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So here's the ChangingMinds Blog, from site author, David Straker. This is my more personal ramblings, though mostly about changing minds in some shape or form. Please do add your comments via the archive or the right-hand column below.  -- Dave


Sunday 30-November-14

Discount or money?

Imagine you envy encountered one of the two following statements. Which would persuade you the most?

    (a)    Buy one and we'll give you 50 off your next purchase.

    (b)    Buy one and we'll give you 50 towards your next purchase.

Chances are that you might find the second line more effective. I was certainly more tempted when I saw this in an advert recently.

But why? The statements differ by only one word. The first used 'off' while the second uses 'towards'. The difference is in the temporal implications of each.

In the first statement, the promise is that you must first agree to buy, then you will receive a discount off the stated price. But in the second statement, it seems they will be giving you money *before* you buy. Of course this is not the case and we can easily understand this, yet our unconscious minds still hear and respond to the 'free money' message.

It's subtle but simple and effective, suggesting people are getting something free, with no strings attached, even as you are firmly tying it to required action.

Sunday 23-November-14

Good, evil, pleasure, pain and lorem ipsum

Have you ever seen a design for text layout, such as a web page, magazine, poster, etc? The blocks of written text may well have started with 'Lorem ipsum' and looked like a bit of Latin. Here's the full version:

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum."

It's a method used by printers such the 16th century and is still common today. Until recently, I had thought it was just a bit of nonsense, words made up to look like English text. Then I found out recently that it means something and that it is in fact a scrambled version of text by the Roman philosopher Cicero in 45 AD, in a book called 'The extreme of good and evil'. In English it has been translated as follows (Rackham, 1914):

"But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?"

Pain and pleasure are still are a pair of basic motivators that set up a predictable causal chain. When we make threats or offers, we promise future pain or pleasure, hence stimulating fear or desire in the present, which in turn lead to avoidant or attractive ways of behaving.

As Cicero continues to note, these motivations can lead to acts of great good and evil, where we may take pleasure in harming other people or suffer ourselves in order to help others.

This month, the first world war is remembered, where many suffered and evil was done. I went this week to a reading of poetry written by soldiers were there, amongst the blood and body parts. It was a poignant reminder of what our species will do.

And evil still happens in the unspeakable atrocities of extremist actions we see in the news each day. Yet though the media tend to focus on the bad, we should also remember the good, such as those going out to help Ebola victims, putting themselves in danger to help complete strangers.

Good and evil are not just black and white. There is a whole spectrum of gray between them and the things we do each day can be placed somewhere along this line. While it probably would not be workable to make constant sacrifices, we can think about what we are doing and just judge or choices a bit in the good direction. If we all did this, just being a bit nicer, the world would be a hugely better place.

So go on then. You don't have to be good, just better. It's amazing how much more pleasure can be created even from the smallest change.

Sunday 16-November-14

The good guys and the bad guys: birds of a feather?

Birds of a feather flock together, as they say. People with common interests, values and so on, are attracted to one another and will generally be more likely to make friends. This is more true than the contrary principle where opposites attract. Certainly, there are odd couples that we meet that strangely seem to work, but by and large the birds principle is far more common.

In an interesting spin on this, I was reading recently an article on the Colloquia site that describes a practical experiment where people diagonosed with various psychoses lived together in various configurations in London during the 1970s. Besides the alarming ways that people behaved in this (when you have a different reality, then your norms can be way different to more common social values), I was struck by an interesting pattern. What happened, apparently was that:

"The tendency seemed inevitable that if there were two houses one of them would become the good, clean, happy healing house and the other the bad, dirty, unhappy mad house. This phenomenon occurred several times as we moved from house to house."

Is this a 'birds of a feather' effect? Do the mad, bad or otherwise more dysfunctional people tend to join forces, while those who are happier and nicer band together. Is it something that may also be seen elsewhere in society where criminals associate with one another, or where gentle folks shun their noiser compatriots? It seems possible.

Sunday 09-November-14

Over-believing, closure and the dangers of visualization

Do you ever use visioning, visualization or other methods of instilling confidence and belief in yourself or others? It is a common method and can be very helpful in creating a strong motivation. The basic approach is to imagine a future state that you want to happen. This can include you being somehow different, for example more confident.

