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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 12-October-14

How Losing Can Help You Win

We all like to win. Or perhaps we just don't like to lose, which is why some people don't try. The problem is that, in many of the competitive situations we find ourselves in, there is only one winner and lots of losers. So why the tricky title above? How can losing help you win?

Researchers  Berger and Pope studied over 18,000 basketball games, comparing half-time scores with the final results. As you might expect from a good team, in those games where the half-time score showed one team ahead, the chances were that they would also win the whole game. In fact for every two points a team was ahead at half time, there was an additional six to eight percent chance they would win. A fascinating difference, however, appeared when the scores were close. In these cases, the team that was just behind had a much higher chance of winning. In fact a team that was one point behind at half time was significantly more likely to win in the end.

The just-behind motivation principle works in all kinds of other circumstances. In races, it is known that being out front is harder and that being tucked behind the leader is a great place to be so you can sprint past them just before the finishing line. Berger and Pope showed this in simple laboratory experiments, where people told to quickly press a button got faster when they thought they were just behind the leader (note that this did not work for a third-placed person). Further analysis of this effect showed a close relationship with self-belief. If we think 'I can do it', then we give ourselves the extra energy to work harder and put on that extra burst that gets us to the podium.

There are important lessons here for more mundane workplaces and life in general. If you tell people that they are just behind competitors, they will work harder than if you note that your competitors are way ahead.

Berger, J., and Pope, D. (2011). Can Losing Lead to Winning? Management Science,  57, 5, 817

Sunday 05-October-14

Feng Shui, curves and good-enough explanations

Feng Shui is an interesting Chinese philosophy about arranging rooms, buildings and even your life. It falls into what some call 'woo-woo', non-scientific nonsense or just the realm of the mysterious. Science has little time for such systems, although both assume invisible forces within the universe. And what if there was something to it? It can be a trap to dismiss out of hand things that have sustained attention and adherents for many years. The question is 'what is really happening here?'. The system itself uses all kinds of mysterious terminology and non-scientific ideas such as 'chi' or 'life force'. Yet what if this was an ancient way of describing the experience of something that exists. The principle of science is to make up explanations for things that happen and then keep them for as long as the explanation works and until a better explanation appears.

One of the ideas of Feng Shui is that curves are better than angles. And it is generally true. If you walk into a house or room with plenty of curves, it kind of feels nice. Researchers Dazkir and Read showed this when they asked over a hundred subjects to rate computer-generated rooms in terms of how comfortable the room made them feel (pleasure) and whether they would like to spend more time there (approach). Unsurprisingly, perhaps, they very largely preferred the curved furniture.

But why? Was it the mystery of Feng Shui as the curves facilitated the flow of chi around the room? Or was it something more mundane.

Sadly, it seems that there is a simple explanation for this. When we look at any object, we know it is a 'thing' because we trace the outline of it before fitting the shape to an internal library of objects. In doing this, our eyes detect lines through contrasted edges and then follow the lines to complete the shape. Following lines is a bit like driving a car. The easiest drive is straight lines. But when we come to corners, if the bend is sharp, then we have to brake heavily, slow right down and ensure we keep on the road. But if the bend is curved, the drive is much easier. Not only this, but curves also add interest as they reveal new possibilities, breaking the boredom of a long straight road. Overall, then, our eyes like curves.

There are many other phenomena like this, where the explanations that people give help them make sense of their feelings, even though the explanations are wrong. A wrong explanation is, after all, more comfortable than no explanation. In this way, we rationalize much of what we experience, not because we are correct but because we have a deep need to explain.

Dazkir, S. and Read, M. (2012). Furniture Forms and Their Influence on Our Emotional Responses Toward Interior Environments. Environment and Behavior, 44, 5, 722-732

Sunday 28-September-14

Intelligent Design, the Reversal Trap and Persuasion

There is a dilemma that religious people may face, which is conflict between faith and the evidence of science. Religions are usually based on ancient writings, when science and technology was nowhere near what it has become over the past century or so. Today, science tells us that we evolved from apes and that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old.  Religions that stray into such areas disagree, for example the Bible says that the Earth is only 6000 years old.

One of the questions that is important is that of deity, of the existence of an all-powerful God. When you have such a god, then everything can be attributed to him (and it usually is a him). One of the 'proofs' of God's existence is that of 'Intelligent Design', where it is concluded that the universe would not be governed by such simple mathematical equations unless it was created with purpose by a great intelligence.

