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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

84 months vs. 7 years

Do you consider yourself as someone who cannot be manipulated without consciously being aware of it?  Can something as simple as changing the scale from 1-10 to 100-1000 have an effect on you?  A recent study shows that it certainly can (How to Make a 29% Increase Look Bigger: The Unit Effect in Option Comparisons. Author(s): Mario Pandelaere, Barbara Briers, Christophe Lembregts. Source: Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 38, No. 2 (August 2011), pp. 308-322).  The choice of units when presenting quantitative information can have profound effects on your perceptions, choices, and preferences.

The authors of this study make several observations that they continue to support with experimental data.  The authors find that consumers tend to focus on the "the number rather than the type of units in which information is expressed."  In other words, if you present information on two choices using months and years, your average viewer is much more likely to notice the number of months and years instead of the fact that one choice is represented with months and the other choice is represented in years.  By focusing primarily on the number, rather than the unit, the viewer mistakenly believes that the difference between two choices is actually much larger than it actually is.  For instance, when judging the difference between 20 tons and 25 tons, and 40,000 pounds and 50,000 pounds, the viewer will mistakenly believes that the difference in the 40,000-50,000 case is greater than the difference in the 20-25 case, even though the difference is exactly the same.  The fact that one example uses bigger values tends to throw off mental calculations because viewers are looking at the numbers in absolute terms and ignoring the units involved.

In another example, "people incorrectly believe cancer is riskier when statistics report that it affects 1286 of every 10,000 persons than when they report that it causes the death of 24.1 per 100 persons." Consequently, as numbers get larger, quantity differences are perceived to be greater than they actually are.  When perceptions are affected, there are real consequences in people's behavior, perceptions, and choices.

To test their hypotheses, the authors conducted 4 different studies where they increased the scale of the units involved. For instance, in one of their studies, the authors presented the study participants with information on calories.  The two groups of participants were given the choice of an apple or a Twix bar.  With the first group of participants, the calorie information on both food items was presented in Kilojoules, which resulted in greater calorie quantities in absolute terms.  With the second group, information was presented in Kilocalories, which resulted in smaller quantities in absolute terms. The authors found that "participants were more likely to choose the apple in the kilojoules condition compared to the kilocalories condition" at statistically significant levels (p=.03).  The apple became a more popular choice because the participants believed it had a high energy content in absolute terms. Across all studies, the authors found statistically significant results that are consistent with initial hypotheses.

 The authors' findings can be applied in ways that promote consumers to engage in more environmentally sustainable behavior.  For instance, what if a local city council is trying to urge citizens to conserve and create less waste?  The local officials can apply this study's findings  when using statistics to show how much waste an average household in the city generates per year.  The waste amount can be listed in smaller units to make the problem seem bigger and more important.  For instance, when waste statistics at the city level are being presented, pounds can be used as the units of measurement instead of tons.  A resident seeing "500,000 pounds" might be more prone to being persuaded than seeing "250 tons."  Much like in the cancer statistic example, the waste problem can be perceived as more severe if the information is presented in units that make the problem seem bigger in absolute terms.  Once perceptions are affected, behavior will be easier to change.

Ultimately, the authors' findings can be used in many other contexts to promote beneficial behavior.
Source:  http://studenttrip.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/bg_twix.png%3Fw%3D279%26h%3D298





Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The secret to a better memory

Do you consider yourself as someone with a poor or strong memory? Well, your answer is irrelevant because there are strategies you can use to drastically improve your memory no matter how strong or weak your memory is.  The key lesson to remember is that humans excel at visual and spatial memory and we work better when we have context. We are terrible at remembering isolated facts and abstract ideas.  To create strong memories, we need to infuse them with clearly visual and concrete characteristics.  We need to imagine directly interacting with the memory in some form through touch or smell or any other non-abstract method of interaction.  By doing this, we are connecting the memory to our powerful senses such as sight and smell.  An additional tool to use is to connect the memory to something unexpected or emotional or humorous.  Our brains are wired to filter out the ordinary and the banal so we aren't overloaded with information.  As a result, a lot of important information that your brain deems ordinary or mundane can get filtered out and we become forgetful.  On the other hand, if something is unexpected, humorous, or emotional, you are much more likely to remember it.

All of this should seem familiar to previous blog entries about aiming for concreteness, eliciting emotions and using unexpectedness.  The best way to drive the point home is through using these strategies on one thorough example.

Imagine you are going to give a presentation and there are a list of items that you need to go through.  Unfortunately, you are having a difficult time trying to keep the list together in your head.  Let's assume this is the list with the topics you need to discuss:
  • Profits are up due to a recent partnership with a firm in Japan.
  • The company computer systems have been updated and run 30% more efficiently.
  • A new competitor has risen and is providing similar products at cheaper prices.
  • Your technical employees are unhappy and morale is down.
  • There has been negative press coverage lately about the company's environmental track record.
As you can clearly see, these ideas are rather abstract and you might have a difficult time remembering all of them while you are giving the presentation.  Our brains aren't great at remembering the concepts in this list because they are abstract, they lack concreteness, they aren't visual, they aren't emotional, and they aren't unexpected or surprising or out of the ordinary.  The goal in this case is to take these kinds of memories and transform them into the types of memories that our brains excel at.

How can we convert these memories to something that is vivid, engaging, has spacial context, and is novel and marvelous? Your first step is to visualize a place in your mind where you can physically "store" these memories.  Think of a place that you know really well, like your childhood home.  For me, I am going to visualize my current home.

The first item on the list deals with profits due to a partnership with a firm in Japan.  To add a visual aspect to this image, I am going to imagine a Japanese man in a business suit standing in my driveway (I have physically "stored" him at a specific location now).  His suit is green and it has a giant dollar sign on it. He has his hand extended and is getting ready to shake mine.  I have taken this abstract idea and have made it concrete and placed him in a spacial context I am familiar with.

The next item deals with computer systems and efficiency.  I am now imagining walking into my house and into the living room.  There seems to be an enormous computer in the middle of the room with giant muscular arms coming out of its side.  It's flexing them and showing off about how quick it is.  I have now turned this boring and abstract item about computers and efficiency into this ridiculous and surreal visual image of a giant computer with big muscly arms.  This is an image I won't forget any time soon.

The next item of discussion is a new competitor.  For this, I am now walking into my kitchen and there seems to be a smooth-looking fellow in a black suit smoking a cigar.  He is arrogantly looking at me while he is surrounded with the products that he is selling at cheaper prices.  There is now an emotional attachment to this item on the list because this fellow's arrogance is making me angry.  I have turned the abstract idea of competition into a concrete and emotional image of an arrogant and annoying man in a black suit.

