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The behavioral psychology behind freemium mobile games

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 22, 2016

In a short video, Joss Fong and Dion Lee of Vox explore how free mobile games are engineered to make money using behavioral psychology.

By collecting troves of data on how users play their games, developers have mastered the science of applied addiction. And with the rise of “freemium” games that rely on micro-transactions, they have good reason to deploy the tools of behavioral psychology to inspire purchases.

Back in 2013, Ramin Shokrizade explained The Top F2P Monetization Tricks:

To maximize the efficacy of a coercive monetization model, you must use a premium currency, ideally with the ability to purchase said currency in-app. Making the consumer exit the game to make a purchase gives the target’s brain more time to figure out what you are up to, lowering your chances of a sale. If you can set up your game to allow “one button conversion”, such as in many iOS games, then obviously this is ideal. The same effect is seen in real world retail stores where people buying goods with cash tend to spend less than those buying with credit cards, due to the layering effect.

Purchasing in-app premium currency also allows the use of discounting, such that premium currency can be sold for less per unit if it is purchased in bulk. Thus a user that is capable of doing basic math (handled in a different part of the brain that develops earlier) can feel the urge to “save money” by buying more. The younger the consumer, the more effective this technique is, assuming they are able to do the math. Thus you want to make the numbers on the purchase options very simple, and you can also put banners on bigger purchases telling the user how much more they will “save” on big purchases to assist very young or otherwise math-impaired customers.

Having the user see their amount of premium currency in the interface is also much less anxiety generating, compared to seeing a real money balance. If real money was used (no successful game developer does this) then the consumer would see their money going down as they play and become apprehensive. This gives the consumer more opportunities to think and will reduce revenues.

Mike Rose also discussed the psychological aspect of freemium games in Chasing the Whale: Examining the ethics of free-to-play games:

On the topic of in-app purchases, Griffiths says, “The introduction of in-game virtual goods and accessories (that people pay real money for) was a psychological masterstroke.”

“It becomes more akin to gambling, as social gamers know that they are spending money as they play with little or no financial return,” he continues. “The one question I am constantly asked is why people pay real money for virtual items in games like FarmVille. As someone who has studied slot machine players for over 25 years, the similarities are striking.”

Griffiths argues that the real difference between pure gambling games and some free-to-play games is the fact that gambling games allow you to win your money back, adding an extra dimension that can potentially drive revenues even further.

Update: In 2009, Chris Anderson wrote a book called Free: The Future of a Radical Price in which he argued that freemium was going to be an important business model.

The online economy offers challenges to traditional businesses as well as incredible opportunities. Chris Anderson makes the compelling case that in many instances businesses can succeed best by giving away more than they charge for. Known as “Freemium,” this combination of free and paid is emerging as one of the most powerful digital business models. In Free, Chris Anderson explores this radical idea for the new global economy and demonstrates how it can be harnessed for the benefit of consumers and businesses alike. In the twenty-first century, Free is more than just a promotional gimmick: It’s a business strategy that is essential to a company’s successful future.

We Work Remotely

The four shades of introversion

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2015

According to a model developed by psychologist Jonathan Cheek and his colleagues, there are actually four types of introversion: social, thinking, anxious, and restrained.

Social: Social introversion is the closest to the commonly held understanding of introversion, in that it’s a preference for socializing with small groups instead of large ones. Or sometimes, it’s a preference for no group at all — solitude is often preferable for those who score high in social introversion. “They prefer to stay home with a book or a computer, or to stick to small gatherings with close friends, as opposed to attending large parties with many strangers,” Cheek said. But it’s different from shyness, in that there’s no anxiety driving the preference for solitude or small groups.

I took the quiz at the bottom of the article and I’m a mix of roughly equal parts social, restrained, and anxious introversion with a dash of thinking.

The science of Pixar’s Inside Out

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 10, 2015

Psychologists Dacher Keltner and Paul Ekman served as scientific consultants during the production of Pixar’s Inside Out. Keltner studies the origins of human emotion and Ekman pioneered research of microexpressions. In this NY Times piece, they discuss the science behind the movie.