Aside from the fallacies in this argument, it falls into a deeper trap, of trying to defeat the other side by using their own arguments against them. While this reversal might seem a clever move, its mistake is that adopting the thinking of the other side accepts this approach this as valid, and so weakens its own case. Religions are based on unquestioned belief. Why do they need to use science to 'prove' a truth that cannot be proven? Do the people who propose ID lack faith?

What is perhaps the problem is that many people, including scientists and religious adherents, want there to be one true way. In fact there are many systems of belief (and if you look closely enough, there is one per person). Even science is based on belief. Belief is assumed truth, and each group assume their canon is true and all others are false. Yet like parallel universes, belief systems can exist concurrently and only become problematic when they try to intersect.

There is yet a value for religion in the idea of Intelligent Design, not so much as a solid argument that proves God's existence, but more that just contemplating the idea of ID changes your thinking, even if you are not religious. In research related to this principle, Tracy, Hart and Martens found that if you reminded psychology students of their own mortality, they would be find ID ideas more appealing. However, students of natural sciences went the other way. Having studied evolutionary theory and science more closely, just the mention of an opposing view seemed to make them become more entrenched. The persuasive effect of ID on the psychology students, the researchers found, could be neutralized by priming them with natural science thoughts.

A learning from this is that you may be able to get people to accept ideas they know are not true by triggering a related need or fear (death, in this study). You can also harden views that are already held with some conviction by providing opposing views that are easily refuted.

Tracy, J., Hart, J., and Martens, J. (2011). Death and Science: The Existential Underpinnings of Belief in Intelligent Design and Discomfort with Evolution. PLoS ONE, 6 (3)

Sunday 21-September-14

How women choose a mate

How do women choose a mate? There are certainly plenty of men who would like to know.

The evolutionary drivers would first point to seeking men who are able to defend and feed the woman and their children, so power is classically attractive, and may be indicated with such as strength, affluence, influence over others and general cleverness. However, men tend to stray, so loyalty must also be important. And of course the woman would not want the man's power turned against her, so kindness is a valued attribute.

But what about beauty? Do women follow 'shallow' men who are so easily seduced by physical features? Researchers Wilbur and Campbella offered female subjects a choice of four mates with varying ambition and attractiveness and found that indeed, women were attracted by good-looking men, though more so when considering short-term sexual encounters, and particularly when the women were open to such relationships. But this all changed when they were thinking about longer-term romantic relationships, even for flighty women, when ambition (which itself is longer-term) became more attractive.

This research underlines two opposing factors that drive much more than just mate selection. The extent to which we think in the short term or the long term has an enormous effect on both our decision and our lives. For those who can think further out, a longer-term perspective will let them reap many future rewards, yet many of us are so smitten with the short term and the present value of things that we often choose a bit of jam today over more jam tomorrow. This is also made worse where temptation is deliberately projected at us by capitalist media throughout the day.

Back in the mating world, men are classically driven by the short term. Nature has told them to spread their seed and so they easily head for quick gratification. Yet when they take time to think, they can also take a longer-term perspective and beyond those that seek the 'eye candy' of a beautiful mate that makes other men envious, there is greater sense in seeking a woman who will be a good companion into later life.

Christopher J. Wilbur and Lorne Campbella, (2010). What do women want? An interactionist account of women’s mate preferences, Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 7,749-754

Sunday 14-September-14

Big Ideas

Sometimes you might be dozing, strolling, driving or otherwise not thinking too much, when a thunderbolt strikes you as an idea just materializes from thin air. Ideas can also appear when you are straining to find them, but often as not they turn up in their own good time.

Ideas can be useful, they can be wacky and, sadly, they can turn out to be impractical. And now and again they can be great. Big ideas are those things that change lives. Often it is just your life that changes when a new realization makes you see the world differently or you come up with a way of making your life much easier. Sometimes, even more rarely, the idea can change the world, such as when Einstein linked mass, energy and the speed of light, or when Mark Zukerberg came up with Facebook.

Big ideas can arrive fully formed, though often they arrive in a jumbled mess that needs a lot of work to untangle before the brilliance is revealed. There are few rules about great ideas and many are stillborn when they are not recognized, not developed or otherwise starved of the oxygen they need to become the world-changing phenomena they could be.