You continue with this strategy for the rest of the items on the list.  Once you are done with the list, you have created memories that are generally visual, concrete, emotional, humorous, and unexpected.  The next step is to mentally walk back through the scenario you have created. I am now once again approaching my home.  Why is there this Japanese fellow standing in my driveway with an obnoxious green suit?? OH! That's right, this is about the partnership with a firm in Japan.  

Upon entering my living room, I see this huge computer that resembles a muscular man.  Why is it flexing its giant arms and bragging? Was this something about computers and their speed? YES! The next item deals with computer efficiency.

I now enter the kitchen and this arrogant fellow with a cigar is staring at me and mockingly smirking.  He is surrounded by a bunch of products.  Why is he behaving like this? I hope by now you get the idea.  The goal during this whole exercise was to connect abstract and mundane concepts and memories to vivid images and examples that are much more easily remembered.  

I encourage you to try this method for yourself.  Try memorizing a list of ideas, items, or concepts without using the strategy outlined above. Now, try remembering a list by using the strategies discussed here. I can guarantee that the method discussed here will create much stronger memories that will be easier to recall and leave a lasting impression.

Source:  http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/images/stories/large/2008/08/29/memory36969112_crop.jpg 
References:

Foer, Joshua. Moonwalking With Einstein.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Importance of Feedback

We learn much quicker and more effectively when we receive feedback on our work.  All of us have most likely had experience with not receiving feedback on our performance.  The experience was likely fraught with confusion and frustration and areas of improvement were difficult to clearly identify.  Consider the example of turning in an essay draft as a college student.  You are given back the draft and asked to improve your work.  However, there are no additional notes, comments, or details on how and in which areas you can improve.  This is essentially what happens when you want someone to change their behavior without receiving feedback on their performance.

Perhaps the most relevant context for this issue is energy conservation.  Providing prompt and accurate feedback that communicates to users whether they are performing well or poorly is essential for any policy aimed at promoting environmentally conscious behavior. Human learning is closely guided by the amount and quality of feedback that is readily available and consumers who do not have access to feedback are very likely to make poor decisions and be confused about what choices are in their best interest. Experimental field data shows that when participants in households are given a goal, they are able to perform much better when consistent feedback is present. Furthermore, the frequency of the feedback matters as well. The more frequent the feedback is, the higher the performance levels are. Households that receive feedback more often conserve more energy than those that do not.

Studies with “smart meters,” which provide immediate and visual feedback of energy consumption further illustrate this point. With such devices, the costs (both monetary and potentially environmental) associated with energy use are made immediately available in a visual manner. The devices also give comparison data using past energy use levels, allowing users to detect consumption irregularities. Behavioral studies conclude that such devices are excellent tools for nudging and allowing consumers to be constantly aware of their energy usage. With the combination of feedback technologies such as smart meters and a way for consumers to compare themselves to other similar users, the potential for changing behavior could be very promising.


References

"Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness"

Beshears, John. "How Are Preferences Revealed?" Journal of Public Economics 92.8-9 (2008)

Abrahamse, Wokje, and Linda Steg. "A Review of Intervention Studies Aimed at Household Energy Conservation."

Friday, June 22, 2012

All your friends are reading this

Have you ever found yourself in a foreign situation where it was unclear what you should be doing and what is the proper way to act?  Did you find yourself looking unto others around you as an example for guiding your own behavior?  This is a very common situation that most people are very likely familiar with.  If you can relate, you have been affected by Social Proof.


Social proof leads us to look at others to determine what is the correct behavior for the situation that we are in.  More often than not, when a lot of people are doing something, it's usually the right thing to do.  So, it makes sense why this phenomena  is so powerful and guides people's behavior.  We are risk averse and most of us won't publicly go "against the crowd" and take social risks, which can end in public embarrassment.  Most of us are also imitators, and not initiators.  Imitation is safe.  Imitation doesn't involve taking risks and paving new paths.  If the crowd is acting in a particular way, we assume they know something we don't.  Of course, sometimes the problem is that everyone is thinking the same thing and no one actually knows something you don't.

We are especially prone to following the actions of others when the situation is full of uncertainty and we are unsure of ourselves.  This is taken a step further if we consider the individuals we are observing as similar to ourselves.  For instance, if you are a college student, you are much more likely to take social hints from fellow college students than from seniors.

Advertisers realize the power of Social Proofing and they use it whenever possible.  Think about all the times you have seen an "average customer" or "ordinary person" give a testimony for a particular product.  One recent example that comes to mind is a commercial by ITT Tech.  They often show actual students from their program talking about their successes:


The advertiser is using Social Proof to get its point across.  The audience is much more likely to relate to a student than a professor. They are also much more likely to follow a student's words, who they are more likely similar to.

It's a shame that public agencies don't utilize similar strategies.  For instance, I mentioned a Metro advertisement in a previous blog entry that urged drivers to take the subway to the Dodgers Stadium.  This ad can be made much more effective through the inclusion of a picture depicting a baseball fan taking the metro.  A slogan could be used as well: "Thousands of drivers like yourself have switched.  Why haven't you?"  This ad would apply the principles of Social Proof and be more effective at promoting behavioral change.

The next time you find yourself squirming and looking around for social clues, realize that you are already under the powerful influence of Social Proof.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Get em' to commit

Being consistent with your beliefs, staying true to your word, and keeping your promises are all characteristics that most of us strive for.  Why is this so?  Perhaps part of the explanation is the way people view inconsistent individuals.  These individuals are generally seen as unpredictable, fickle, uncertain unreliable, untrustworthy, confused, and possibly mentally ill.  Put simply, a person who generally doesn't stick to his word and behave consistently is viewed unfavorably and not respected.  Such a situation is obviously very troubling and detrimental in both social and professional settings.  Although a case could perhaps be made that two-faced individuals get far in the professional world... On the other hand, if a person is consistent and true to his beliefs, he is often respected and admired.  This individual is often seen as someone you can trust and rely on because they aren't going to change their minds and back out of commitments.

Given how strong the pressure of being consistent is and the severe social consequences of failing to be consistent, it shouldn't be surprising that these same tendencies can be used to manipulate individuals in a variety of settings towards beneficial or detrimental ends.  One of the main paths for utilizing the strong desire to be consistent is through extracting commitments.  If you can make an individual  take a stand, ideally in a manner that involves others being aware of the commitment, then you might be able to set the consistency machinery in motion.  Once the stand is taken, there is a strong tendency to act in accordance to that initial commitment or else risk being viewed as inconsistent and suffer the consequences.  An additional step can be taken to make the commitment even stronger.  You can ask the person to describe why they are making the commitment.  This creates an even greater initial investment and makes it that much more likely that consistency pressures will win out.

