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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 20-December-15

Dalai Wisdom

So it's Christmas, which whether you're Christian or not, practicing or not, is a good time to pause and reflect. Maybe you can do it as the year is ending or the Northern hemisphere winter is turning (or Summer in the South).

I try to get wiser, but I'm not sure I've got to any sensible plateau as yet, so perhaps I should hand over this year's serving to the Dalai Lama. He's a tolerant sort of chap who seems to have found the secret of happiness in the face of much reason for sorrow. I recently came across his '18 Rules for Living' and was quite struck by them. So I've reproduced them here. I tend to annotate interesting things with my thoughts about them, but I think these need no comment, which is perhaps another testament to their value.

  1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
  2. When you lose, donít lose the lesson..
  3. Follow the three Rs: Respect for self, Respect for others, and Responsibility for all your actions.
  4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
  5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
  6. Donít let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
  7. When you realize youíve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
  8. Spend some time alone every day. 
  9. Open your arms to change, but donít let go of your values.
  10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
  11. Live a good, honourable life.
  12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
  13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation.
  14. Share your knowledge.
  15. Be gentle with the earth.
  16. Once a year, as often as possible, go someplace youíve never been before.
  17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
  18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.

So there you are. Wise advice indeed. And please do have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And beyond that, of course.

Sunday 13-December-15

TV advertising, psychological momentum and the inter-show gap

Advertising on television is the way that many channels are funded. While viewers watch for the programming, for the channel owners, adverts are really what it's all about. The shows are simply the means to get viewers to sit through the adverts. A consequent question about viewers that programmers want to know, is how many advertising breaks they can insert without losing viewers, and how long these can be.

This is not an easy question to answer.

What shows need to create is a kind of psychological momentum, where the person is so captivated, they remain glued to the TV all through the advert break. In  reality, this is a statistical thing, where the longer the break is, the greater the chance of viewers abandoning the channel, trying other channels or doing something else.

Quite simply, better shows not only attract more regular viewers (between-show momentum), they also keep them watching through the adverts (within-show momentum).

What do shows do to create that momentum? The classic easy is simply to create enjoyment, so the person wants to keep on feeling good. They may also create suspense, so the person wants to know what happens next. A trickier way to create momentum is to hypnotise the person, sending them into a trance that will keep them watching for longer. A way to do this is with flashing, either with lights on the show or a sequence or rapid scene changes just before the break.

Another problem is that after the show and before the next one, the audience may well be in a state of completion, having awoken after the trance of the previous show and before the next can stuck them in. This is where many channels make the mistake of losing viewers by throwing in not only a bunch of adverts, but also promoting other shows. The goal here should be to hang onto the viewer by getting them engaged in the next show as quickly as possible, And the obvious way to do this is to significantly reduce inter-show adverts and talk.

Sunday 06-December-15

Idealism vs. reasonable uncertainty

Reality is messy. Really messy. There no black or white other than what we perceive. Yet seeing things in absolute terms makes life so much easier. There are good people and bad people. Religious or scientific texts are believed to be absolutely true. We listen to others and are sure we know just what they mean.

Living thoughtfully is harder when it means never wholly knowing what is right or wrong, good or bad. Knowing others may be for or against us, but not knowing which makes responding to ambiguous comments much more difficult. It means never quite feeling safe or right, even though knowing this is more truthful than the certainty of idealism.

Idealists and realists tend not to get on, each seeing the other as misguided at best and malign at worst. The idealist says 'this is true', to which the realist says 'well, not really'. The idealist says 'you are wrong' and the realist says 'possibly' but continues in the belief they are more right than the simplified position of the idealist.

Idealism and extremism often go hand in hand. Both left wing and right wing politicians can only sustain their views by ignoring inconvenient data, such as limited finances and the refusal of societies to blindly obey laws and commands they believe are wrong' or unfair. Religions can also tend towards moralistic idealism, where 'I am right so you are wrong' is a common simplification.

In the end, life is often best lived as a paradoxical combination of both realism and idealism, where we learn what we can, then use reasoned choice moderated by ideals to guide our actions.

Idealists should accept that two people can believe different things without one being wrong, while realists should forgive idealists their ignorance and accept that their beliefs are simply what works for them and are therefore valid.

Sunday 29-November-15

Jokes, outrage and moral sensitization

Time was, you could make jokes about anyone, played pranks, wound people up. Now, you must self-censor lest others become offended. In some ways it's right. It's not good to distress other people. Yet it is troubling when others seem increasingly sensitive, taking umbrage at remarks that once would have been ignored or shrugged off.

