One ongoing U.S. study has tracked how much money adults over age fifty spend on just about everything, from refrigerators and rent to alcohol and art. When researchers link these spending choices to happiness, only one category of spending matters. And it’s not refrigerators, or even alcohol. It’s what the researchers label “leisure”: trips, movies, sporting events, gym memberships, and the like. People who spend more of their money on leisure report significantly greater satisfaction with their lives. Not surprisingly the amount of money these older adults reported spending on leisure was dwarfed by the amount they spent on housing. But housing again turned out to have zero bearing on their life satisfaction.
Say you had the choice between two surgeons of similar rank in the same department in some hospital. The first is highly refined in appearance; he wears silver-rimmed glasses, has a thin build, delicate hands, measured speech, and elegant gestures. His hair is silver and well combed. He is the person you would put in a movie if you needed to impersonate a surgeon. His office prominently boasts Ivy League diplomas, both for his undergraduate and medical schools.
The second one looks like a butcher; he is overweight, with large hands, uncouth speech, and an unkempt appearance. His shirt is dangling from the back. No known tailor on the East Coast of the U.S. is capable of making his shirt button at the neck. He speaks unapologetically with a strong New Yawk accent, as if he wasn’t aware of it. He even has a gold tooth showing when he opens his mouth. The absence of diplomas on the wall hints at the lack of pride in his education: he perhaps went to some local college. In a movie, you would expect him to impersonate a retired bodyguard for a junior congressman, or a third generation cook in a New Jersey cafeteria.
Now if I had to pick, I would overcome my sucker-proneness and take the butcher any minute. Even more: I would seek the butcher as a third option if my choice was between two doctors who looked like doctors. Why? Simply the one who doesn’t look the part, conditional on having made a (sort of) successful career in his profession, had to have much to overcome in terms of perception. And if we are lucky enough to have people who do not look the part, it is thanks to the presence of some skin in the game, the contact with reality that filters out incompetence, as reality is blind to looks.
When iTunes first released its shuffle feature received a slew of angry emails. The complaints came from customers who claimed the feature was broken because, when they clicked the “shuffle” button on their *NSYNC album, the tracks sometimes played in order. People felt cheated. How could a random algorithm produce three songs in the same order as they appear on the actual album? Random should mean 7, 11, 3, not 1, 2, 3, right? Except that when song selection is truly random, each song has the same probability of playing each time the current song ends. Sometimes that means 7, 11, 13, but sometimes that means 1, 2, 3 instead.
In response, iTunes changed their randomness algorithm to avoid such sequential ordering. The new algorithm feels more random to us humans despite it being objectively less random.
In evidence that stacking works, consider dental floss. Many of us clean our teeth regularly but fail to floss. To test whether stacking increases flossing, researchers gave fifty British participants, who flossed on average only 1.5 times per month, information encourage them to do it more regularly.
Half of the participants were told to floss before they brushed at night, and half after they brushed. Note that only half of the participants were really stacking-using an existing automated response (brushing their teeth) as a cue for a new behavior (flossing). The other half, who first flossed and then brushed, had to remember, oh, yes, first I need to floss, before I brush. No automated cue.
Each day for four weeks, participants reported by text whether they flossed the night before. At the end of the month of reminders, they all flossed about twenty-four days on average. Most interesting is what they were all doing eight months later. Those who stacked, and flossed after they brushed, were still doing it about eleven days a month. For them, the new behavior was maintained by the existing habit. The group originally instructed to floss before they brushed ended up doing it only about once a week.
While we each may initially react quite differently to an event, we all have a built-in ability to detect and neutralize challenges to our happiness. This has been called our psychological immune system. Just as your body adjusts to getting into hot water, so your mind adjusts to change: the psychological reaction to changes in stimuli is analogous to the physiological reaction to changes in temperature. And your psychological immune system works a little like your physical immune system, which kicks in when faced with a threat, such as when someone nearby coughs or sneezes. This highlights the fact that many adaptation processes take place automatically and unconsciously, we simply get used to some changes without thinking about whether or not we really want to.
In one of the most interesting studies in this area, students were asked to predict how much worse their mood would be if they were rejected for a job: their average estimate was two points lower than their current mood on a ten-point scale. In sharp contrast, the actual being rejected was only 0.4 points on the same ten-point scale that effect was fleeting: ten minutes after the rejection, their happiness levels had returned to normal. By the way, there was no real job offer-such is the fun that psychologists often have at their students’ expense.
If your partner dumps you, give it a few months and you’ll generally look back on your partner as having been unsuitable. Chances are that you will then meet someone who makes you happier than that loser did. This is not to say that the pain of the breakup is any less real, just that you can take some comfort from it not lasting.
TIGER, TIGER WITH REFULGENT CONFLAGRATION
IN THE NOCTURNAL AFFORESTATION,
KINDLY PROVIDE DETAILS REGARDING
NATURE OF SUPERNATURAL DEITY
RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR DESIGN AND TECHNOLOGY
Excerpt from: The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher
One of the earliest experiments examining the power of imagination to sway intuition was conducted during the U.S. presidential election campaign of 1976. One group was asked to imagine Gerald Ford winning the election and taking the oath of office, and then they were asked how likely it was that Ford would win the election. Another group was asked to do the same for Jimmy Carter. So who was more likely to win? Most people in the group that imagined Ford winning said Ford. Those who saw Jimmy Carter taking the oath said Carter. Later experiments have obtained similar results. What are your odds of being arrested? How likely is it you’ll win the lottery? People who imagine the event consistently feel the odds or the event actually happening are higher than those who don’t.
Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner
But would he have preferred that the locksmith bumble around, take a long time and fake effort? Well, maybe. A locksmith once told Dan that when he started his career, he took forever to open a lock, and in the process, he often broke it, taking even more time and money to get one properly installed and finish the job. He charged for the parts to replace the broken lock as well as his standard fee for opening a locked door. People were happy to pay all this, and they tipped him well. He noticed, however, that as he became proficient and opened a lock quickly, without breaking the old lock (and without the consequent need to replace it and charge his clients for the extra parts), customers not only didn’t tip, but they also argued about his fee.
Wait, what? How much is it worth to have our door open? That should be the question. But because it’s difficult to put a price on this, we look at how much effort it takes to have that door unlocked. When there’s a great deal of effort, we feel much better about paying more. But all that should matter is the value of that open door.
The little-known nineteenth-century French philosopher Félix Ravaisson was able to put this concept into concrete terms. He called it the double law of habit. Basically it means this: repetition strengthens our tendency to act, but it also weakens our sensation of that act. In other words, we habituate. It’s a deceptively complex process, and one that has power to sap force and meaning from our lives. We tend to keep doing things long after they have lost meaning for us. Yes, we can take advantage of that dynamic when we form new habits, as they lose their hard edges with repetition. But it’s a double-edged sword.
Habituation is one reason we lose interest in the material stuff we buy (thinking those things will finally make us happy). Certainly, you enjoyed sitting on your new couch the day it was delivered. And you got to show it off to your friends the next time they visited. But after that? You probably don’t notice it much now.
We’ll start with the Nobel Prize. There is only one Nobel Prize in a creative field. It is the prize for Literature. It went to Kazuo Ishiguro who is 64.
The Pulitzer Prize is awarded in several creative fields. The Pulitzer for Drama went to Lynn Nottage who is 54. The Pulitzer for History went to Heather Ann Thompson, age 55. The Pulitzer for Poetry went to Tyehimba Jess, age 53.
Next we move to television. The Emmy for Best Drama Series went to The Handmaid’s Tale. The novel was written by Margaret Atwood who was 79 and was creative consultant on the show. The Best Comedy Series went to Veep, executive produced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, 57. She also won for Best Actress. Best Limited Series went to Big Little Lies created by David E Kelley, 62. The Best Supporting Actress was Ann Dowd, 62. Best Supporting Actor was John Lithgow, 73. Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series went to Alec Baldwin, 60.
So, let’s recap. People over 50 are creative enough to dominate in Nobels, Pulitzers, Oscars, and Emmys but are not creative enough to write a fucking banner ad. I guarantee you, not one of these brilliantly talented people could get a job in an ad agency today. Not one.
Excerpt from: Advertising for Skeptics by Bob Hoffman
On Hallowe’en, twenty-eight trick-or-treaters with the average age of around ten came to the house. All the kids were given different combinations of candy and asked to rate their happiness levels in relation to it. Seven different happiness levels were shown by using smiley face symbols ranging from neutral to open-mouthed-grin smiley face’. Some kids were given a full-size Hershey’s chocolate bar, some kids were given a piece of gum, some kids were given first a Hershey’s bar then a piece of gum, and some kids were given first a Hershey’s bar then another Hershey’s bar. You would expect more candy to equal more happiness. But the children getting a chocolate bar then a piece of gum were less happy than the kids who received just the chocolate bar. And two chocolate bars did not bring more happiness than one chocolate bar.
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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
In 1979 – when capital punishment was a top issue in the United States – American researchers brought together equal numbers of supporters and opponents of the death penalty. The strength of their views was tested. Then they were asked to read a carefully balanced essay that presented evidence that capital punishment deters crime and evidence that it does not. The researchers then retested people’s opinions and discovered that they had only gotten stronger. They had absorbed the evidence that confirmed their views, ignored the rest, and left the experiment even more convinced that they were right and those who disagreed were wrong.
Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner
One nice recent study involved 218 Dutch students being asked to solve a Sudoku puzzle and complete a word search in a fixed time of twenty-four minutes. Participants in the experiment were randomly as signed to one of three treatments: one where they were forced to multitask; one where they could organize their work by freely switching between the Sudoku puzzle and the word search; and one where they performed the tasks sequentially. They were awarded points for each correctly filled Sudoku cell and each word found. The total points scored were lowest in the first group and highest in the third. 35 These results suggest that having a clear schedule of work is better for productivity So multitasking might sound cool, but it actually makes you a fool.
As Shakespeare wrote, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so’.
A few hours before I sat down to write this chapter, I received a parking ticket. It was only for £25 and I was completely to blame, but it nevertheless annoyed me to an extraordinary degree – and it is still annoying me now. Perhaps a parking ticket is made even more annoying because we can see no way of reframing it in a positive light.
Could the local authority that issued me with the ticket give me a chance to play the same mental trick on myself as the easyJet pilot – a reason, however tenuous, to feel slightly upbeat about the fine? For instance, how different would I feel if I was told that the money from my fine would be invested into improving local roads or donated to a homeless shelter? The fine would have the same deterrent effect, but my level of anger and resentment would be significantly reduced. How would that be a bad thing?