Additionally, commitments can be used to change a person's self-image.  Once this change occurs, its effects are lasting and can apply to other relevant situations. Once the pressure to be consistent is set in motion, it is very difficult to stop.  The new commitment takes on a life of its own and future decisions, thinking patterns, and perspectives start to be filtered through the lens of the commitment.  In essence, all upcoming commitments and decisions further strengthen the initial one that started the trend.  For instance, if you get a person to publicly admit they value volunteer work, you will have an easier time convincing them to volunteer their time and show support in a variety of different settings.  This individual will also more likely  be favorable towards arguments that emphasize the benefits of civic engagement and volunteerism.  Every time a new related situation arises, the committed individual has to ask himself: "Is my current decision in line with what I promised I would do?" If the individual rejects your requests, he has the difficult task of internally (and perhaps externally) justifying his inconsistent behavior.  People generally do not enjoy being seen as fickle or inconsistent with their behavior and priorities, especially if others are aware of their initial commitments.

These behavioral findings can be applied in a variety of real-world settings.  For instance, I recently saw an ad by Metro for taking the subway to the Dodgers stadium.  The poster was advertising a shuttle service that leaves from Union Station and takes passengers to the Dodgers Stadium on game nights. This particular ad  could have been improved by the addition of messages such as, "Do you enjoy traffic? Do you enjoy the frustration of trying to find parking AND having to pay for it? Do you enjoy spending money on gas?"  These questions could get the audience to commit to a particular perspective that would make it more favorable for taking the subway.  The onlookers might think, "Wait a minute.. if I agree with these statements, why do I keep driving to the stadium and dealing with all this nonsense?"  The poster could end with this punchline, "Yet you still drive to the stadium instead of taking the subway..."  A poster such as this could potentially be much more effective than the current bland one being used which merely advertises the existence of the service and does nothing else to change behavior.

These findings can also be applied in another example dealing with community involvement.  For instance, the organization "TreePeople" allies itself with members of the community to plant trees, install bioswales, and construct rain gardens (in addition to many other projects).  The success of these projects largely depends on the continual involvement of the community members because without constant maintenance, the trees can wither away and die, the rain gardens can be infested with weeds, and the bioswales can get clogged with trash.  To help ensure continued involvement by community members, TreePeople can ask for a verbal or public commitment.  For instance, during the initial big gathering when the project is being constructed or installed, the staff members can ask all the community members present to verbally pledge their continued support.  This pledge should be asked after the work for the day is finished and the volunteers have already made the initial commitment.  Another idea might involve displaying a plaque on the property of one of the homeowners in the neighborhood.  The plaque can briefly mention the project and publicly display the continued support of the members of the community.  Later on, when maintenance is required, it will hopefully be more difficult for these community members to not get involved because doing so would mean they are being inconsistent with their initial pledge.

Whatever methods are ultimately used, the goal should be to tap into the powerful desire to be consistent.  Once this mechanism is accessed, behavioral change and compliance is much more likely.

Friday, May 18, 2012

NeuroPolitics



I present to you a collection of research quotes on the topic of physiological (and non-physiological) differences between Republicans (or conservatives) and Democrats (or liberals). As far as I know, all the quotes are from credible and legitimate studies published by various academic journals.  I will update this entry with further sources and quotes if I do additional research.


Latest update: August 3, 2012.


Source: http://assets1.bigthink.com/system/idea_thumbnails/38761/original/neuropolitics.jpg?1308180484

1. Chris Mooney stated the following in his article “How the Right-Wing Brain Works and What That Means for Progressives,” published by AlterNet on March 20, 2012.


"...what’s being called “morality” is emotional and, in significant part, automatic. It’s not about the conscious decisions you make about situations or policies—or at least, not primarily. Rather, the focus is on the unconscious impulses that shape how you think about situations before you’re even aware you’re doing so, and then guide (and bias) your reasoning."


2. Elisabeth Lyons posted the following in the press release "Political views are reflected in brain structure," published by EurikaAlert! on April 7, 2011.


"We all know that people at opposite ends of the political spectrum often really can't see eye to eye. Now, a new report published online on April 7th in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, reveals that those differences in political orientation are tied to differences in the very structures of our brains."

"Individuals who call themselves liberal tend to have larger anterior cingulate cortexes, while those who call themselves conservative have larger amygdalas. Based on what is known about the functions of those two brain regions, the structural differences are consistent with reports showing a greater ability of liberals to cope with conflicting information and a greater ability of conservatives to recognize a threat, the researchers say."

"Previously, some psychological traits were known to be predictive of an individual's political orientation," said Ryota Kanai of the University College London. "Our study now links such personality traits with specific brain structure."

"Kanai said his study was prompted by reports from others showing greater anterior cingulate cortex response to conflicting information among liberals. "That was the first neuroscientific evidence for biological differences between liberals and conservatives,"

3. Ryota Kanai, Tom Feliden, and Colin Firth, stated the following in their report "Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults," published by the journal "Current Biology" on April 26, 2011.


"In a large sample of young adults, we related self-reported political attitudes to gray matter volume using structural MRI. We found that greater liberalism was associated with increased gray matter
volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, whereas greater conservatism was associated with increased volume of the right amygdala..."

"Although political attitudes are commonly assumed to have solely environmental causes, recent studies have begun to identify biological influences on an individual’s political orientation..."

"...the amplitude of event-related potentials reflecting neural activity associated with conflict monitoring in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is greater for liberals compared to conservatives . Thus, stronger liberalism is associated with increased sensitivity to cues for altering a habitual response pattern and with brain activity in anterior cingulate cortex...."

"Conservatives respond to threatening situations with more aggression than do liberals and are
more sensitive to threatening facial expressions. This heightened sensitivity to emotional faces suggests that individuals with conservative orientation might exhibit differences in brain structures associated with emotional processing such as the amygdala..."

"Although these results suggest a link between political attitudes and brain structure, it is important to note that the neural processes implicated are likely to reflect complex processes of the formation of political attitudes rather than a direct representation of political opinions per se..."

"...our findings are consistent with the proposal that political orientation is associated with psychological processes for managing fear and uncertainty. The amygdala has many functions, including fear processing. Individuals with a large amygdala are more sensitive to fear, which, taken together with our findings, might suggest the testable hypothesis that individuals with larger amygdala are more inclined to integrate conservative views into their belief system. Similarly, it is striking that conservatives are more sensitive to disgust, and the insula is involved in the feeling of disgust..."