I'm Welsh and have heard enough sheep jokes in my time. I've never been bothered by them. In fact I treat such comments as an indication of trust, that I won't be bothered and it is OK to indulge in a little banter. Yet strangely (or not) I haven't heard any sheep jokes for quite some time now.

The psychology of outrage follows a common path. You say something. The other person (or an intervening defender) is outraged. This casts you as a bad person and them as judge and jury, able to outspokenly critical of you and make punitive demands as restitution. Such action may also help them feel pleasantly powerful.

A common problem here is that it is often assumed you intended to offend or are inherently biased, while neither may be true. It is very easy to misunderstand the intent of others, for example interpreting teasing as bullying.

This can spiral as morality power games are played out and, as cautions become normalized, newer sensitivities are unearthed and society sensitized to them. I feel the prick when people make comments about 'the Welsh' and sometimes pass comment, though I also try hard to avoid negativity and accept bias as a normal feature of humanity rather than a deliberate attempt to gain social advantage.

Nothing is simple and while being considerate and protecting the vulnerable is a good thing, perhaps we should be more forgiving of those that say things against us, accepting them as human and imperfect rather than judging them as unkind or insensitive.

Sunday 22-Nov-15

Terrorism, radicalization and the polarizing politics of outrage

There has recently been another terrorist attack, this time in Paris, with simultaneous gun and bomb assaults leaving many dead and injured, and millions horrified.

Why do they do it? It's a common cry.

Aside from martyrdom, the real reason is to escalate their cause, which is to spread their fundamentalist religion and ultimately to destroy western civilisation. They believe in a prophecy of Armageddon and are working to create it.

How do they do this? Through the politics of outrage.

The first step is to outrage their enemy, who they largely see as western governments. This is the first purpose of the terrorist acts. The governments then feel obliged to respond in various ways, from rounding up suspects to intensifying proxy wars in regions where those who seem to have energized the terrorists operate.

Outraged citizens may also take the law into their own hands, attacking innocents who are seen as linked to the terrorist group, typically by religious affiliation. The media join in too, for example pressing for total condemnation by people of the religion and then condemning them for an insufficient response.

The terrorist organisation then amplifies and plays this back to their potential supporters, highlighting the oppression of their people, outraging and radicalizing many in the process. It's a game of polarization, dividing and pushing either side to opposite extremes, where outrage is used to justify extreme measures.

And so the cycle spins. With a few acts of barbarity, the terrorists create huge chaos, fear and knee-jerk reaction that is food for their cause. They will use France's understandable reprisals to persuade more to radicalism.

They also cause massive ongoing security and other costs that weakens their target enemies. The UK, for example, is spending billions more on defence at the same time they are cutting back on welfare.

If we want to break this cycle of hate, outrage and reaction, we each must step back from recrimination, even verbally so. We must try to understand realities and beware of demonizing the innocent majority. We must work to change minds rather than fall prey to outraged polarisation.

It may be hard, but it is the best way to peace.

Your comments

I agree wholeheartedly with this, I think we are dangerously locked in a cycle of escalating violence which only feeds the problem rather than solves it. I think you don't defeat an idea with violence, but supplant it with better ideas. What I don't know is how we combat the ideas of radicalisation in the middle east. I think we are also combating the desire in the west to respond with violence and to "neutralise the threat".

-- Dan H.

Terrorism and radicalization, like many topics, are argued on a continuum. Problem is, with this subject, world stability and tens of millions of lives are at stake. Talk (negotiation) is not in the vocabulary of a caliphate( holy war). My analogy is the ratcheting socket wrench. There can only be one operator and progress is made in only one direction. The question is, who is the operator? Additionally, it can be argued that recruitment is a very small part of the radical growth, at least in the near term. It starts in childhood education. Then when there is a justifiable caliphate the Muslim male is obligated the join the fight. But the West sees the conflict as political and therefore hard to justify all out offensive response to attack. Neither side can bring understanding to a table that does not exist. We will not see peace. We haven't for 1400 yrs. It will be oppression or annihilation. The question is by whom?

I just found this excellent web site. The mechanics of the above are addressed in many of Changing Minds' areas. I think David may save the world.

-- Tom M


Sunday 25-October-15

Tricky words at the Post Office reduces brand loyalty

I just filled in a form on the UK Post Office site that had the following text after it.

Keeping you informed
Post Office and our trusted partners would like to contact you about products, services and offers that might be of interest to you. By submitting this form you will be indicating your consent to receiving marketing communications by post, phone, email, text and other electronic means unless you have indicated an objection to receiving such communications by ticking the relevant box(es) below.

