💎 On our attention becoming scarcer in the age of information (inattention blindness)

In one study of simulated driving led by David Strayer and colleagues at the University of Utah, subjects talking on their phones “missed seeing up to 50 percent of their driving environments, including pedestrians and red lights.” (They were also ten times more likely to not stop at a stop sign.) Another experiment by Strayer and colleagues found that people talking on their phones had slower reaction times than drivers with a blood alcohol level at the legal limit.

What causes these mental deficits? The scientists blame inattention blindness, which occurs whenever the amount of information streaming into the brain exceeds our ability to process it.

Excerpt from: The Smarter Screen: Surprising Ways to Influence and Improve Online Behavior by Shlomo Benartzi and Jonah Lehrer

💎 On the importance of seeking inspiration from another field (the invention of Velcro)

The idea for Velcro, conceived by George de Mestral, occurred whilst out walking his dog. Burdock seeds were always getting caught in his dog’s fur as she ran through the fields. De Mestral, an engineer, inspected further, and found the seeds hooked onto the fur with a series of microscopic loops. And so Velcro was born. It would go on to be used extensively, from children’s trainers to boots for the moon landing. Good dog.

Excerpt from: Brutal Simplicity of Thought: How It Changed the World by M&c Saatchi

💎 On irony in advertising (ridiculing conventional persuasive techniques)

Irony itself can be elusive to define, but in ads it usually means the ridiculing of conventional persuasive techniques. As far back as 1932, Jack Benny told this joke about the sponsor of his radio show: ‘I was driving across the Sahara Desert when I came across a party of people who had been stranded for 30 days without a drop of water, and they were ready to perish. I gave each of them a glass of Canada Dry Ginger Ale, and not one of them said it was a bad drink.’

Excerpt from: 100 Ideas That Changed Advertising by Simon Veksner

💎 On our problematic obsession with the new (it’s not always better)

Just because something’s new doesn’t make it better. And just because you can do something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should. We all know the advertising industry is obsessed with the word ‘new’, not just as a selling mechanism, but also a descriptor of its own corporate structures.

How many times have you read in advertising journals of the launch of a new agency with a new way of working? The advertising business is obsessed with the word ‘new’. Of course, ‘a new way of working’ with technology represents an embracing of evolving technologies and their opportunities, but sometimes in advertising we can behave like a child at Christmas who just keeps opening one present after another and never stops to play. It’s a case of: give me something new. New is good, old is bad. We talk about old technology as though it were bad and new as though it were virtuous. We need to have the wisdom to stand back and consider the gifts we’ve been given and how best to employ them.

Excerpt from: Hegarty on Advertising: Turning Intelligence into Magic by John Hegarty

💎 On how endings shape most of our memories (experiences are not remembered equally)

Experiences are not remembered equally, our memories are encoded with the experiences (both positive and negative) at their peak ‘most intense’ point and their ending ‘concluding moment’.

Participants experienced both of the following conditions:

Hand submerged in 14°C ice water for 30 seconds.

Hand submerged in 14°C ice water for 30 seconds followed by an additional 30 seconds while the water heated up to 15°C.

When asked which trial they wished to repeat, subjects actually counter-intuitively opted for the second, longer condition.

That is, exactly the same amount of time in the colder water, only to end a little warmer.

Excerpt from: The Unseen Mind by Ogilvy Change

💎 On the key to persuasion being seeing things from the other person’s (or cow’s) point of view

One day Ralph Waldo Emerson and his son tried to get a calf into the barn. But they made the common mistake of thinking only of what they wanted: Emerson pushed and his son pulled. But the calf was doing just what they were doing: he was thinking only of what he wanted; so he stiffened his legs and stubbornly refused to leave the pasture. The Irish housemaid saw their predicament. She couldn’t write essays and books; but, on this occasion at least, she had more horse sense, or calf sense, than Emerson had. She thought of what the calf wanted; so she put her maternal finger in the calf’s mouth and let the calf suck her finger as she gently led him into the barn.

Excerpt from: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

💎 On the long history of celebrities spreading social change (Queen Victoria and labour pains)

Women had been fighting a long battle for respite from labour pains, and the survey made it plain that the battle was yet to be won. For decades, there had been widespread opposition to pain relief in labour, because it was deemed to go against the word of God. (‘In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children,’ the sinful Eve was told – Genesis 3:16.) But two events started to turn things around. One was the discovery that chloroform had anaesthetic properties. The other was that Queen Victoria secretly called a doctor to the birth of her eighth child, Prince Leopold, in 1853 and demanded that he give her some of this new-fangled chloroform to get her through. The palace denied the event for several years, but it nevertheless helped to disseminate the idea that taking pain relief in labour was an acceptable thing to do.