"[it is difficult to] determine whether the changes in brain structure that we observed lead to changes in political behavior or whether political attitudes and behavior instead result in changes of brain structure"


4. Smith KB, Oxley D, Hibbing MV, Alford JR, and Hibbing JR, stated the following in their study "Disgust Sensitivity and the Neurophysiology of Left-Right Political Orientations," published by Plos One on October 19, 2011.


"People who believe they would be bothered by a range of hypothetical disgusting situations display an increased likelihood of displaying right-of-center rather than left-of-center political orientations. Given its primal nature and essential value in avoiding pathogens disgust likely has an effect even without registering in conscious beliefs. In this article, we demonstrate that individuals with marked involuntary physiological responses to disgusting images, such as of a man eating a large mouthful of writhing worms, are more likely to self-identify as conservative and, especially, to oppose gay marriage than are individuals with more muted physiological responses to the same images..."

"...people's physiological predispositions help to shape their political orientations..."

."..compared to people on the left, those on the right tended to report being more disgust sensitive..."

"It appears that those individuals who have the strongest physiological responses to an array of disgusting stimuli (none of which directly relates to sexuality or homosexuality) also tend to be the individuals who oppose gay marriage..."

"The central implication of our research is that, whether the relevant raw material of political attitudes is entirely environmental or partially innate, these attitudes sometimes become biologically instantiated in involuntary physiological responses to facets of life far detached from the political issues of the day..."

"To put it differently, the proper interpretation of the findings reported here is not that biology causes politics or that politics causes biology but that certain political orientations at some unspecified point become housed in our biology, with meaningful political consequences..."


5. Michael D. Dodd, Amanda Balzer, Carly Jacobs, Michael Grusczynszyki, Kevin B. Smith, and John R. Hibbing stated the following in their report "The Left Rolls with the Good; The Right Confronts the Bad. Physiology and Cognition in Politics," published by The Royal Society on March 15, 2012.


"We report evidence that individual-level variation in people’s physiological and attentional responses to aversive and appetitive stimuli are correlated with broad political orientations. Specifically, we find that greater orientation to aversive stimuli tends to be associated with right-of-center and greater orientation to appetitive (pleasing) stimuli with left-of-center political inclinations..."

"the hypothesis is that individuals on the right side of the political spectrum will exhibit increased electrodermal activity when viewing aversive images while those on the left side will exhibit increased electrodermal activity, in relative terms, when viewing the appetitive images..."

"in relative terms, individuals on the right spend a greater amount of time gazing at aversive
images while individuals on the left spend a greater amount of time gazing at appetitive
images..."

"Our core finding is that, compared to individuals on the political left, individuals on the right direct more of their attention to the aversive despite displaying greater physiological responsiveness to those stimuli..."

"...in spite of heightened physiological responses, individuals on the right often diligently attend to the aversive, which in turn is consistent with the fact that right-of-center policy positions are often designed to protect society against out-group threats (e.g., by supporting increased defense spending and opposing immigration) and in-group norm violators (e.g., by supporting traditional values and stern penalties for criminal behavior)..."


6. Douglas R. Oxley1, Kevin B. Smith1, John R. Alford, Matthew V. Hibbing, Jennifer L. Miller, Mario Scalora, Peter K. Hatemi and John R. Hibbing stated the following in their study "Political Attitudes Vary with Physiological Traits," published in the journal Science on September 19, 2008.


"We present evidence that variations in political attitudes correlate with physiological traits. In a group of 46 adult participants with strong political beliefs, individuals with measurably lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control, whereas individuals displaying measurably higher physiological reactions to those same stimuli were more likely to favor defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, and the Iraq War..."

"Our findings suggest that political attitudes vary with physiological traits linked to divergent manners of experiencing and processing environmental threats."


7. Michael D. Dodd, John R. Hibbing, and Kevin B. Smith stated the following in their study "The Politics of Attention: Gaze cuing effects are moderated by political temperament," published by the University of Nebraska


"Gaze cues lead to reflexive shifts of attention even when those gaze cues do not predict target location. Though this general effect has been repeatedly demonstrated, not all individuals orient to gaze in an identical manner..."

"In the present study, we examine whether gaze cue effects are moderated by political temperament, given that those on the political right tend to be more supportive of individualism—and less likely to be influenced by others—than those on the left. We find standard gaze cuing effects across all subjects, but systematic differences in these effects by political temperament. Liberals exhibit a very large gaze cuing effect while conservatives show no such effect at various SOAs..."

"One factor that may correlate with gaze cuing effects is the degree to which an individual values personal autonomy since an individual with this orientation may be less likely to be influenced by others. To examine this possibility, the present study investigates whether gaze cuing effects are moderated by political temperament. Individuals on the political right tend to be more supportive of individualism than those on the left..."

"One question that remains is why, exactly, conservatives are less susceptible to gaze cuing effects relative to liberals? We have argued that conservatives tend to value personal autonomy more so than liberals, making them less likely to be influenced by others and, in turn, less responsive to gaze cues..."


8. Darren Schreiber, Alan N. Simmons, Christopher T. Dawes, Taru Flagan, James H. Fowler, and Martin P. Paulus stated the following in their study "Red Brain, Blue Brain: Evaluative Processes Differ in Democrats and Republicans," published by the Social Science Research Network on August 13, 2009.


"We matched public voter records to 54 subjects who performed a risk-taking task during functional imaging. We find that Democrats and Republicans had significantly different patterns of brain activation during processing of risky decisions. Amygdala activations, associated with externally directed reactions to risk, are stronger in Republicans, while insula activations, associated with internally directed reactions to affective perceptions, are stronger in Democrats..."

"...a two parameter model of partisanship based on amygdala and insula activations achieves better accuracy in predicting whether someone is a Democrat or a Republican than a well established model in political science based on parental socialization of party identification..."

"Thus, it appears in our experiment that Republican participants, when making a risky choice, are predominantly externally oriented, reacting to the fear-related processes with a tangible potential external consequence. In comparison, risky decisions made by Democratic participants appear to be
associated with monitoring how the selection of a risky response might feel internally..."

"If Republicans are utilizing externally oriented processes in reacting to risks while Democrats are internally directed, then we would expect the one group to be more supportive of socially conservative policies and the other to be more sensitive to internal conflict..."

"Republicans and Democrats differ in the neural mechanisms activated while performing a risk-taking task. Republicans more strongly activate their ventral anterior cingulate and bilateral amgydala, associated with a more externally oriented reaction to risk. Democrats have higher activity in their right insula, associated with internally directed reactions to affective perceptions..."


