Monthly Archives: July 2009

Persuasion on the Job Interview

Job Interview CartoonTimes are hard and you need every edge to compete in the job market.  The Interview is a crucial step in earning that new job and persuasion principles will help.  Here’s how to use persuasion during the interview.

First and always during the interview:  It’s about the Other Guy. The Other Guy is the job interviewer sitting across from you.  You don’t care what you want, you care what the Other Guy wants and you want the Other Guy to want you.  That means: get inside the Other Guy’s head.  It doesn’t matter how you think, feel, or behave.  It matters how the Other Guy thinks, feels, and behaves.  Got that?  A persuader constantly monitors the Other Guy and adjusts performance accordingly.  Get that.

Second, learn to use SOLER.  SOLER is an acronym for a set of nonverbal behaviors that indicate the cognitive and evaluative responding of the Other Guy.  Squarely face, Open posture, Lean in, Eye contact, and Relaxed body.  As people turn away, close up, lean out, look away, or tighten up, they are distracted and cold.  As they square up to you, open up, lean in, look at you, and relax, they are attentive and warm.  Observe the Other Guy’s SOLER to understand if they are listening to you and if they are liking what you are saying and doing.

Third, use your words to control three crucial persuasion functions:  WATTage, arguments, and cues.  WATTage means the Other Guy’s Willingness and Ability To Think.  Arguments means information of crucial importance for the job interview.  Finally, Cues means words that influence without requiring serious thinking.

WATTage is the key function you want to assess and adjust.  If the Other Guy is high WATT, then they will want job Arguments, the crucial elements for the hire:  references, credential, experience, motivation, appearance, social skill.  If the Other Guy is low WATT, they lack the cognitive willingness and ability to think effortfully and instead will seek out Cues like attractiveness, friendliness, fluency, glibness, stereotype fitness, or any other element that makes it easy and fast to make a judgment. WATTage varies over time, but during an interview you want as much high WATT time as possible.

Monitor WATTage with SOLER again and with question asking.  When the Other Guy is paying attention, you’ll see them lean in with good eye contact while squarely facing you with a relaxed body.  They’re getting it.  They’re tuned in.  That likely indicates high WATT processing.  They really want to understand you and are looking for key information about your fit for the job.  Follow up by asking questions of them to confirm that they have been listening.  Ask them if the qualifications you bring are what they are looking for.  You want to determine whether they are really tuned in as much as what they say.

Now, if the Other Guy is high WATT you’d better bring your best Arguments.  The Other Guy is SOLER, answering your questions, and clearly shows that persuasion frame of mind that is looking for your best shot.  Now, pitch the Arguments that support your hire.  Remember, it’s about the Other Guy, so a Strong Argument is not strong from your point of view, but from the Other Guy’s point of view.  You might be very impressed with your academic record (hey, the Dean’s List, hubba-hubba), but is the Other Guy impressed?  If you hit the Other Guy with your Strong Argument and they don’t look at you or turn away or if they respond with, “Gee, the Dean’s List is great, but we want someone with three years of experience” then you know you gave a Weak Argument.  Work harder and offer more Arguments that get SOLER and positive evaluations.

If the other Guy is low WATT, you have two options.  First and foremost, figure out why they’ve tuned you out and do something to flip the switch and make them high WATT.  Ask specific detail questions of the Other Guy.  Make them think and respond.  You’ve got to get that high WATT switch on so that you can play your Arguments.  Strong Arguments delivered to high WATT Other Guys get job offers.  Second, WATT can and will vary during an interview, especially one that lasts more than ten minutes.  Learn to ride the ebb and flow of WATTage and rather than fight the tide, throw out persuasion Cues during some low WATT moments.  Point out superficial, but relevant points like clothing and style, prestige experiences, fun and funny moments.

Your persuasion goal is to get the Other Guy high WATT, then deliver Strong Arguments to them that make them go SOLER.

Key points for using persuasion on an interview.

1.  It’s about the other Guy, not you.
2.  SOLER shows the other guy’s attention and liking.
3.  Monitor and manipulate WATTage, arguments and cues.
4.  Provide Strong Arguments from the Other Guy’s perspective.
5.  Use SOLER to assess both WATTage and evaluative reactions.

