‘It should be remembered, that in few departments have important reforms been effected by those trained up in practical familiarity with their details. The men to detect blemishes and defects are among those who have not, by long familiarity, been made insensible to them.’
Crutchfield’s experiment involved slightly more ambiguous questions, including one in which people were asked if they agreed with the statement ‘I believe we are made better by the trials and hardships of life.’ Among subjects in a control group that was not exposed to the answers of others, everyone agreed. But among those in the experiment who thought that everyone else disagreed with the statement, 31 per cent said they did not agree. Asked whether they agreed with the statement ‘I doubt whether I would make a good leader,’ every person in the control group rejected it. But when the group was seen to agree with the statement, 37 per cent of people went along with the consensus and agreed that they doubted themselves.
Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner
Many other studies produced similar results. Kahneman and Tversky divided 245 undergrads at the University of British Columbia in half and asked one group to estimate the probability of a massive flood somewhere in North America in 1983, in which more than 1,000 people drown.’ The second group was asked about an earthquake in California sometime in 1983, causing a flood in which more than 1,000 people drown.’ Once again, the second scenario logically has to be less likely than the first but people rated it one-third more likely than the first. Nothing says ‘California’ quite like ‘earthquake’.
Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner
In 2014, the British government undertook a national experiment with the report card approach-sending letters to thousands of doctors in England who were prescribing the most antibiotics per capita in their regions. The letters, from high-profile British leaders, let those doctors know that they were prescribing more antibiotics than 80 percent of their local peers and suggested alternatives to writing a prescription in the heat of the moment, such as giving patients advice to care for themselves while sick. Researchers from the UK government’s Behavioural Insights Team found that these letters corresponded with a substantial decline in the rate of antibiotic prescription, with an estimated seventy thousand fewer antibiotics given to patients in a six-month period. The letters had cost very little, but they had saved significant sums of money spent on medicine by the national health care system and protected public health.
René Lacoste, French tennis star, earned the nickname ‘le crocodile’ for winning a crocodile-skin suitcase in a bet. ‘A friend drew a crocodile’, he said, ‘and / had it embroidered on the blazer / wore on the courts!’ His polo shirts were launched in 1933 and are probably the first example of sportswear as fashion.
Excerpt from: The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher
The most striking examples of the persistence of musical memory come from observation of patients suffering from dementia. Late-stage Alzheimer’s patients who have difficulty recognizing family members and familiar objects can still recognize familiar songs. In some instances, these patients are able to sing despite having lost the ability to speak.”
The unique strength of musical memory has puzzled researchers for years, but one possible reason for the robustness of musically encoded memory is that music is encoded by several different regions of the brain. While auditory regions are primarily involved, so are parts responsible for imagery and emotion. Because musical memories are laid down in multiple brain regions, stimulating any one of these regions may spark their retrieval. It also may be the reason musical memory persists so long in dementia patients. If one brain region becomes damaged, the other, healthy regions can pick up the slack, theoretically providing “backups.”
One of the greatest reasons why so few people understand themselves is that most writers are always teaching men what they should be, and hardly ever trouble their heads with telling them what they really are.
-BERNARD MANDEVILLE, Fable of the Bees!
Kim, Novemsky, and Dhar (2013) ran this gum experiment in South Korea. Participants were given W1,000 (about $1) and asked which gum they would like to buy. Participants could also choose to keep the money and not buy any gum. When both gums were priced at W630 only 46% of participants decided to buy one of both options, but when the price was slightly different (W620 vs. W640) this proportion increased to 77%.
Völckner and Hofmann (2007) analyzed 71 studies from 23 publications spanning from 1989 to 2006. The researchers distilled following findings:
- The impact of price on quality perception is significant but has decreased since reported in the late 1980s (Rao and Monroe 1989).
- Price-quality inference is stronger for higher-priced products.
- Price-quality inferences decrease with increasing familiarity with the product.
- Price-quality inference is stronger for fast-moving consumer goods than for services or durable goods.
- Price-quality inference is stronger in European countries than in North American countries.