When we have a big idea, sometimes we know it's a biggie, though often it takes a while for another aha moment to come along as we realize we've got a monster on our hands. You can have big ideas skulking at the back of the mental cupboard for years before they declare their greatness. Maybe there's some in there right now, just waiting for the right moment.

One of the big ideas I had was to write this website. It's been pretty successful and kept me out of mischief for a dozen or so years now. It's pretty much panned out as I planned. My goal was 'touch the world' and it seems I have as I regularly sell books around the glob and I've received many nice letters from many countries. Another is the CIA Needs model, about which I'm now writing a complete book, though it took a few years to realize this model was worth the effort to expand and detail it. Another realization was that a major skill I have is insight, finding the core essence of whatever I am investigating. Only looking back at years of work have I realized that this is why it all seemed to work so well.

Just watch out then, for your ideas. Scrutinize then closely. You never know it, you may have a big one on your hands!

Sunday 07-September-14

The Father of the Bride

So yesterday, my daughter got married. It was an event writ large, planned and prepared for years in advance, and yet there were last-minute panics right up to the day. There was a theme of 1920s crossed with science fiction, with a distinct tendency towards Doctor Who, Firefly and Star Trek. I was roped into building light towers, a Tardis photo booth and providing everyone with a 100ml bottle of spirits (which consumed most of my supply of home-make knockout tipples).

It a complicated affair and took multiple journeys to transport all the effects to the venue, the redoubtable Caer Llan in Monmouthshire. And then we were off. Heledd looked beautiful. She's inherited her mother's timeless good looks and still get's ID'd when buying alcohol. In her vintage wedding dress she was spectacular and as we walked down the aisle there were many oohs and aahs. Being rather modern, she didn't want to just take her husband's surname and so they decided to combine them, now being very distinctly Heledd and James Winfield-Straker. The weather was warm, and rained only once while we were inside for the ceremony, which is kind for September in Wales. I did my speech talking about some of the fun of her growing years. There was cheers, beers and champagne, games, conversation and dancing. Overall, everyone agreed it was a very memorable and spectacular affair. Even a few people who'd not been planning on coming but who had rocked up at the last minute declared it was decidedly worthwhile. And indeed it was.

It seems so far from when Eleri and I got married. We just went to the local chapel, had lunch with family and friends at the local bar and then borrowed a tent to go camping. We had a wonderful time throughout and are still happily married 38 years later. Nowadays weddings cost arms, legs and a few limbs besides. But then this one was a real corker and will certainly be remembered by all involved.

Sunday 03-August-14

Ground rush, buffers, exceptions and weddings

When you jump out of an aeroplane, hopefully wearing a parachute, the ground seems far away. It continues to look this way for some time, which can lull you into a false sense of security because when it starts to get bigger, it gets bigger quickly and you need time to pull the ripcord, for the parachute to open, and for you to decelerate from 100 miles per hour or so down to a gentle walking pace.

The same is true for actions and events.

When Christmas or some other celebration is approaching, there seems plenty of time to get things done, but as many last-minute shoppers know, that last minute is characterized by panic and desperation. There may be several reasons for this, a common one being that your plans do not turn out to be a predictable march from A to B. Traffic is much worse than you expected. The things you were going to buy are out of stock. Other urgent things crop up, demanding your time as well.

Some people do this. They always leave things to the last minute. It's a personality thing as each of us range across a scale of Judging vs. Perceiving. Judgers plan well ahead. Perceivers leave things to the last minute. Yet both may be affected by ground rush as the judger's plans go awry and the perceiver's chaos gets in the way. A helpful method that many project managers use to handle this is to include 'buffer time', or space and resource that is not yet allocated, so if things go perfectly they finish on time and under budget. But usually they do not, and spare time money can be very helpful. Process designers and computer programmers cope by including 'exception handling', where ways to cope with undesirable events are built into the system.

My daughter's experiencing ground rush at the moment as her wedding is just over a month away. Being a smart business consultant, she's been planning and preparing for this for ages (she's a strong Judger) and we were treated to a PowerPoint presentation about it all over breakfast earlier in the year. It's going to be a complicated affair with all kinds of decorations, games, music and so on, with a science-fiction/1920s theme. Her exception handling includes a dynamic couple of bridesmaids who would do pretty much anything to ensure she enjoys her big day. If that doesn't work, it's Dad time.

I've already got my top hat and tails.



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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