P.S. You might like this related job interviewing post.

P.P.S. Subscribe to the Healthy Influence Blog by Email.

The Humor Orientation Scale – Original 17 Item Version

Below are several descriptions of how you may communicate in general.  Please use the scale below to rate the degree to which each statement applies to your communication.

1. Strongly Disagree  2. Disagree  3. Neutral  4. Agree  5. Strongly Agree

___1. I regularly tell jokes and funny stories when in a group.

___2. People usually laugh when I tell jokes or funny stories.

___3. I have no memory for jokes or funny stories.

___4. I can be funny without having to rehearse a joke.

___5. Being funny is a natural communication style with me.

___6. I cannot tell a joke well.

___7. People seldom ask me to tell stories.

___8. My friends would say I am a funny person.

___9. People don’t seem to pay close attention when I tell a joke.

___10. Even funny jokes seem flat when I tell them.

___11. I can easily remember jokes and stories.

___12. People often ask me to tell jokes or stories.

___13. My friends would not say that I am a funny person.

___14. I don’t tell jokes or stories even when asked to.

___15. I tell stories and jokes very well.

___16. Of all the people I know, I am one of the funniest.

___17. I use humor to communicate in a variety of situations.

Scoring: After administering, recode (reverse score) items 3, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13, 14; then sum.

Reference:  Booth-Butterfield, S. & Booth-Butterfield, M. (1991). The communication of humor in everyday life: Individual differences in the use of humorous messages. Southern Communication Journal, 56, 205-218.

MBB ECA Providence Whoopee CushionMelanie and I developed and tested the Humor Orientation scale in the late 1980s and published our research and the original 17 item scale in the Southern Speech Journal, 1991.  This journal can be difficult to access, so I’m posting the scale here for public use.  While Melanie and I hold the copyright to the scale, you may use it for any noncommercial purpose.  It would be nice if you referenced our authorship.  Or Melanie will plant a Whoopee Cushion on you at a professional conference (as here in Providence, RI at the 2007 ECA meeting).

A good source that reviews the research with HO can be found in Elizabeth Graham’s chapter in the sourcebook, “Communication Research Measures II.”  Here’s a source for that book.

A couple of personal observations about HO . . .

1.  It does not measure a person’s sense of humor (Ha-ha, gee, that’s funny!).  It measures a person’s ability to produce humor and make other people go “Ha-ha, gee, that’s funny!”  Some folks miss this source versus receiver distinction and that’s a big error.  HO is a skill and if you’ve got it, you can whip it out anytime.

2.  The scale is riddled with errors, oversights, and general foolishness that other researchers like to correct by changing a few words here and there, dropping this item, and adding a new one.  May I suggest that if you feel the need to improve this scale, do the damn work needed to publish your own scale rather than mess with this one.  If you keep changing the thermometer, we’ll never agree on the temperature, okay?  Use this thermometer the way it was tested and validated.  You might consider using the original scale in your research AND then adding your smarter changes in a separate scale.

3.  People are High HO, Mo HO, Low HO, No HO, or Faux HO.  Some are just HOs, but that’s really a different concept.

4.  I think that Humor Orientation is a huge individual difference variable for cognitive function.  People often think that humor is a rather low form of human communication, when humor production is truly a complex cognitive skill.  Funny people have different brains, I think.  You could do some truly baroque experimental studies with HO.  Select Hi HOs and Lo HOs (or better still No HOs), then have each group do a variety of intricate cognitive tasks.  Hi HOs will perform very differently.  I suspect that “magneticians” who like playing with fMRIs would find Humor Orientation a productive variable.

5.  Both Melanie and I learned to be situational Hi HOs when we do presentations, whether in teaching or briefings or pitches.  Mo HOs can learn to pick their spots and act funnier than they really are.

6. My favorite joke:

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed.

The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls emergency services. He gasps ‘My friend is dead! What can I do?’

The operator says: ‘Calm down, I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.’

There is a silence, then a shot is heard.  Back on the phone, the guy says ‘OK, now what?’