However, if you get this wrong, it can have a rather counterproductive effect.

Imagine that you want to travel around Europe. You spend many moments dreaming of being in Paris, Rome and so on. You imagine skiing in Switzerland and strolling in London. Overall, it is a rather enjoyable activity. But does this lead to you going out there and booking the tickets, getting on the plane and indulging in this very desirable vision? Not necessarily. In fact too much fantasizing can lead to too little action.

The great thing about fantasy is that it is fantastic. When you imagine a desirable future, you can add anything you like to it. The weather, of course, is always perfect. You can get into scrapes but always get out smelling of roses. You can have any company you like, and everyone thinks you are wonderful. Reality, of course, it not quite as nice. It rains. People aren't always that nice. And trouble can be real trouble. We know this, and comparing the fantasy with the potential reality can lead us to decide to stay in the fantasy and give reality a miss.

This is the trap that fantasists fall into as they live their entire lives in imaginary worlds. The same effect happens with people who spend their lives watching TV, movies or getting engrossed in video games. Our imaginations are just so powerful, they can seduce us into a too-comfortable cocoon.

Another effect of visualization, even if we do not get trapped by the fantasy, is that, having thought about a desirable future, we mentally 'close' on it. This results in the tension of desire fading as we experience the satisfaction of having achieved the goals, even though in reality we are still just as far away as ever.

Researchers Kappes and Oettingen showed this effect in several experiments:

  • They asked women either to fantasize about high-heeled shoes or to discuss the pros and cons of them. Those who fantasized were found to end up with lower energy about following up with a purchase.
  • Students asked to think about winning an essay competition ended up less energised than those who imagined less positively about this.
  • People who fantasized positively about the week's work actually ended up achieving less during the week than those who thought less positively about it.

This can seem counter-productive as negative thought can also be de-energizing. The implications are that things are never as simple as they seem as there are often additional factors that can be easy to miss. 

Kappes, H., and Oettingen, G. (2011). Positive fantasies about idealized futures sap energy. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 4, 719-729

Sunday 26-October-14

Listen to the conscientiousness of the handshake (if you're a male interviewer)

Why do we shake hands with people when we greet? The tradition goes back a long way, as do other forms of greeting. The basic principle of the handshake is to use your dominant hand, which for most people is the right hand and offer it forward, showing that you do not have a weapon. When both people do this, the next step is to grasp the other person's hand. This creates human physical contact, which is a deep thing in connecting with others. The sensation goes back to our youngest days when we were in close physical contact with our mother and creates a warm feeling of one-ness with the other person. In other words it creates liking and trust, which are fundamental parts of a good relationship.

The handshake also tells you more about what is going on in the other person's mind. A 'bone-crusher' squeeze by them tells you that they seek to be dominant and care little for the pain they may cause you. On the other hand, a limp hand betrays someone who may be rather weak or timid. A longer handshake may indicate desire. Other factors in greetings include moisture, duration, what the other hand does and further elements of body language, such as how close you get and eye contact.

And now there is a new finding. In research, Frank Bernieri and Kristen Petty found another interesting factor. They first selected ten men and ten women, each with different Big Five personality profiles. These were then introduced to over 100 subjects who were subsequently asked to rank the men and women against the Big Five personality factors of extraversion, neuroticism, openness, conscientiousness and agreeableness. Unsurprisingly, they identified extraversion fairly well. What was less expected was that male subjects were also good at identifying conscientiousness. Conscientiousness is a good indicator of how hard people work, making this a useful extra tool for interviewers.

Why does this work only for men? The researchers guessed that it might be because handshakes are a bigger deal for men, and so they get greater practice. You seldom get powerful grips from women. Men, on the other hand are always competing with one another for who will be the alpha male, even in a brief conversation, and handshakes include signals about this. Women in business, they guessed (their subjects were students) might also have developed this skill.

Bernieri, F., and Petty, K. (2011). The influence of handshakes on first impression accuracy. Social Influence, 6, 2, 78-87



For more, see the ChangingMinds Blog! Archive or the Blogs by subject. To comment on any blog, click on the blog either in the archive or in the column to the right.


Best wishes,



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