Those quibbles aside, however, the movie’s portrayal of sadness successfully dramatizes two central insights from the science of emotion.

First, emotions organize — rather than disrupt — rational thinking. Traditionally, in the history of Western thought, the prevailing view has been that emotions are enemies of rationality and disruptive of cooperative social relations.

Second, emotions organize — rather than disrupt — our social lives. Studies have found, for example, that emotions structure (not just color) such disparate social interactions as attachment between parents and children, sibling conflicts, flirtations between young courters and negotiations between rivals.

I’ve thought about Inside Out every day since I saw it. Pixar clearly did their homework on the emotional stuff and it paid off.

The Century of the Self

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 10, 2015

From filmmaker Adam Curtis, a four-part documentary series on “how those in power have used Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy”. Here’s part one:

And continue with part 2, part 3, and part 4. Here is a good review:

This is a powerful and arresting documentary series — I ended up watching all four episodes back to back in a marathon effort. It was that gripping. I had felt similarly about his more recent documentary about the rise of neo conservatism and arab fundamentalism and the similarity in their techniques for recruiting followers (and their mutual need of each other in that project) — but ‘The Century of the Self’ (TCS from now on), is much grander in its scope. It seeks to analyse the different conceptions of the self in the twentieth century, and how these conceptions were ultimately used by corporations to manipulate consumers into purchasing their products. Curtis takes large swipes at corporate capitalism in this documentary, but his target is even wider than this — he seeks to tell a story about the relationship between the differing conceptions of individualism and the capitalist, democratic institutions (corporations and governments) which organise themselves around these conceptions.

(thx, kyle)

The Marshmallow Test, the book

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2014

Marshmallow Test

The Marshmallow Test was developed by psychologist Walter Mischel to study self-control and delayed gratification. From a piece about Mischel in the New Yorker:

Once Mischel began analyzing the results, he noticed that low delayers, the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.

Mischel has written a book about the test, its findings, and learning greater self-control: The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control.

The world’s leading expert on self-control, Walter Mischel has proven that the ability to delay gratification is critical for a successful life, predicting higher SAT scores, better social and cognitive functioning, a healthier lifestyle and a greater sense of self-worth. But is willpower prewired, or can it be taught?

In The Marshmallow Test, Mischel explains how self-control can be mastered and applied to challenges in everyday life — from weight control to quitting smoking, overcoming heartbreak, making major decisions, and planning for retirement. With profound implications for the choices we make in parenting, education, public policy and self-care, The Marshmallow Test will change the way you think about who we are and what we can be.

Here’s a video of the test in action:

Update: A recent study showed that the environment in which the test is performed is important.

Now a new study demonstrates that being able to delay gratification is influenced as much by the environment as by innate ability. Children who experienced reliable interactions immediately before the marshmallow task waited on average four times longer — 12 versus three minutes — than youngsters in similar but unreliable situations.

(thx, maggie & adam)

The Milgram experiment in real life

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2014

You don’t know what you would do unless you’re in that situation.

That’s Philip Zimbardo’s1 introduction to this fascinating and deeply disturbing video, depicting a real-world instance of Stanley Milgram’s experiment on obedience to authority figures2. In the video, you see a McDonald’s manager take a phone call from a man pretending to be a police officer. The caller orders the manager to strip search an employee. And then much much worse.

The video is NSFW and if you’re sensitive to descriptions and depictions of sexual abuse, you may want to skip it. And lest you think this was an isolated incident featuring exceptionally weak-minded people, the same caller was alleged to have made several other calls resulting in similar behavior. (via mr)

  1. Zimbardo conducted the notorious Stanford prison experiment in 1971.

  2. Milgram’s experiment focused on a person in authority ordering someone to deliver (fake) electric shocks to a third person. Some participants continued to deliver the shocks as ordered even when the person being shocked yelled in pain and complained of a heart condition.