Selling Gratuitous Sex with Men (easy) and Women (difficult) Simultaneously (wow)

X rated Begin obviously: Sex sells!

Yet, within the obvious, eternal, and ubiquitous, “Sex Sells!”, lurks nuance: Unless It Offends Women, Then It Doesn’t.

We’ve all seen those ads that feature voluptuous, ripe, shimmering sex wrapped sensuously around . . . a knife or a broken mirror or the slobbering toothy bite of a Doberman Pincher. Lean, long, curvy, hard, gorgeous boys and girls slithering, writhing, entwining; sliding through honey, sweat, wine, oils in frankincense; all inveigling: Take me now . . . and buy this, too.

For men, it’s all good. And make it raw, explicit, and vulgar – all the better. For women, it is often gratuitous, pandering, absurd. Sure, everyone is pretty and the picture is great, but, ewwww.

So, how do you use explicit sex in advertising and make the sale to women? Advertisers want to answer this question because sex is such a powerful means for attracting attention, but if getting attention then offends half the viewers, we’ve got a problem, Houston. In a Journal of Consumer Research article, researchers Darren Dahl, Jaideep Sengupta, and Kathleen Vohs offer an interesting solution: Relationship commitment.

Dahl et. al. (that’s kind of funny if you say it right and with no offense to Sengupta, Vohs, or Dahl!) manipulated high quality print ads that featured explicit sexuality by either including or excluding “relationship commitment” in or with the picture. The notion here is to frame the hot sex with a context – relational commitment – that many women find compelling. But, will that work? Does making hot sex into hot “committed” sex solve the problem?

Now, I’d like to show you the ads, but I can’t. First, as a man, it’s a bit dicey for me to be flashing nudie pictures in public – it’s bound to offend somebody, including my wife! And, second, the researchers employed a set of proprietary images in the research and they cannot release them. So, we’ll just have to use our imagination. And, isn’t that better anyway?

Close your eyes and think about a high quality fashion photo of a man and a woman who fit your ideal of hot, bare, and sexual that is right on the edge of dirty, vulgar, and XXX. They like each other and they are both on top which means that they are consenting without dominance. Got that image?

Half of the people in the studies saw that standard image of a highly sexualized scene (but no dominance issues with snarling dogs, crawling females, or lurking shadows). It’s the kind of image almost all men like, but that tends to annoy or offend most women – simultaneously magnetic and repellent.

The other half of people saw that same image, but now added to it is a beautiful expensive watch wrapped in a red bow with the caption: “This watch is positioned as a gift from a man to the special woman in his life.”

Women seeing the explicit ad WITH the gift, reported a mean attitude score of 4.67 compared to 3.83 for woman seeing the same ad, but WITHOUT the gift. Now, these mean scores are almost impossible to understand unless you know statistical methods, but we can translate it into the Windowpane effect size. If you do the math that score difference between 4.67 versus 3.83 translates into a d effect size of .45, a “moderate” difference, or a Windowpane of 35/65. Moderate effects tend to be obvious to a trained eye and can be spotted without a lot of statistical whiz-bangery. In our Windowpane standard example of moderate effects, that 35/65 difference means almost twice as many people in the treatment group showed the effect compared to the control group. That’s practical, functional, and realistic.

Thus, an advertiser can make a vulgar, explicit, sexual ad considerably more appealing to women in a simple way: Add to the sex a sign of relationship commitment. Make the commitment obvious, right there in the ad. And, women will like the ad more than if there was no commitment in the ad.

If you’re thinking carefully about this, it might occur to you to ask whether the “watch-as-gift” is not a sign of commitment but rather a sign of “pay for play.” He gives you an expensive watch and you give him guy-sex where you pretend to prefer words and deeds you do not prefer.

Being good persuasion scientists this research team also wanted to demonstrate the “commitment” effect another way to address such concerns. They used priming. Priming is a strategy of presenting information to make it more active in memory to affect how later information is received. For example, I could make you look more attractive by first showing pictures of unattractive people, then letting the viewers see or meet you. Alternatively, I could make you look less attractive by first showing pictures of highly attractive people, then letting the viewers see or meet you. Those first pictures “prime” or stimulate a particular pattern of thoughts and images that make later information seem different.