9. Paul R. Nail, Ian McGregor, April E. Drinkwater, Garrett M. Steele, and Anthony W. Thompson stated the following in their study "Threat causes liberals to think like conservatives," published by the Journal of Experimental Psychology in July 2009.


"These findings indicate that threat drove liberals to shift toward social attitudes that are normally more characteristic of conservatives. Because the source of the threat and the measure of defensiveness were not closely related, these findings cannot be easily explained under a rational defensiveness framework..."

"The results of three studies support the reactive-liberals hypothesis. Liberals became more conservative following experimentally induced threats. In fact, the threats consistently caused liberals to become as conservative as conservatives chronically were. The findings of all three studies are consistent with the view that conservative social cognition, whether political or psychological, is a defensive reaction against feelings of personal vulnerability...

"We believe that political conservatism has psychological properties that make it particularly appealing when vulnerability is dispositionally or situationally salient. Moreover, defensive conservatism appears to be a general psychological response to vulnerability that is not necessarily strategically linked to the eliciting threats. We conclude that significant threats always induce a tendency towards conservative social cognition. Whether this tendency is manifested directly in terms of increased political conservatism, or more indirectly in terms of increased psychological conservatism, will depend upon the particulars of the situation..."



10.

Scott Eidelman, Christian S. Crandall, Jeffrey A. Goodman, and John C. Blanchar, stated the following in their paper “Low-Effort Thought Promotes Political Conservatism,” published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in 2012.



“The authors test the hypothesis that low-effort thought promotes political conservatism. In Study 1, alcohol intoxication was measured among bar patrons; as blood alcohol level increased, so did political conservatism (controlling for sex, education, and political identification). In Study 2, participants under cognitive load reported more conservative attitudes than their no-load counterparts. In Study 3, time pressure increased participants’ endorsement of conservative terms. In Study 4, participants considering political terms in a cursory manner endorsed conservative terms more than those asked to cogitate; an indicator of effortful thought… Together these data suggest that political conservatism may be a process consequence of low-effort thought; when effortful, deliberate thought is disengaged, endorsement of conservative ideology increases.”

“…we develop the argument that political conservatism is promoted when people rely on low-effort thinking. When effortful, deliberate responding is disrupted or disengaged, thought processes become quick and efficient; these conditions promote conservative ideology…”

“Bar patrons reported more conservative attitudes as their level of alcohol intoxication increased. Because alcohol limits cognitive capacity and disrupts controlled responding, while leaving automatic thinking largely intact, these data are consistent with our claim that low-effort thinking promotes political conservatism.”

“Participants under cognitive load reported more conservative attitudes than those not under cognitive load. Because cognitive load depletes available mental resources (Gilbert et al., 1988; Wegner & Erber, 1992), participants were left to draw more heavily on thinking that was easy and efficient… Cognitive load also produced a corresponding shift in liberal attitudes; when under load, participants endorsement of political liberalism decreased…”




 11.

Jacob M. Vigil stated the following in his study “Political leanings vary with facial expression processing and psychosocial functioning,” published in the journal Group Processes & Intergroup Relations in 2010.


“In the current study, I examined the hypothesis that political leanings reflect broader behavioral dispositions that are associated with individual differences in facial expression processing…”

“Independent sample t-tests revealed group differences in the averaged threat interpretation scores  of  the 10 facial stimuli. Republican sympathizers were more likely to interpret the faces as signaling a threatening expression as compared to Democrat sympathizers. Group differences were also found for dominance perceptions, whereby Republican sympathizers were more likely to perceive the faces as expressing dominant emotions than were Democrat sympathizers…”

“In the current study, I show that individuals who sympathize with the Republican Party have a lower threshold for processing threatening stimuli from ambiguous social information as compared to sympathizers of the Democrat Party.”




12.

Nicole A. Thomas, Tobias Loetscher, Danielle Clode, and Michael E. R. Nicholls stated the following in their study “Right-Wing Politicians Prefer the Emotional Left,” published by Plos One on May 2, 2012.


“Conservatives have heightened sensitivity for detecting emotional faces and use emotion more effectively when campaigning. As the left face displays emotion more prominently, we examined 1538 official photographs of conservative and liberal politicians from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States for an asymmetry in posing. Across nations, conservatives were more likely than liberals to display the left cheek. In contrast, liberals were more likely to face forward than were conservatives. Emotion is important in political campaigning and as portraits influence voting decisions, conservative politicians may intuitively display the left face to convey emotion to voters…”

“…the left cheek is often displayed more prominently than the right cheek in portraits and photographs. This leftward bias is strongest when the model wants to display emotion, but is eliminated when concealing emotion.  A number of studies have demonstrated that emotions are rated as more expressive when they are displayed on the left side of the face and individuals who are more emotionally expressive are more likely to present the left cheek when posing for a portrait… ”

“If conservatives are more predisposed to express and perceive emotion, they should be more likely to present the emotional left cheek more prominently in portraits…”

“Overall, politicians were more likely to display the left cheek in their official photographs, consistent with prior reports of a leftward posing bias in portraiture. Interestingly, conservative politicians were significantly more likely to display the left cheek bias than were liberal politicians…”

“Liberals were more likely face forward than were conservatives. This could reflect a desire by liberal politicians to appear emotionally neutral as opposed to making use of emotion in their official photographs…”

“Given the predisposition of conservatives to express and use emotion, the preference to show the left cheek would allow conservatives to communicate emotions to voters through their portrait…”

“The current findings suggest that conservatives make better use of emotion than liberals by presenting the more emotional left cheek…”




13.

Scott P. McLean, John P. Garza, Sandra A. Wiebe, Michael D. Dodd, Kevin B. Smith, John R. Hibbing, and Kimberly Andrews Espy stated the following in their study “The Differential Attention Biases of Conservatives and Liberals,” published by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln on April 27, 2011 on its website.


“In order to identify the relationship between people’s political orientation and their
tendency to focus attention on faces projecting particular emotions we turned to the flanker task. This paradigm seems particularly well-suited for testing the possibility that liberals and conservatives are differentially attentive to angry and to happy faces…”

“The flanker paradigm is a well-established research protocol for measuring attention…”

“…we adapted the flanker paradigm to determine whether differences across the political spectrum also exist in attention and emotion processing. The flanker paradigm makes it possible to investigate the effects of socially relevant stimuli (i.e., faces) on attention, in
different affective contexts.  The question we pose is whether individuals holding policy
preferences traditionally associated with a conservative ideology as opposed to those holding liberal preferences will differ in their affect and congruity-relevant processing of information…”

“On average, when targets are angry, individuals with conservative issue positions have response times for incongruent flankers that are nearly as fast or even faster than for congruent flankers.  Liberals, on the other hand, tend to be slowed down more by incongruent flankers as per traditional flanker effects.  What this suggests is that conservatives focus so much on the target when it is angry that the usual slowing effects of incongruent flankers do not much apply. When only happy targets are analyzed, political ideology is completely unrelated, with a coefficient that is close to 0 (-.01) and statistically insignificant at even the .10 level…”




14.