The neverending terrible twos

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 17, 2013

According to developmental psychologist Richard Tremblay, violent criminals are basically toddlers who never grew up and never outgrow their tendency to use physical aggression to get what they want.

The study tracked behavior in 1,037 mostly disadvantaged Quebec schoolboys from kindergarten through age 18. The boys fell into four distinct trajectories of physical aggression.

The most peaceable 20 percent, a “no problem” group, showed little physical aggression at any age; two larger groups showed moderate and high rates of aggression as preschoolers. In these three groups violence fell through childhood and adolescence, and dropped to almost nothing when the boys reached their 20s.

A fourth group, about 5 percent, peaked higher during toddlerhood and declined far more slowly. Their curve was more plateau than hill.

As they moved into late adolescence and young adulthood, their aggression grew ever more dangerous, and it tailed off late. At age 17 they were four times as physically aggressive as the moderate group and committed 14 times as many criminal infractions. It’s these chronically violent individuals, Dr. Tremblay says, who are responsible for most violent crime.

She blinded me with neuroscience

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 14, 2011

In a 2008 paper called The Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations, a group from Yale University demonstrated that including neuroscientific information in explanations of psychological phenomena makes the explanations more appealing, even if the neuroscientific info is irrelevant.

Explanations of psychological phenomena seem to generate more public interest when they contain neuroscientific information. Even irrelevant neuroscience information in an explanation of a psychological phenomenon may interfere with people’s abilities to critically consider the underlying logic of this explanation.

I don’t know if I buy this. Perhaps if the authors had explained their results relative to how the human brain functions…

The Stanford prison experiment, 40 years later

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 11, 2011

For the Stanford alumni magazine, Romesh Ratnesar interviewed some of the participants of the Stanford prison experiment for the 40th anniversary of the event. Here’s Philip Zimbardo, the leader of the study:

After the end of the first day, I said, “There’s nothing here. Nothing’s happening.” The guards had this antiauthority mentality. They felt awkward in their uniforms. They didn’t get into the guard mentality until the prisoners started to revolt. Throughout the experiment, there was this conspiracy of denial-everyone involved was in effect denying that this was an experiment and agreeing that this is a prison run by psychologists.

There was zero time for reflection. We had to feed the prisoners three meals a day, deal with the prisoner breakdowns, deal with their parents, run a parole board. By the third day I was sleeping in my office. I had become the superintendent of the Stanford county jail. That was who I was: I’m not the researcher at all. Even my posture changes-when I walk through the prison yard, I’m walking with my hands behind my back, which I never in my life do, the way generals walk when they’re inspecting troops.

(via @tylercowen)

More mistakes of the 20th century

posted by Tim Carmody   May 04, 2011

When I wrote about the Paris Review’s interview with Werner Herzog, I took special note of this observation from the great director:

The Polar explorations were a huge mistake of the human race, an indication that the twentieth century was a mistake in its entirety. They are one of the indicators.

Apparently, “the twentieth century was a mistake” is something of a hobbyhorse for Herzog. Chris Krewson tipped me to a GQ interview where WH rattles off some of the other indicators:

I think psychology and self-reflection is one of the major catastrophes of the twentieth century. A major, major mistake. And it’s only one of the mistakes of the twentieth century, which makes me think that the twentieth century in its entirety was a mistake.

Herzog backs this up with some intriguing counter-history:

The Spanish Inquisition had one goal, to eradicate all traces of Muslim faith on the soil of Spain, and hence you had to confess and proclaim the innermost deepest nature of your faith to the commission. And almost as a parallel event, explaining and scrutinizing the human soul, into all its niches and crooks and abysses and dark corners, is not doing good to humans.

We have to have our dark corners and the unexplained. We will become uninhabitable in a way an apartment will become uninhabitable if you illuminate every single dark corner and under the table and wherever—you cannot live in a house like this anymore. And you cannot live with a person anymore—let’s say in a marriage or a deep friendship—if everything is illuminated, explained, and put out on the table. There is something profoundly wrong. It’s a mistake. It’s a fundamentally wrong approach toward human beings.