Excerpt from: The Life Project: The Extraordinary Story of Our Ordinary Lives by Helen Pearson

💎 On why predictions are difficult (rounding errors)

In 1972 the American meteorologist Edward Lorenz wrote a paper with an arresting title: “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” A decade earlier, Lorenz had discovered by accident that tiny data entry variations in computer simulations of weather patterns—like replacing 0.506127 with 0.506—could produce dramatically different longterm forecasts. It was an insight that would inspire “chaos theory”: in nonlinear systems like the atmosphere, even small changes in initial conditions can mushroom to enormous proportions. So, in principle, a lone butterfly in Brazil could flap its wings and set off a tornado in Texas even though swarms of other Brazilian butterflies could flap frantically their whole lives and never cause a noticeable gust a few miles away. Of course Lorenz didn’t mean that the butterfly “causes” the tornado in the same sense that I cause a wineglass to break when I hit it with a hammer.

Excerpt from: Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction

💎 On our tendency for lower comprehension of texts when read online versus in printed media (keep it simple)

In 1985, at the dawn of the computer age, the psychologist Susan Belmore conducted a simple experiment on twenty undergraduates at the University of Kentucky. The students were exposed to eight different short texts and then asked to answer a series of questions about what they’d just read. Four of the passages appeared on paper (a sheet of white bond, single-spaced, forty-seven characters per line) and four appeared on the monitor of an Apple II Plus 48k computer. Belmore was curious if reading the text on a screen might influence both the speed of reading and levels of comprehension.

The results were depressing, at least if you were an early adopter of computer technology. “These data indicate that reading texts on a computer display is not equivalent to reading the same texts on paper,” Belmore wrote. “Overall, college students took 12 percent longer to read and comprehended 47 percent less with computer-presented text.”

Excerpt from: The Smarter Screen: Surprising Ways to Influence and Improve Online Behavior by Shlomo Benartzi and Jonah Lehrer

💎 On making a claim more concrete to make it more believable (in this case by adding imagery)

Sometimes, increasing a statement’s truthiness can be as simple as adding an irrelevant picture. In one rather macabre experiment from 2012, Newman showed her participants statements about a series of famous figures – such as a sentence claiming that the indie singer Nick Cave was dead. When the statement was accompanied by a stock photo of the singer, they were more likely to believe that the statement was true, compared to the participants who saw only the plain text.

The photo of Nick Cave could, of course, have been taken at any point in his life. It makes no sense that someone would use it as evidence – it just shows you that he’s a musician in a random band,’ Newman told me. ‘But from a psychological perspective it made sense. Anything that would make it easy to picture or easy to imagine something should sway someone’s judgement.’

Excerpt from: The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things and how to Make Wiser Decisions by David Robson

💎 On how progress is not completely objective (even in science)

Max Planck, the theoretical physicist who helped lay the groundwork for quantum theory, said: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

Excerpt from: Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson

💎 On messages from untrustworthy sources still having an impact (why propaganda works)

Amazingly, just the opposite is true for propaganda. If it strikes a chord with someone, this influence will only increase over time. Why? Psychologist Carl Hovland, who led the study for the war department, named this phenomenon the sleeper effect. To date, the best explanation is that, in our memories, the source of the argument fades faster than the argument. In other words, your brain quickly forgets where the information came from (e.g. from the department of propaganda). Meanwhile, the message itself (i.e., war is necessary and noble) fades only slowly or even endures. Therefore, any knowledge that stems from an untrustworthy source gains credibility over time. The discrediting force melts away faster than the message does.

Excerpt from: The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

💎 On making your audience think for themselves (f_____)

A key principle here is ‘the generation effect’ – that is, the finding that a message is significantly better remembered if the audience actually thinks it themselves, rather than just reading it superficially. Researchers at the University of Toronto assigned participants to one of two conditions: half of them read pairs of words that were associated in some way, such as rhyming or being semantically linked, like rapid-fast; while the other half were shown one word and the initial letter of its pair, like rapid-f_____. Afterwards, participants completed a test of recognition for the matched words. Those who simply read the words scored an average of 69%, while those who mentally generated the words scored 85%.