Luciana Carraro, Luigi Castelli, and Claudia Macchiella stated the following in their article “The Automatic Conservative: Ideology-Based Attentional Asymmetries in the Processing of Valenced Information,” published by Plos One on November 9. 2011.


“In the current work, we argued that political ideology is related to selective attention processes, so that negative stimuli are more likely to automatically grab the attention of conservatives as compared to liberals. In Experiment 1, we demonstrated that negative (vs. positive) information impaired the performance of conservatives, more than liberals, in an Emotional Stroop Task. This finding was confirmed in Experiment 2 and in Experiment 3 employing a Dot-Probe Task, demonstrating that threatening stimuli were more likely to attract the attention of conservatives. Overall, results support the conclusion that people embracing conservative views of the world display an automatic selective attention for negative stimuli…”

“Experiment 1 demonstrated that negative stimuli were more likely to grab the attention of conservatives, interfering with the execution of the primary task they had to perform (i.e., color-naming). Results from Experiment 2 and 3 further evidenced that ideology was related to spatial attention, and conservatives were more likely to quickly direct their attention toward negative images…”

“Thanks to attentional processes people filter the incoming information and left-right ideological differences appear to shape these early automatic processes. As a consequence, conservatives, as compared to liberals, may indeed build up discrepant representations of the world with the former being more biased toward negativity. The outcome of this automatic selective attention for threatening information, in turn, may then further increase the motivation to embrace ideological conservatism as a way to manage uncertainty and threat…”



15.

Kevin B. Smith, Amanda J. Balzer, Michael W. Gruszczynski, Carly M. Jacobs, John R. Alford, Scott Stoltenberg, and John R. Hibbing stated the following in their study “Political Orientations May Vary with Detection of the Odor of Androstenone,” published by University of Nebraska-Lincoln on June 7, 2011 on its website.


“The particular social chemical analyzed in this study is androstenone, a nonandrogenic steroid found in the sweat and saliva of many mammals, including humans…”

“Only a few studies address androstenone‘s potential relevance to the broader (non-mating) aspects of social life…”

“…there may be grounds for speculating that those whose views are associated with the political right would also be more sensitive to the odor of androstenone, given that it  seems to provide emotionally meaningful cues.  Sensitivity to the emotional content of other people‘s odors, as well as to the emotional content of their faces, may be conducive to certain right-of-center political orientations…”

“A similar line of reasoning that leads to the same directional expectation is that, given its close relationship with testosterone, a substance often associated with aggression, competition, and risk-taking, those who readily detect androstenone in those around  them might be more likely to seek comfort and protection in the arms of the secure, traditional social order that conservatives often hold out as the end goal of their policy stances. Thus, heightened sensitivity to odors such as androstenone may be consistent with favorable attitudes toward decisive leaders, protection from both in-group rulebreakers and out-group invasions, and a desire to promote traditional rather than avantgarde lifestyles…”

“…a strong positively-signed relationship appears between intensity of androstenone detection and ―conservative political orientations.  Individuals espousing ―liberal political views (in the American sense of the term) tend to be less sensitive to the odor of
androstenone…”

“To the extent androstenone is the odor of aggression and possibly social threat, people more sensitive to it could be more likely to have the perception that the world is a dangerous place and therefore to support special efforts to protect the social order…”

“Certain individuals are sensitive to the odor of androstenone and they also tend to be the people who are eager to squelch threats to the social order…”




 16.

Erik G. Helzer and David A. Pizarro stated the following in their study “Dirty Liberals! Reminders of Physical Cleanliness Influence Moral and Political Attitudes,” published by the journal Psychological Science on March 18, 2011.


“Many moral codes place a special emphasis on bodily purity, and manipulations that directly target bodily purity have been shown to influence a variety of moral judgments. Across two studies, we demonstrated that reminders of physical purity influence specific moral judgments regarding behaviors in the sexual domain as well as broad political attitudes. In Study 1, individuals in a public setting who were given a reminder of physical cleansing reported being more politically conservative than did individuals who were not given such a reminder. In Study 2, individuals reminded of physical cleansing in the laboratory demonstrated harsher moral judgments toward violations of sexual purity and were more likely to report being politically conservative than control participants. Together, these experiments provide further evidence of a deep link between physical purity and moral judgment, and they offer preliminary evidence that manipulations of physical purity can influence general (and putatively stable) political attitudes.”



17.

Natalie J. Shooka and  Russell H. Faziob stated the following in their research article “Political ideology, exploration of novel stimuli, and attitude formation,” published by Journal of Experimental Social Psychology on April 3, 2009.



“In this study, the relations among political ideology, exploratory behavior, and the formation of attitudes toward novel stimuli were explored. Participants played a computer game that required learning whether these stimuli produced positive or negative outcomes. Learning was dependent on participants’ decisions to sample novel stimuli and discover the associated valence. Political ideology correlated with exploration during the game, with conservatives sampling fewer targets than liberals. Moreover, more conservative individuals exhibited a stronger learning asymmetry, such that they learned negative stimuli better than positive. Mediational analyses revealed that the differences in learning were due to the extent of exploratory behavior during the game. Relative to liberals, politically conservative individuals pursued a more avoidant strategy to the game, which led to their development of a more pronounced valence asymmetry in learning and attitude formation…”

“The findings from this study highlight some of the broader correlates of political ideology. Conservatives’ intolerance of the unfamiliar, perceptions of the world as dangerous, and fear of loss were reflected in the cautious strategy adopted when playing BeanFest and learning about the novel objects. Liberals demonstrated more openness to new experiences by exploring the new bean world to a greater extent. These different approaches to interacting with one’s environment led to differences in attitude formation and participants’ perceptions of the bean world.”

“…this study provides clear evidence for the existence of relations among political ideology, exploratory behavior, and attitude formation…The reluctance to explore that characterizes more politically conservative individuals may protect them from experiencing negative situations, for they are likely to restrict approach to known positives.”


18.

