inward, in order to give us the impression that the columns are straight. As Vitruvius explains, the aim is to “counteract the visual reception by a change of proportions.” A distortion is meant to bring about an enhancement for your aesthetic experience. The floor of the Parthenon is curved in reality so we can see it as straight. The columns are in truth unevenly spaced, so we can see them lined up like a marching Russian division in a parade.
Should one go lodge a complaint with the Greek Ministry of tourism claiming that the columns are not vertical and that someone is taking advantage of our visual mechanisms?
i. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
v. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable.
– JOHN KENNETH GALBRAITH
Excerpt from: Uncharted: How to Map the Future by Margaret Heffernan
BISHOP MAGEE ‘The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.’
Excerpt from: The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher
Checklist for evaluating creative
1. Come prepared
2. Expect to be surprised maybe even made a little nervous
3. React to the idea as a whole
4. Add what’s important and incremental
5. Make sure it’s on strategy, not on checklist
6. If it doesn’t connect emotionally, it doesn’t connect
7. Remember what the work is trying to accomplish
8. Don’t just talk about what’s not working for you
9. See problems? Don’t offer solutions, explain the problem
10. Remember you don’t have to find something wrong
11. A creative idea needs creative direction not group cons
Excerpt from: Strategy Scrapbook by Alex Morris
In 1973, Standing conducted a range of experiments exploring human memory. The participants were shown pictures or words and instructed to pay attention to them and try to memorize them for a test on memory. Each picture or word was shown once, for five seconds.
The words had been randomly selected from the Merriam-Webster dictionary and were printed on 35mm slides – words like ‘salad’, ‘cotton’, reduce’, ‘camouflage’ ‘ton’.
The pictures were taken from 1,000 snapshots – most of them from holidays – beaches, palm trees, sunsets – volunteered by the students and faculty at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, where Standing taught at the time. But some of the pictures were more vivid – a crashed plane, for instance, or a dog holding a pipe. But remember this was the seventies – all dogs smoked pipes back then.
Two days later the participants were shown a series of two snapshots or two words at a time, one from the stack of snapshots they had seen before and one new, and were asked which one looked more familiar.
The experiment showed that our picture memory is superior to our verbal memory. When the learning set is 1,000 words selected from the dictionary above, we remember 62 per cent of them, while 77 per cent of the 1,000 selected snapshots were remembered. The bigger the learning set, the smaller the recognition rate. So, for instance, if the learning set for pictures were increased to 10,000, the recognition rate dropped to 66 per cent. However, we remember snapshots better than we do words. That may be why you might be better at remembering faces than names. So, if you are introduced to Penelope, it might help you remember her name if you picture Penelope Cruz standing next to her.
In addition, if more vivid pictures were presented, rather than the routine snapshots, recognition jumped to 88 per cent for 1,000 pictures.
Psychologist Daniel Wegner and his colleagues devised an experiment to demonstrate the ironic effect of inhibiting our desires. Participants were instructed in a simple task-not thinking of a white bear. Who spends much time thinking of white bears, anyway? Participants sat alone in a lab room for five minutes and rang a bell every time they failed to suppress this thought. On average, they rang the bell about five times, almost once per minute. No surprise that our thoughts wander, even to forbidden topics, when we are alone and bored. What is interesting is what happened when the same participants later sat for five minutes trying to think of a white bear. After the suppression task, they rang the bell almost eight times. In contrast, participants instructed to try to think of a white bear for five minutes, but without the initial task of not doing so, rang the bell fewer than five times. It was as if the act of trying to suppress a thought gave it a special energy to emerge later. After the participants tried not to think about white bears, thoughts of them returned again and again. When rating their experience, participants who had initially suppressed thoughts of white bears reported feeling preoccupied with them.
…termed the hindsight bias, or the “I knew-it-all-along” effect. As you may recall from our discussion in Chapter 1, once we know the outcome of an event, we have a strong tendency to believe that we could have predicted it in advance. In the Fischhoff experiments, subjects were given a test assessing their knowledge of historical events. The subject’s task was to indicate the likelihood that four possible outcomes of the event could have actually occurred. Some of the subjects were told that one of the four possibilities had actually happened but were asked to make the estimates that they would have made had they not first been told the “right” answers. The results showed that subjects could not ignore this information; they substantially overestimated their prior knowledge of correct answers. In other words, even though subjects really didn’t know the answers to the test, once they were told an answer, they believed that they knew it all along and that their memories had not changed.
Excerpt from: The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson and Joshua Aronson
Everyone who’s psychologically normal thinks they’re the hero. Moral superiority is thought to be a ʻuniquely strong and prevalent form of positive illusion’. Maintaining a positive moral self-image’ doesn’t only offer psychological and social benefits, it’s actually been found to improve our physical health. Even murderers and domestic abusers tend to consider themselves morally justified, often the victims of intolerable provocation. When researchers tested prisoners on their hero-maker biases, they found them to be largely intact. The inmates considered themselves above average on a range of pro-social characteristics, including kindness and morality. The exception was law-abidingness. There, sitting in prison, serving sentences precisely because they’d made serious contraventions of the law, they were only willing to concede that, on law-abidingness, they scored about average.
Excerpt from: The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr
John Kay, an economist at Oxford University, argues that advertising doesn’t work because of explicit messages. He suggests that one context is particularly important that of waste. By waste he means spending more on adverts than is necessary to functionally communicate the explicit message. That could be a 90-second ad, acres of white space on double-page spread or extravagant production values.
Advertising known to be expensive signals the volume of the resources available to the advertiser. As Kay says in his landmark paper:
The advertiser has either persuaded lots or people to buy his product already, a good sign, or has persuaded someone to lend him lots of money to finance the campaign.
Advertising works, not despite its perceived wastage, but because of it.
As psychologist Thomas Gilovich noted, “When examining evidence relevant to a given belief, people are inclined to see what they expect to see, and conclude what they expect to conclude… For desired conclusions … we ask ourselves, ‘Can I believe this?, but for unpalatable conclusions we ask, “Must I believe this?””
Excerpt from: Catalyst by Jonah Berger