Excerpt from: Hooked: Revealing the hidden tricks of memorable marketing by Patrick Fagan

💎 On the myth of brainstorming’s effectiveness (versus working alone)

Researchers have gone to a great deal of trouble to test the efficacy of group brainstorming. In a typical experiment, participants arrive in a group. Half of them are randomly chosen to be in the ‘work as a group’ condition and are placed in one room. They are given standard brainstorming rules and have to come up with ideas to help solve a specific problem (perhaps design a new ad campaign, or find ways of easing traffic congestion). The other half of the participants are asked to sit alone in separate rooms, are given exactly the same instructions and tasks and asked to generate ideas on their own. Researchers then tally the quantity of ideas produced under the different conditions, and then experts rate their quality. So do such studies show that group brainstorming is more effective than individuals working alone? Many scientists are far from convinced. Brian Mullen from the University of Kent at Canterbury and his colleagues analysed the efficacy of group brainstorming in this way, and were amazed to discover i the vast majority of experiments, the participants working on their own produced a higher quantity and quality of ideas than those working in groups.

Excerpt from: 59 Seconds: Think a little, change a lot by Richard Wiseman

💎 On the clash between creatives and researchers (artists and scientists)

As John Ward of England’s B&B Dorland noted, “Advertising is a craft executed by people who aspire to be artists, but is assessed by those who aspire to be scientists. I cannot imagine any human relationship more perfectly designed to produce total mayhem.”

Excerpt from: Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads by Luke Sullivan and Sam Bennett

💎 On the need for ads to leave a little something for viewers to do (dot-to-dot)

My former partner Rich Silverstein used to talk about effective advertising using the analogy of those dot-to-dot games we all used to play as children. I’m sure you remember joining numbered dot to numbered dot. trying to guess what you’re drawing as the picture slowly emerges. Dot, to dot, to dot… then, with just one stroke of the pencil, it is suddenly clear. You have a picture of a badger. Silverstein always used to say that it was important for us to join enough of the dots in our advertising to avoid confusion (and as a result rejection), but to leave enough dots for the viewers or listeners to join for themselves. Into the gaps between the dots of advertising they should insert their own experience, hopes, fears, joys, and sorrows, and thus embrace the communication by becoming a part of it.

Excerpt from: Perfect Pitch: The Art of Selling Ideas and Winning New Business by Jon Steel

💎 On using humour in negotiations to make it more likely to get what you want (laughing all the way to the bank)

An elaborate multivariate analysis showed:

The results provide firm support for the major hypothesis that verbal humor leads to greater compliance. Subjects who received a demand accompanied by humor made greater financial concessions than no-humor subjects… Humor was equally effective as an influence technique when used by both sexes, and when directed toward both sexes. Our compliance data provided no evidence that joking was more appropriate for males.

Excerpt from: How To Make Better Advertising And Advertising Better by Vic Polinghorne and Andy Palmer

💎 On there being no magic number of times an activity needs to be done to fix a bad habit (just keep doing it)

Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a magic number of repetitions that result in a habit forming. Some say that you need to repeat an action fifty times or for twenty-one days, but very few researchers have actually looked at this question systematically. And those that have done tend to find that there isn’t a clear-cut answer to the question. In one of the few studies to have tracked the formation of healthy habits in real-world settings, researchers studied ninety-six students who had just moved to university and were encouraged to repeat behaviours in response to consistent cues (such as ‘going for a walk after breakfast’). They found that habits formed in some of the students after eighteen days, but for some it took much longer – up to 254 days. The average was sixty-six days.

Excerpt from: Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals by Owain Service and Rory Gallagher

💎 On photos of people with dilated eyes are more attractive (but men are not sure why)

In a recent experiment, men were asked to rank how attractive they found photographs of different women’s faces. The photos were eight by ten inches, and showed women facing the camera or turned in three-quarter profile. Unbeknownst to the men, in half the photos the eyes of the women were dilated, and in the other half they were not. The men were consistently more attracted to the women with dilated eyes. Remarkably, the men had no insight into their decision making.

Excerpt from: Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman

💎 On using unnecessarily complicated language looking stupid (not clever)

In a series of five studies, Oppenheimer systematically examined the complexity of the vocabulary used in various passages (including job applications, academic essays and translations of Descartes). He then asked people to read the samples and rate the intelligence of the person who allegedly wrote them. The simpler language resulted in significantly higher ratings of intelligence, showing that the unnecessary use of complex language sent out a bad impression.

Excerpt from: 59 Seconds: Think a little, change a lot by Richard Wiseman

💎 On producing content being the easy part (getting anyone to listen is the hard part)

Ideas that are allocated no attention at all – those that are never exposed to anyone – make no impact on the world, by logical extension, since no one sees them. The 50 per cent of YouTube videos with less than 500 views don’t individually make much impact on culture. So attention is a powerful thing – but what kind of thing is it?