Dana R. Carney, John T. Jost, Samuel D. Gosling, and Jeff Potter, stated the following in their study “The Secret Lives of Liberals and Conservatives: Personality Profiles, Interaction Styles, and the Things They Leave Behind," published in the journal International Society of Political Psychology on October 23, 2008.



“We obtained consistent and converging evidence that personality differences between liberals and conservatives are robust, replicable, and behaviorally significant, especially with respect to social (vs. economic) dimensions of ideology. In general, liberals are more open-minded, creative, curious, and novelty seeking, whereas conservatives are more orderly, conventional, and better organized...

A special advantage of our final two studies is that they show personality differences between liberals and conservatives not only on self-report trait measures but also on unobtrusive, nonverbal measures of interaction style and behavioral residue”

Monday, April 30, 2012

Identify barriers and constraints

To get people to act, you must be thoroughly aware of the kinds of restraints that your audience is operating under. When attempting to change behavior, contextual factors(“such as physical infrastructure, technical facilities, the availability of products, and product characteristics”) that inhibit the desired behavior must be found, taken into consideration, and hopefully circumvented or removed. For instance, if bus ridership is urged in a particular community, such a strategy does not make much sense if bus service is not available or it is heavily underfunded and very inconvenient to use. Another important detail to consider are the effects of the target population's social characteristics on their behavior. For instance, research shows that when decreasing energy use is the goal, low income households tend to make significant lifestyle changes to reduce consumption, whereas higher-income households tend to maintain their normal levels of consumption and simply upgrade to higher efficiency technologies in their home. Lower income acts as a restraint and must be kept in mind when constructing policies and messages aimed at promoting environmentally conscious behavior. When targeting higher-income areas, emphasis can be placed on new and efficient technologies. Conversely, in lower income areas, the focus can be behavioral changes that do not involve substantial monetary costs. Ultimately, the goal is to make messages as relevant to the target audience as possible, increasing the chances of genuine attitudinal and behavioral change.

Structural and institutional constraints must also be taken into consideration. For instance, if utility customers are urged to lower their energy consumption towards the average or are asked to lower their energy use during peak times, the utility company should first make sure that customers have easy access to information that shows their energy use in comparison to average levels and lists when “peak hours” actually are. A similar example deals with energy saving measures such as solar heating and insulation. Such methods are only relevant for homeowners, not renters. Such information about the audience must constantly be kept in mind when seeking behavioral change because people are much less likely to act if they feel that what they are being told is irrelevant or too much of a hassle to pursue.

Social and cultural factors can also be taken into account to increase the potency of a message. Interventions should address key questions before they are implemented. Questions such as: How salient is the behavior? Does it play a role in social interactions? Does it play a role in social norms? Research should seek to identify “linkages between energy use and proxies of broader cultural and social identities.” By understanding the kinds of social and cultural constraints people operate under, behavioral interventions can be much more potent.

A great example of removing barriers in action is what is being done by the government of Columbia County, Georgia.  Columbia County has recently implemented a program that substantially lowers the barriers for citizens getting involved with their government.  Here is the gist of the program:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Buying your way back in

It bothers me how easily humans can be manipulated without them consciously realizing it.  I feel this way every time I read a new study on human behavior.  Recently, I read a paper on how people (acting as consumers) react when they are socially excluded.

Here is the info on the study itself:

Social Exclusion Causes People to Spend and Consume Strategically in the Service of Affiliation
Author(s): Nicole L. Mead, Roy F. Baumeister, Tyler F. Stillman, Catherine D. Rawn, Kathleen D. Vohs
Source: Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 37, No. 5 (February 2011), pp. 902-919.

The authors' primary research focus is to test the hypothesis that social exclusion causes people to spend and consume in ways that they believe will allow them to gain acceptance back into the group they were initially excluded from.  The authors tested this by running 4 different experiments.  The method of each experiment was to make the participants feel socially excluded and then observe how they would change their behavior as a result.  The authors believed that socially excluded individuals would use money and their consumption patterns as a means to an end, the end being inclusion back into the group that excluded them.  As the experiments showed, this is exactly what happened.  For instance, in the first experiment, certain participants were told that the person they were meeting did not want to meet them after they found out about them while the rest of the participants were told their meeting was cancelled because the other person had an emergency to attend to.  In essence, some participants were rejected and felt excluded while others were not since their meeting was cancelled for understandable reasons that had nothing to do with them.  These participants were then given money to go shopping at a laboratory store and they were also told they would meet someone new since the first person did not want to meet them.  The authors informed all the participants that the new person they were meeting was from a specific university.  At the laboratory store, among other things, there were specific school pride items such as wrist bands.  These wrist bands were from the university of the new person they were going to meet.  The socially excluded participants were much more likely to purchase these school pride items in hopes of forging a social bond with the new participant, even if they themselves never attended that specific university.  These individuals bought a product that was symbolic of a group membership in hopes of forging a bond with the new person they were going to meet.

In another experiment, specific participants were once again treated in a way that made them feel socially excluded.  They took a personality test and the result essentially told them that they are most likely going to end up alone in the future and their relationships are going to fail.  The experimenters tested if these individuals would be willing to consume an unappealing food item in hopes of gaining the favor of person they were about to meet.  The food item was chicken feet and the experimenters informed the participant that the individual they were about to meet considered this food item a delicacy.  The participants who were made to feel socially excluded were once again much more likely to select this item than the participants who were not given back negative test results that made them feel socially excluded (i.e., the "control group").  The socially excluded individuals were much more willing to spend money on an unappealing food item in hopes of gaining acceptance.

When taken together, all the experiments clearly showed that socially excluded individuals strategically adjust their spending and consumption patterns to gain favor with a specific individual or group.  People in such a state often sacrifice their own preferences and well-being in hopes of increasing their social appeal.  This finding is perhaps a no-brainer but it's still interesting to see the experimental data line up with what we think should logically happen.  You or I might have behaved in such a manner in the past (or we still do) without even realizing it. It's important to consciously take note of our behavioral changes so we don't end up sacrificing our own preferences and well-being for the sake of fitting in.  If you feel the need to change the way you are to fit in then the group you are trying to be a part of was never worth it to begin with.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Blame the person or the situation?

The concept is simple, the "Fundamental Attribution Error." This is a relatively simple idea yet nearly everyone is guilty of falling victim to it every day in a variety of settings.  Let's use the acronym "FAE" as a shorthand for referring to the Fundamental Attribution Error.  You commit the FAE when you believe that other people's actions are a result of the sort of people they are and have nothing to do with the environment or situation they are in.  You quickly forget the power of one's setting in affecting people's behavior and you attribute what you see entirely on the individual.