This was followed by a number of check boxes covering email,  phone, land mail and so on. I hate getting even more spam so I take care to read these things in detail and it's a good job I did. Rather trickily, you have to check every single box to say you don't want communication through this channel as indicated by the rather obscure text 'unless you have indicated an objection to receiving such communications'. Of course they want you to skip this whole bit and not check any boxes, so they use lengthy and confusing sentences, with multiple boxes to check if you do not want the bumph.

Yes, it will work with many people, but for those of us who are cautious (and the complexity of technique indicates this number is significant), such trickery becomes an annoyance to the extent to which our loyalty to the brand is harmed. If the Post Office wants to deceive me, and from this it clearly does, then I'll not just believe what they say elsewhere and will be more ready to entertain dealing with their competitors.

It's such a shame. I like the Post Office, even though it has been privatized. But some short-sighted person there has fallen into the common changing-minds trap of assuming their customers can be tricked into conformance. If you want customer loyalty, then you must be trustworthy in all things. In this instance, the Post Office has fallen down.

Sunday 18-October-15

Making every word count: the deep manipulation of 'news' items

You've probably noticed at the bottom of many reputable sites there are further links to places elsewhere on the web with content that you might like or which seem to be news items. Typical headings include 'You may also like', 'Elsewhere on the web' and so on. What you might not always know is that these links are not selected by the website owner -- they are, in effect, paid-for advertisements.

The language used in these links tends to be very carefully created. Typical headings include:

  • Experts shocked as new trick saves online shoppers thousands in UK
  • What man did with useless attic is unbelievable
  • An awesome dad explains the 5 revelations he's had raising 2 girls.

We can look at these and derive the rules used to set them up, including:

  • Arousal words that are designed to stimulate and amplify your emotions.
  • Surprise, shock, amazement and other indications that this is something new and interesting that must be investigated.
  • Suggestions of expert authority, often with experts being amazed or shocked. If experts are amazed, then you will certainly be.

Even solid sites that talk about academic research make use of teasing methods, for example the Psyblog site which uses headline trailers such as:

  • Happiness: 8 Awesome New Facts You Should Know
  • The Daily Chore That Can Increase Mental Stimulation and Decrease Anxiety
  • Brain Most Sensitive to New Memories and Stress At This Stage of Life

What this site does in particular is to suggest something interesting or important for you, but not name it. In other words it states the effect without the cause. This uses the completion principle, where we have a need to complete what is started, including knowing what has been suggested. For you to control your life, you hence need to click through to the article.

The problem with such methods is that when they are over-done, they are off-putting. The authors assume the reader is not that bright and is easily manipulated. But when people feel that manipulation, they are likely to react by avoiding such headlines. If you want to attract people, be subtle or genuine.

Sunday 11-October-15

Persuading at the edge of provocation

One of the trickiest (in all senses of the word) methods of persuasion is through the use of challenging provocation. In practice it can seem crazy as you insult or annoy the other person as you act in provocative ways, for example strongly criticizing them or directly calling them foolish. Yet, while this can result in angry reaction, it can also lead to them changing their minds.

A key principle is one of arousal, of stimulating the other person, of shaking and confusing them when they do not expect to be shaken. When things happen or are said that we do not expect, we pause and wonder what it means and what we should do next. This is what happens when people say something provocative. Even when our fight-or-flight reaction is triggered, we may later stop and think in ways that we might not otherwise have done.

Everything has a edge, even as that edge can sometimes be hard to find or be different from where you might expect. There is also an edge to what I will accept when others speak to me, beyond which I will fight back, yet around which I can be startled into new thinking. Provocative persuaders are good at detecting that edge and working along it, saying things that are provocative yet just safe enough for them that they can recover without destroying the relationship. People who are regularly provocative also gain some extra leeway once others forgive them for being overly bold, usually because they have already realize that the provocative speaker does not have an unkind or harmful intent.

Donald Trump is a current example of a master of this method. He has said some outrageous things in his bid to become president of the USA. And somehow he seems to get away with it, with his approval rating going up rather than down, as his opponents hope and the political pundits predict. Indeed, few of us would dare say some of the thing he has said, even in trusted company.

Another reason why people get away with provocative talk when others would be castigated is power. Social rules often say 'be nice' and 'don't talk about things that might upset people'. Yet powerful people may deliberately transgress social rules just to make the point that they have enough power to be able to withstand social disapproval. A related effect happens when people with little real power act provocatively and yet people do not call them out as they suspect the speaker has some hidden power. In this way, boldness can be surprisingly effective.



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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