This persuasion team used priming in text to manipulate how women then perceived the sexy ads shown later. Women in the experiment were randomly assigned to read different stories about a man and a woman in a relationship. Here are two examples.

Prime Example 1: John and his girlfriend, Mary, have been together for two years. They are a young couple, with a lot going for them, including financial stability and great jobs. Furthermore, their friends all notice how completely devoted John is to Mary. John used to lead a bachelor lifestyle before he met Mary; but that has all changed now. Even when other women find him attractive and flirt with him, he has eyes only for his girlfriend. On weekends as well, he usually prefers to spend a large part of his time with her, rather than hanging out with his buddies. Also, Mary finds John to be very spontaneous and passionate. One of the attractive things about John is his uninhibited enjoyment of all life has to offer. John and Mary have enjoyed many good times together during their relationship. And when either of them is going through a rough time, they are always there for each other.

Now, the second story.

Prime Example 2: John and his girlfriend, Mary, have been together for two years. They are a young couple, with a lot going for them, including financial stability and great jobs. However, their friends all notice that John is not completely devoted to Mary. John used to lead a bachelor lifestyle before he met Mary; that has not totally changed. Even now, when other women find him attractive and flirt with him, he is inclined to stray. On weekends as well, he usually prefers to spend a large part of his time hanging out with his buddies, rather than with his girlfriend. However Mary finds John to be very spontaneous and passionate. One of the attractive things about John is his uninhibited enjoyment of all life has to offer. John and Mary have enjoyed many good times together during their relationship. But John isn’t always there for Mary when she is going through a rough time.

Focus here. Women read just one of these stories, not both. The first clearly demonstrates a committed relationship between John and Mary, the second just as clearly demonstrates a much more fluid, fragmented, and fleeting relationship. Thus, some women are primed to think about relationships between men and women as “committed,” while others are primed to think about relationships as “uncommitted.”

All women were then exposed to the same explicitly sexual ad WITHOUT the gift and asked to express their attitude toward it. According to priming theory, women who read the “committed” prime for John and Mary should see the ad with a more favorable mindset, that men love women and are committed, faithful, and reliable relationship partners. Thus, these primed women should see the ad as, yeah, kinda vulgar, but within the loving bonds of a committed relationship. They should like the ad. By contrast, the women reading the “uncommitted” prime should have a negative mindset, that men are unfaithful, untrustworthy relationship rats and respond to the ad accordingly.

And, that’s what the researchers found. Women primed with the “committed” story rated their attitude toward the ad at 3.72 compared to 2.44 for women who read the “uncommitted” story. Dahl, et. al., also had a control group of women who just saw the ad without reading any priming story and their score was 3.17. Once again we’re dealing with abstract numbers of 3.72, 3.17, and 2.44 and that’s hard to interpret, so we’ll convert them into that Windowpane effect again. Compared to the control group, the “commitment” prime produced a d effect of .89 which is positive and large while the “uncommitted” prime produced a d of -.62 which is negative and moderate. And, if you compare between the positive and negative primes (+.89 versus -.62) you get a huge difference in responding.

Let’s add it all up. Think of those vulgar ads you see all the time, the ones that both attract your attention (hot naked bodies) but repel your judgment (who’d do THAT?). If the context of viewing that image also includes a clear sense of “relationship commitment” you will change. You will show a positive response to the ad that under other conditions would annoy you.

And, who says persuasion research isn’t interesting?


There’s more to the story than I reported here.  If you want to read more about it, check the source.  It’s an excellent piece of persuasion science.

Sex in Advertising: Gender Differences and the Role of Relationship Commitment by Darren W. Dahl, Jaideep Sengupta, and Kathleen D. Vohs, the Journal of Consumer Research, 2009.