But lest you think that Herzog’s rejection of the ethics of the Inquisition comes from an embrace of spiritual tolerance:

I think there should be holy war against yoga classes. It detours us from real thinking.

I said to my friend Gavin Craig the other day that with folks like Herzog, you almost have to approach them as if they’re characters in a play. Instead of asking yourself whether you like them personally or agree with the things they say, take a step back and try to admire how they’re drawn.

More about the 10,000 hours thing

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2011

The article about Dan McLaughlin’s quest to go from zero-to-PGA Tour through 10,000 hours of deliberate practice got linked around a bunch yesterday. Several people who pointed to it made a typical mistake. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the 10,000 hours theory in his book, he did not come up with it. It is not “Gladwell’s theory” and McLaughlin is not “testing Gladwell”. The 10,000 hours theory was developed and popularized by Dr. Anders Ericsson (here for instance) — who you may have heard of from this Freakonomics piece in the NY Times Magazine — before it became a pop culture tidbit by Gladwell’s inclusion of Ericsson’s work in Outliers.

Seeing into the future

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 12, 2010

Psychology professor Daryl Bem ran some common psychology experiments backwards and detected statistically significant results that could indicate that people somehow can, uh, see into the future.

In one experiment, students were shown a list of words and then asked to recall words from it, after which they were told to type words that were randomly selected from the same list. Spookily, the students were better at recalling words that they would later type.

In another study, Bem adapted research on “priming” — the effect of a subliminally presented word on a person’s response to an image. For instance, if someone is momentarily flashed the word “ugly”, it will take them longer to decide that a picture of a kitten is pleasant than if “beautiful” had been flashed. Running the experiment back-to-front, Bem found that the priming effect seemed to work backwards in time as well as forwards.

(via mr)

Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 01, 2010

…aka WEIRD. The majority of the subjects in behavioral science testing are WEIRD people, who make up only a small percentage of the global population. You can see where this would be a problem.

In the “ultimatum game”, for example, people are given $100 and told to offer some of it to someone else; if the other person accepts, each keeps their portion, but if they reject the offer, nobody gets anything. On average, Americans offer just under half, which seems to say much about human notions of fairness, or the fear of making an insultingly low offer. But many cultures behave differently; the Machiguenga of Peru prefer to keep more cash or, if on the other side of the deal, to accept whatever is offered. Another example: speakers of the Mayan language of Tzeltal are among several more likely to describe things as east or west of each other, not on the left or right. Academics would bristle, the researchers note, if journals were renamed with titles such as Journal of Personality and Social Psychology of American Undergraduate Psychology Students. But perhaps they should be.

(via russell davies)

Sending their love and cigarettes down the well

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2010

The continued reports from Chile about those miners trapped in the mine are kind of fascinating. Here’s an article about the battle between the miners and the doctors, psychologists, and government officials attempting to manage them from afar.

In an effort to dominate the miners, the team of psychologists led by Mr Iturra has instituted a series of prizes and punishments. When the miners behave well, they are given TV and mood music. Other treats — like images of the outside world are being held in reserve, as either a carrot or a stick should the miners become unduly feisty.

In a show of strength, the miners have at times refused to listen to the psychologists, insisting that they are well. “When that happens, we have to say, ‘OK, you don’t want to speak with psychologists? Perfect. That day you get no TV, there is no music — because we administer these things,’” said Dr Diaz. “And if they want magazines? Well, then they have to speak to us. This is a daily arm wrestle.”

(via mr)

How to improve creativity

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2010

A two part (one, two) series on using psychological techniques to improve your creativity.

Interviews with 22 Nobel Laureates in physiology, chemistry, medicine and physics as well as Pulitzer Prize winning writers and other artists has found a surprising similarity in their creative processes (Rothenberg, 1996).