Excerpt from: Paid Attention: Innovative Advertising for a Digital World by Faris Yakob

💎 On our tendency to explain behaviour through personality rather than context (fundamental attribution error)

Fundamental attribution error was conducted in 1967 by Edward Jones and Victor Harris at Duke University. They had students read speech transcripts of debaters both in support of and in opposition to the political ideologies of Fidel Castro. (Today they might have used Osama bin Laden.) The students correctly attributed the speechwriter’s ideas as influenced by the speechwriter’s internal feelings when told the person who gave the speech had chosen his own position. If, for instance, the debaters said they disagreed with Castro, the students said they believed them. When the students were told the debater had no choice in the matter and was assigned the position as either pro- or anti-Castro, the students didn’t buy it. If the debater was assigned a pro-Castro position and then gave a pro-Castro speech, the students reading that speech told the researchers they thought the debater really believed what he or she was saying. The situation’s influence didn’t play into their assumptions; instead they saw all the debaters’ words as springing from their character.

Excerpt from: You Are Not So Smart: Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, Why You Have Too Many Friends On Facebook And 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself by David Mcraney

💎 On how we’re more likely to behave immorally if we think others have misbehaved (graffiti and littering)

In their field experiments Keizer and his colleagues tested to what extent various subtle signs of disorder in an environment could influence the proliferation of other undesirable behaviors. In one study the researchers found the perfect setting for their test: an alleyway near a Dutch shopping mall where shoppers typically parked their bikes. While the shoppers were at the mall, the researchers affixed one of the store’s advertisements on the handlebar of each bicycle with an elastic band. In one condition, the researchers left the alleyway just as they found it; in a second condition, they added graffiti to the alleyway. Because there were no garbage bins in the area, shoppers returning from the mall to find a printed advertisement attached to the handlebars of their bicycle had a simple choice. Do they remove the advertisement and take it home with them—or do they instead drop it on the ground?

The results revealed that 33 percent of the bicycle owners littered the paper when there was no graffiti to be seen in the alleyway. However, 69 percent did so when graffiti was present.

Excerpt from: The Small BIG: Small Changes that Spark Big Influence by Robert Cialdini, Noah Goldstein, and Steve Martin

💎 On how we’re more likely to help those similar to ourselves (dress like us)

Several studies have demonstrated that we are more likely to help those who dress like us. In one study, done in the early 1970s when young people tended to dress either in “hippie” or “straight” fashion, experimenters donned hippie or straight attire and asked college students on campus for a dime to make a phone call. When the experimenter was dressed in the same way as the student, the request was granted in more than two thirds of the instances; but when the student and requester were dissimilarly dressed, the dime was provided less than half the time. Another experiment shows how automatic our positive response to similar others can be. Marchers in an antiwar demonstration were found to be not only more likely to sign the petition of a similarly dressed requester, but also to do so without bothering to read it first. Click, whirr.

Excerpt from: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

💎 On how we learn through mimicry (observing others guide for action)

Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.

Excerpt from: The Advertising Effect: How to Change Behaviour by Adam Ferrier

💎 On how rewards can crowd out intrinsic motivation (encouraging people in relation to tasks they dislike)

To test this theory, a few years ago I ran a study in which two groups of people were asked to take part in an experiment in which they spent an afternoon picking up litter in a London park. Participants were told that they were taking part in an experiment examining how best to persuade people to look after their local parks. One group were paid handsomely for their time, while the others were only given a small amount of cash. After an hour or so of backbreaking and tedious work, everyone rated the degree to which they had enjoyed the afternoon. You might think that those clutching a large amount of well-earned cash would be more positive than those who had given their time for very little money.

In fact, the result was exactly the opposite. The average enjoyment rating of the handsomely paid group was a measly 2 out of 10, while the modestly paid group’s average ratings were a whopping 8.5. It seemed that those who had been paid well had thought, ‘Well, let me see, people usually pay me to do things I don’t enjoy. I was paid a large amount, so I must dislike tidying the park.’

Excerpt from: 59 Seconds: Think a little, change a lot by Richard Wiseman

💎 On why brands need to make the best possible first impression (primacy error)

One of the first experiments on the topic was run in the USA by Solomon Asch. He asked subjects to evaluate a person simply on the basis of a list of six adjectives describing him. They might be told that he was ‘intelligent, industrious, impulsive critic, stubborn and envious’. Other subjects were given exactly the same six words but in the opposite order, ‘envious, stubborn, critical, impulsive, industrious and intelligent’. All subjects were then I asked to fill in a rating sheet in order to evaluate the person. For example, they had to indicate how happy they thought he was, how sociable he was, and so on. The subjects who heard the first list, which began with favourable adjectives evaluated the person considerably more highly than did those given the list beginning with the derogatory words. This effect – being more heavily influenced by early than by late item – is called the ‘primacy error’.

Excerpt from: Irrationality: The enemy within by Stuart Sutherland