Faith-Based Persuasion in Afghanistan

Hill and Haq in AfghanistanFaith, war, and social norms as arguments are not usual fare for persuasion, but today we consider how these unusual elements can be practical persuasion tactics in a news story from Afghanistan.  The story describes the relationship between Captain James Hill, a Christian Army officer fighting in Afghanistan, and his Afghan counterpart, Colonel Abdul Haq, a Muslim mullah, as they work to persuade Afghan soldiers and citizens to shun the Taliban.

A key part of the persuasion battle revolves around religion.  The Taliban visit villages and give speeches attacking the Godless Americans and their invasion of Afghanistan and their goal to remove Islam from the people.  Captain Hill aims at counter-arguing.  Hill employs some fairly standard tactics.  Consider this.

To that end, the captain supplies the army with prayer rugs to give out in villages.

But he also uses what I think is a classic example of Central Route persuasion.

He requisitioned loudspeakers for 30 bases and checkpoints so locals can hear soldiers being called to prayer. And he spends long hours encouraging Afghan soldiers, particularly Lt. Col. Haq, to make a greater display of their faith.

In other words Hill is providing strong arguments (the faith and action of Muslim soldiers fighting alongside Americans) to Afghan civilians for them to consider and compare against arguments from Taliban insurgents who claim that Americans are trying to drive Islam out of Afghanistan and bring back Communism.

Typically when a persuader uses the actions of people to influence others, it is a social norm tactic (when others are doing it, you should too) delivered to low WATT processors ambling along the peripheral route.  But, in this case, the social behavior of the soldiers is instead an argument – crucial information that bears on the central merits of the attitude.  Hey, the Taliban claim that Americans are Godless and trying to drive Islam out of Afghanistan, so why are the Americans handing out prayer rugs and broadcasting the daily prayers of Afghan soldiers?

This is also apparently not just a one-man mission for Captain Hill alone, but rather is a systematic campaign on his part.  He aims at all the villages he can reach in conflict areas and is not just a kind hearted GI handing out chocolate bars to the kids.

What I find interesting about this action is the unusual application of persuasion theory.  Normally war is about power, not persuasion, but in this war, power is trumped by religion and faith.  That requires a more rational approach, in other words, persuasion.  Further, the “social norm” or Comparison cue is usually understood and applied as a low WATT tactic, but here it is clearly an argument proving once again that persuasion variables must always be understood by how they function, not how they appear.

It’s also fun, as always, to read comments to the story.  As of this writing many of them focus on God versus Evolution; or It’s the “war on terror” versus No, Its The War on Terror; and Can’t You Read, You Fool?  A small minority focus on the content of the story and what’s actually reported.  Commentors clearly come to news with bias and have trouble taking a slightly more objective approach to it.

Persuasion theory is alive!!!

Fond Food Memories

I eat to live, but I also live to eat and have enjoyed many of the best times of my life over white linen or chipped formica.  If you click on the “Sincerity” category you can find extended blogs posts on specific events.  In this post, you’ll find a potpourri of food memories.

Let’s start with the greatest cheeseburger in the United States.  The honor goes to Joan Murphy’s Drive In located in Marshall, Missouri home for many of my mother’s people.  My grandmother, Nell, took me here as a boy in the early 1950s and I’ve been coming back, often with my brother Rick and now with him and his sons, Brett and Evan.

The Brothers at Joan Murphy's Marshall MO

We’ll be back in Marshall later this year for my mom’s retirement dinner and I plan to enjoy the only thing that tastes better than a Joan Murphy’s cheeseburger:  a Joan Murphy’s cheeseburger paid for by Evan!

Now, to Savannah, Georgia and one of our favorites places, Elizabeth’s.  Elizabeths is in a large family home located in a lovely Southern neighborhood a couple of miles from the riverfront.  They serve a fabulous mix of old South dishes with nouvelle twists.  And, the service is great.  The decor is goregous.  Simply one of the best dining experiences ever.

Steve and Melanie at Elizabeth's Savannah GA

Finally, some shots from Montreal, Canada, perhaps the best eating town in the Americas.  We’ll start with Europea where I had the tasting menu that night.

Steve at Europea Montreal Canada

Anything happens to Melanie, I’m marrying the chef!