Called ‘Janusian thinking’ after the many-faced Roman god Janus, it involves conceiving of multiple simultaneous opposites. Integrative ideas emerge from juxtapositions, which are usually not obvious in the final product, theory or artwork.

Physicist Niels Bohr may have used Janusian thinking to conceive the principle of complementarity in quantum theory (that light can be analysed as either a wave or a particle, but never simultaneously as both).

(via lone gunman)

Masturbation: a singularly human pursuit

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 28, 2010

Among primates, only humans masturbate. Why is that? Perhaps it’s our big….brains.

Go on, put this article aside, take a five minute break and put my challenge to the test (don’t forget to close your office door if you’re reading this at work): Just try to masturbate successfully — that is, to orgasmic completion — without casting some erotic representational target in your mind’s eye. Instead, clear your mind entirely, or think of, I don’t know, an enormous blank canvass hanging in an art gallery. And of course no porn or helpful naked co-workers are permitted for this task either.

How’d it go? Do you see the impossibility of it? This is one of the reasons, incidentally, why I find it so hard to believe that self-proclaimed asexuals who admit to masturbating to orgasm are really and truly asexual. They must be picturing something , and whatever that something is gives away their sexuality.

(via clusterflock)

Update: Apparently the author has never been on YouTube. (thx, all)

The unknown unknowns

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2010

Errol Morris is back with a new piece on his NY Times blog about how the holes in people’s knowledge affect their actions.

If I were given carte blanche to write about any topic I could, it would be about how much our ignorance, in general, shapes our lives in ways we do not know about. Put simply, people tend to do what they know and fail to do that which they have no conception of. In that way, ignorance profoundly channels the course we take in life. And unknown unknowns constitute a grand swath of everybody’s field of ignorance.

This is part one of a five-part series in which we hear from David Dunning about the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it.

What’s your time perspective?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 04, 2010

A fascinating 10-minute animated talk by Philip Zimbardo about the different “time zones” or “time perspectives” that people can have and how the different zones affect people’s world views.

The six different time zones are:

- Past positive: focus is on the “good old days”, past successes, nostalgia, etc.
- Past negative: focus on regret, failure, all the things that went wrong
- Present hedonistic: living in the moment for pleasure and avoiding pain, seek novelty and sensation
- Present fatalism: life is governed by outside forces, “it doesn’t pay to plan”
- Future: focus is on learning to work rather than play
- Transcendental Future: life begins after the death of the mortal body

Find out which time zone you’re in by taking this survey.

Fun fact: Zimbardo conducted the famous Stanford prison experiment in 1971. (thx, sean)

Three Sons of God walk into the loony bin…

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2010

In the late 1950s, psychologist Milton Rokeach took three patients who believed they were Jesus Christ and made them live with each other for two years.

The early meetings were stormy. “You oughta worship me, I’ll tell you that!” one of the Christs yelled. “I will not worship you! You’re a creature! You better live your own life and wake up to the facts!” another snapped back. “No two men are Jesus Christs. … I am the Good Lord!” the third interjected, barely concealing his anger.

Ten things that influence conformity

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2010

They include mood, group size, authority, and social approval.

People use conformity to ingratiate themselves with others. Conforming also makes people feel better about themselves by bolstering self-confidence. Some people have a greater need for liking from others so are more likely to conform.

Have you noticed that nonconformers are less likely to care what other people think of them? Nonconformity and self-confidence go hand-in-hand.

How con artists exploit human behavior

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2009

An extensive analysis of the seven principles of human behavior that con artists exploit (with many examples of cons). Or check out the Cliffs Notes version.

The Time principle: When you are under time pressure to make an important choice, you use a different decision strategy. Hustlers steer you towards a strategy involving less reasoning.