For instance, the most common example is blaming a poor person for his poverty and assuming he is poor because he is lazy and incompetent.  You easily forget that the poor individual lives in a completely different environment from yourself and doesn't have the same opportunities available.  He can't afford to drive around to interviews and networking events and he often depends on public transportation which can be unreliable, unpredictable, and involve considerably longer travel times than using a car.  You also have to realize that the poor individual most likely lives in a low-income neighborhood with very limited job opportunities.  As a result, there actually aren't that many jobs to even consider applying to.  Another difficulty involves crime rates. This individual has to keep focused in an environment where muggings, rape, rampant drug use, stabbings, and shootings are much more common than in higher-income neighborhoods. The person's family members might also be criminals and drug users and he might have a parent that abandoned him when he was young.  The list of realistic and likely difficulties is obviously extensive and I would be able to list more if I had a background on such issues or came from such a low-income and high-crime neighborhood myself.

Given all these difficulties, can poor individuals still fight through their environments and succeed? Of course. But, the issue here is that we far too quickly forget about the environment an individual operates in and we assume that his failures and shortcomings are due strictly to internal attributes.  Do you know how successful you would be if you operated in such a difficult environment as well?  There is no way to realistically answer that question without pressing the Restart button on your life and starting in similar circumstances.

Another example of a FAE that more people might be familiar with involves significant others or family members.  For instance, your loved one is indifferent or cold towards your wants and needs.  Do you automatically jump the gun and assume that he or she doesn't care about you as a person and doesn't care about your issues or do you instead realize that this person's behavior towards you at this moment might be related to stress that he or she is experiencing at work?  Or perhaps your loved one has dealt with difficult individuals all day and their patience is superbly thin at the moment.  If the coldness and indifference is a consistent and long-term issue then there might be other factors at play and your loved one might genuinely have problems against you as a person.  But, your initial assumption shouldn't involve blaming the individual, it should first involve considering powerful environmental influences that might be affecting his or her behavior towards you at the moment.

The next time you are ready to blame or get upset at either yourself or another person for failures and shortcomings, take a moment to first consider the situation and the environment at play.  This doesn't mean that you should excuse incompetence, laziness, malice, betrayal, and other despicable  behaviors.  This simply means that you should take a more thorough approach when judging people and explicitly consider the influence of the situation and other environmental factors.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Keep it local

In a previous entry I discussed some ideas on how to get your audience to not only pay attention to what you are saying but actually care as well.  The takeaway lesson was using  themes and priorities that your audience is likely to care about and connecting them to your ideas which they probably don't care about yet.

Often times, when people are presented with an issue, their first reaction is assuming that what you're talking about doesn't affect them.  Even if you appeal to topics and people they care about, you might still not make the connection because they will consider the issue or problem relevant for others and not them.

For instance, you are tasked with giving a persuasive presentation on traffic congestion reduction strategies to city planners and engineers from cities across California.  Your goal is to push these professionals towards adopting pre-emptive measures to ward off potential traffic increases in the near future.  However, the problem is that a lot of these planners work in cities that do not have traffic issues and they believe that the problem is only present in dense and congested areas such as Los Angeles.  You strategy in this case should focus on making the problem relevant and local.  You need to clearly show that congestion problems are guaranteed to arrive after certain population and car ownership thresholds are reached and surpassed.  To drive (pun, although unintentional at first, is now intended ; )  ) the point home even further, show population growth projections for the less urban areas and clearly show that they are headed in the same direction as the dense urban areas.

Now, let's consider the case of a non-profit group fighting for clean water rights in California.  The main barrier that such a group faces is showing that contaminated water issues aren't just relevant in Northern California's farming communities where nitrate contamination is a serious problem.  Whenever this group wants to spread its message in a new community, it has to connect the problem to the local area.  For instance, there are many contaminated wells in Southern California as well.  The problem actually isn't just a problem for the north.  By showing that even local water supplies have been contaminated and need remediation, the group has a much higher chance of making their message relevant which can lead to greater support.  Another option is to show the clear progression of water contamination in the north to major urban areas in the south.  Southern population centers do get a majority of their water from the Northern California after all.  If the source of water becomes contaminated, it doesn't matter where the water travels, it has already been contaminated.

Whatever strategy you ultimately decide to take, just remember that if the issue isn't local or relevant, your ideas are going to have a difficult time gaining traction.

Source: http://grist.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/tap_water_anders_andermark.jpg?w=223&h=315

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Prime it up

"Priming" is a very interesting and potentially manipulative phenomena. Put simply, priming involves the actor being unknowingly influenced by something or someone in his environment.  Your behavior or thoughts may be affected by an environmental influence and you may never even realize it.


The best way to understand this concept is through clear examples.  For instance, restaurants often use warm colors such as orange, brown, and red inside their restaurants.  Consumer research has shown that warm colors (especially REDare able to to stimulate appetite.  The color red also "instantly attracts attention and it  makes people excited, energetic, and increases the heart rate."  All of this occurs without you even consciously realizing it or controlling it.  This is an excellent example of priming because you're "primed" and can find yourself feeling hungrier than usual and excited to eat something even if you didn't seem to have much of an appetite initially.


Consider another example. You are leaving a coffee shop, and on the way out, you see a group of smokers.  As you pass by, the wind blows all their smoke in your face and you start coughing and get annoyed.  Later on during the day, a person with a clipboard approaches you and asks you if you have time to sign an anti-smoking petition.  Chances are, you're more likely to be open to the idea because of your previous experience during the day.  The smoke being blown in your face primed you to be more open to the idea of signing that petition.


Now, let's tie this back to effective communication and influencing your audience.  Let's imagine you are the head of the Bureau of Street Services department in a large city such as Los Angeles.  You are a believer in native gardens and want to push the city to invest into creating such gardens at publicly owned sites.  You believe that native gardens can be aesthetically pleasing while also providing benefits such as water savings and stormwater quality and quantity control.  To effectively influence your audience, you should figure out a way of priming them before they even arrive to your presentation or meeting.  Hold the meeting at a location that has beautiful native gardens along the path to the entrance of the building.  Such a strategy will effectively prime your audience and it will also serve as a concrete and visual example.  As discussed in previous posts, being concrete with your examples is quite effective.  Seeing a real live example of what you are going to discuss is as concrete as it can possibly get.


Often times, effective priming will most likely be difficult or perhaps even expensive to set up but you should always keep the idea in the back of your mind and utilize it whenever it's realistically possible.










Citations: http://www.colorschemer.com/blog/2007/07/17/why-food-companies-use-red-colors/

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