According to Bergen, we start modelling words as we start reading them. We don’t wait until we get to the end of the sentence. This means the order in which writers place their words matters. This is perhaps why transitive construction – Jane gave a Kitten to her Dad – is more effective than the ditransitive – Jane gave her Dad a kitten. Picturing Jane, then the Kitten, then her Dad mimics the real-world action that we, as readers, should be modelling. It means we’re mentally experiencing the scene in the correct sequence. Because writers are, in effect, generating neural movies in the minds of their readers, they should privilege word order that’s filmic, imagining how their reader’s neural camera will alight upon each component of a sentence.
For the same reason, active sentence construction – Jane kissed her Dad – is more effective than passive – Dad was kissed by Jane. Witnessing this in real life, Jane’s initial movement would draw our attention and then we’d watch the kiss play out. We wouldn’t be dumbly staring at Dad, waiting for something to happen.
Excerpt from: The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr
Imagine two restaurants of comparable quality. Along came the first customer, who has to choose between the two he flips a coin and picks restaurant A. Now imagine the next customer. Confronted with the same choice, she has the same information plus she sees the first customer sitting in the window of restaurant A. What does she do?
You can see where this is going.
But at this point, restaurant B still has hope-how much does the second customer trust the first customer’s choice? Well, is he attractive? Does he smoke? How’s he dressed? What’s his posture? The more the second person identifies with the first, the more she trusts his choice.
Once the second customer chooses restaurant A too, it starts to solidify a consensus. The third customer would have to buck a significant trend, voting against two people, in order to choose restaurant B.
Soon, you can imagine a line put the door of restaurant A, while restaurant B sits empty – despite the restaurants’ similar quality.
And it inspired competitors – notably Sears Roebuck, which soon became the market leader. (The story goes that the Sears Roebuck catalogue had slightly smaller pages than Montgomery Ward’s – with the intention that a tidy-minded housewife would naturally stack the two with the Sears catalogue on top.)
By the century’s end, mail-order companies were bringing in $30 million a year – a billion-dollar business in today’s terms; in the next twenty years, that figure grew almost twenty-fold. The popularity of mail order helped fuel demands to improve the postal service in the countryside – if you lived in a city, you’d get letters delivered to your door, but rural dwellers had to schlep to their nearest post office.
The contagious effect of humour explains the results of a 1991 experiment conducted by University of Houston psychologists, Yong Zhang and George Zinkan.
They recruited 216 students to watch 30 minutes of music videos interspersed with soft drink commercials in groups of one, three and six. In order for the test to be as realistic as possible, the participants were told they were going to be questioned on their music preferences.
Their key finding was that ads tended to be rated as least funny when they were watched alone. In contrast, ads watched in groups of three and six were reported to be 21% and 10%, funnier than those watched alone.
The impact of groups might be due to social proof – this is the idea that people are influenced by others’ behaviour. If one person laughs, it encourages others to find the content funny.
In hundreds of studies spanning all kinds of contexts from eating better to completing homework assignments to saving money to avoiding the impulse to react to people on the basis of their skin color-Gollwitzer and his colleagues have demonstrated the power of people taking the time to anticipate in advance the obstacles they might face when meeting future aspirations. For example, people who want to eat healthier might jot down all of the possible temptations they’ll face in a week to eat junk food, and then set up a plan to respond to each of those urges.
What’s surprising about Gollwitzer’s research on if/then techniques is that it reveals that the more difficult the long-term goal, the greater the power of the tactic. It works better, in other words, for the challenges that elude people’s sheer willpower.
One well-known example of a dysfunctional workplace competition was GE’s “Rank-and-Yank” system, where the bottom 10% of the organization’s employees were fired on a regular basis. Another was Microsoft’s “Stack Racking” system, where an employee’s expectations for promotion were based on how they were ranked among their peers. A personal friend of mine who worked at GE many years ago stated, “The Rank-and-Yank system there made sure that everyone hired people weaker than themselves so they were never in danger of being yanked. When we interviewed a brilliant candidate, we made sure they never got the job because it would put ourselves in jeopardy or potentially result in a smaller bonus.”
A Vanity Fair article by Kurt Eichenwald cites that “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed – everyone – cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft. Peter Cohan from Forbes stated that, “[Stack Ranking) directed [Microsoft employees] to prevent their peers from getting outstanding performance reviews and brag about their accomplishments to each member of the management committee that determined their relative ranking.”
As you can see, workplace competition can be extremely destructive to company morale, especially during weak and uncertain economic conditions where people are preoccupied with getting laid off.
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.”