Getting a rise out of getting a rise

posted by Ainsley Drew   Oct 07, 2009

Scientists discovered that it’s likely that some individuals with high testosterone actually perceive other people’s anger as a reward. Researchers tested the subjects’ testosterone levels and assigned them “learning tasks” where images of faces were subliminally flashed in response to their performance. Participants who had higher testosterone levels responded better to angry faces than to neutral ones, even though the faces were on screen too briefly to identify. Michelle Wirth, who led the study, explained how this can possibly be correlated to other testing methods:

“Better learning of a task associated with anger faces indicates that the anger faces were rewarding, as in a rat that learns to press a lever in order to receive a tasty treat. In that sense, anger faces seemed to be rewarding for high-testosterone people, but aversive for low-testosterone people.”

So the next time it seems like that person is trying to piss you off, reward them with a knuckle sandwich.

Food phobia

posted by Ainsley Drew   Oct 02, 2009

Dave Nunley is a food phobic in the UK who has primarily subsisted on grated cheddar cheese since birth. Although he’s eating up to three times the amount of fat recommended for the average diet, he seems to be in fairly good health, save for a vitamin B deficiency.

This isn’t as uncommon as you might think. Unlike fad diets that eschew one corner of the food pyramid for another, food phobia is an actual fear-based aversion to a particular kind of vittle, either due to taste, association, or texture. The disorder, which psychologists believe has links to obsessive compulsive disorder, can lead to nutritional deficits, a compromised immune system, and a lot of awkwardness at dinner parties. Orthorexia, a similar condition, is an obsession with healthful eating that can at times become so severe that it leads to anorexia, but food phobics find their meals dominated by their fear. Ironically, legendary egg-shaped director Alfred Hitchcock was an admitted ovophobe, and was “revolted” by eggs.

Update: It seems the Brits have cornered the market on uncovering food phobias. The show Freaky Eaters on BBC Three documents individuals with such severely restricted eating that they avoid certain food groups altogether. The show aims to help each person overcome their aversions and adopt a healthy diet.

(thx jodi)

Update: Another British export is the website Adult Picky Eaters, which aims to provide a forum and self-help information for those struggling with food issues. The author also documents her struggle with picky eating, and the comments on the site are pretty revealing.

(thx rob)

Lack of parental pressure turns nos into yeses

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2009

When the usual methods of getting your child to do something fail, perhaps try the exact opposite approach instead.

They direct the parents to temporarily back off almost entirely: to stop asking their child to do the desired behavior and say it’s OK not to do it at all, stop offering praise or other rewards for doing it, and mask their attitude of engaged enthusiasm or frustrated rage with an appearance of bland disinterest in whether the child does it or not. What happens next, frequently, is that within a day or two the child starts doing the behavior with no prompting from parents or anyone else.

The explanation of why this technique works is pretty interesting. We’ve tried it a bit recently with Ollie and his extreme disinterest in brushing his teeth and we’re seeing some promising results, although I imagine this works better with slightly older kids.

Cheating on the Rorschach test

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2009

Rorschach inkblot

After someone posted all ten of the Rorschach inkblots to Wikipedia along with the most common responses to them, some psychologists cried foul, saying that the responses could be used by people to “cheat” on the tests.

“The more test materials are promulgated widely, the more possibility there is to game it,” said Bruce L. Smith, a psychologist and president of the International Society of the Rorschach and Projective Methods, who has posted under the user name SPAdoc. He quickly added that he did not mean that a coached subject could fool the person giving the test into making the wrong diagnosis, but rather “render the results meaningless.”

To psychologists, to render the Rorschach test meaningless would be a particularly painful development because there has been so much research conducted - tens of thousands of papers, by Dr. Smith’s estimate - to try to link a patient’s responses to certain psychological conditions. Yes, new inkblots could be used, these advocates concede, but those blots would not have had the research - “the normative data,” in the language of researchers - that allows the answers to be put into a larger context.

I was not aware that the inkblot tests were even in use anymore…seems like an antiquated technique.

Increasing creativity and psychological distance

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2009

Social psychologists have discovered in recent years that one way to increase creativity is by inducing a state of psychological distance.

This research has important practical implications. It suggests that there are several simple steps we can all take to increase creativity, such as traveling to faraway places (or even just thinking about such places), thinking about the distant future, communicating with people who are dissimilar to us, and considering unlikely alternatives to reality. Perhaps the modern environment, with its increased access to people, sights, music, and food from faraway places, helps us become more creative not only by exposing us to a variety of styles and ideas, but also by allowing us to think more abstractly.

The science of persuasion

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2009

This list of 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive is pretty awesome. Two of my favorites:

2. Introduce herd effect in highly personalized form. The hotel sign in the bathroom informed the guests that many prior guests chose to be environmentally friendly by recycling their towels. However, when the message mentioned that majority of the guests who stayed in this specific room chose to be more environmentally conscious and reused their towels, towel recycling jumped 33%, even though the message was largely the same.

40. Incentive programs need a good start. A car-wash place gave one group of customers a free car wash after 8 washes, and everybody got their first stamp after their visit. Group B got a free car wash after 10 car washes, with 3 stamps on the card. Both groups needed to make 7 more trips to get a free wash. 19% of the Group A returned, while 34% of the Group B did.

These are all taken from a book of the same name. (via lone gunman)

I’ve lost control again

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2009

Jonah Lehrer, who is seemingly in a race with Michael Lewis these days to see who can write the most books and articles in a 12-month period, writes about self-control in the New Yorker…what it is, how it works, and how it affects things like achievement, happiness, etc. The article focuses on the efforts of Dr. Walter Mischel and the marshmallow test that he developed to measure self-control in young kids. With the marshmallow test, kids are given a mashmallow and they are told that they can eat it right away or, if they hold out, they can eat two marshmallows.

Once Mischel began analyzing the results, he noticed that low delayers, the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. They got lower S.A.T. scores. They struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.

I must have really underachieved on the SAT because as a four-year-old, I would have likely waited forever…I don’t like marshmallows.

Update: Radiolab recently tackled the marshmallow test on their podcast. There is also marshmallow test footage on YouTube. (thx, michael)

Update: Lehrer answers readers’ questions over on the New Yorker web site.

Squeezing the lemon

posted by Jason Kottke   May 15, 2009

What Makes Us Happy? asks Joshua Wolf Shenk in the June 2009 issue of The Atlantic. The article is a dual biography of two intertwined entities, a long-running study of 268 Harvard men and the study’s long-time principal investigator, George Vaillant. The study was started as a way to determine how people lived successful lives. Valliant’s main interpretation from decades of study is that how people respond or adapt to trouble correlates with their healthy aging.

At the bottom of the pile are the unhealthiest, or “psychotic,” adaptations — like paranoia, hallucination, or megalomania — which, while they can serve to make reality tolerable for the person employing them, seem crazy to anyone else. One level up are the “immature” adaptations, which include acting out, passive aggression, hypochondria, projection, and fantasy. These aren’t as isolating as psychotic adaptations, but they impede intimacy. “Neurotic” defenses are common in “normal” people. These include intellectualization (mutating the primal stuff of life into objects of formal thought); dissociation (intense, often brief, removal from one’s feelings); and repression, which, Vaillant says, can involve “seemingly inexplicable naivete, memory lapse, or failure to acknowledge input from a selected sense organ.” The healthiest, or “mature,” adaptations include altruism, humor, anticipation (looking ahead and planning for future discomfort), suppression (a conscious decision to postpone attention to an impulse or conflict, to be addressed in good time), and sublimation (finding outlets for feelings, like putting aggression into sport, or lust into courtship).

Shenk then goes on to evaluate Vaillant on his own terms, with some interesting results.

Setting goals can backfire

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2009

Sometimes I link to stuff only because it justifies my organizational laziness. See: Ready, aim…fail.

A few management scholars are now looking deeper into the effects of goals, and finding that goals have a dangerous side. Individuals, governments, and companies like GM show ample ability to hurt themselves by setting and blindly following goals, even those that seem to make sense at the time.

I’ll continue stumbling towards the light at the end of the tunnel, thank you very much.