But, then we went to Au Pied Du Cuchon (the Pig’s Foot) in an older Montreal neighborhood.  Anything happens to Melanie and I’m marrying everyone affiliated with this restaurant.  Here’s the exterior with Melanie.

Melanie in front of Au Pied Du Cuchon Montreal

And, now me anticipating a seafood platter for two that barely survived one.

Steve at Au Pied Du Cuchon Montreal

We were having so much fun after the appetizers that we forgot to take more pictures.

The Perils of Small Effects Science for Persuasion

Today the world learns that calorie restricted diets help monkeys live longer lives.  You can see a current lineup of news sources and how they are covering this story and see that folks generally view this as important news for humans living longer and healthier lives.  You can certainly find cautionary quotes in some articles about replication, extension to humans, practical barriers, still-a-long-way-to-a-pill notations, but generally, it’s all good.

Baboon Eating CarrotMonkeys Eating Popsicles

Except it isn’t.  This is lousy news and makes things worse for most people while making it better for people who write grants.  To borrow from Denise Richards:  It’s complicated.  But understandable.

1.  This new report published in Science shows another example of how seriously restricting an organism’s daily calorie intake (about 30% less than normal), extends life and improves health.  The first demonstration of this effect occurred in 1935 and has since been studied in bugs, yeasts, rats, and monkeys.  The effect holds across these diverse species.  At a detailed level researchers find exquisite changes in DNA machinery in these restricted calories critters, meaning that a large behavior like diet can affect the most delicate and tiny element of biological functioning.  So, we have an effect at a large level of analysis (eat less, live longer), across many species, and a plausible biological mechanism, plus much of this work is experimental, meaning we’ve got great control over the variables.  Hubba-hubba.

2.  Consider the specific outcomes from this latest monkey study.  The University of Wisconsin researchers randomly assigned 38 adult monkeys to a “free range” diet, meaning the monkeys ate as much as they wanted while another 38 monkeys got the “restricted calorie” diet.  This was done in a monkey lab so these critters were not running across the savannah, but living in a carefully controlled setting.  We know what they ate.

The researchers tracked these 76 monkeys for over 10 years and that’s a long time in monkey years (average life span is 27 years).  Let’s look at a windowpane illustration of the outcome after 10 years.  We have two groups (treatment versus control) and two outcomes (alive or dead).  It looks like this.













If you do an appropriate test of statistical significance, in this case a chi-square, you derive a value of 5.68, with a p of less than .017, and a w effect size of .27.  Since these monkeys were apparently randomized to condition (the restricted calorie treatment or control), tests of statistical significance are warranted.  You’ll see a lot of quantitative voodoo with epi observational studies where there is no randomization of anything except the sequence of items which is the Mark of the Beast by my training, so we’re on good scientific footing here because this is a true experiment.

However, while we can remove sampling error as a rival explanation for the outcome differences, consider that outcome.  Nearly 3 times (14/5) as many monkeys in the control condition died compared to the treatment condition.  That sounds like a lot, but please note the effect size estimate, the w, of .27.  That’s a Small Windowpane effect, roughly equivalent to a d of .20 or an r of .10.  Here’s how “small” it is.  If instead of 5 treatment monkeys dying, it had been 7 monkeys, the test of statistical significance would have failed to reach the conventional .05 probability level.  And that would have still been a 2 to 1 ratio (14/7).

This outcome looks marvelous when you start playing the guitar with ratios, but when you get down to the details, the effect just barely exceeds random variation.  And this is with a highly controlled experimental study where we know exactly what each monkey is getting and we can measure with great precision all the variables we study.  And, consider, too, that this is a 30% reduction in normal calorie intake every day of life for every monkey in the treatment group.  That is a huge change in normal behavior, just to obtain an effect that can be made to look large or beneficial or important, but that is actually just barely detectable over random variation.

3.  Consider, now, my problem as a persuasion campaign guy trying to mount an intervention aimed at influencing people to eat 30% fewer calories every day for the rest of their lives.  And, this 30% reduction is not aimed at their current consumption level which is way too high to begin with.  It’s aimed at the “normal” or “average” level which is about 2,200 calories for a normal weight adult.  Thus, I’m gonna tell people who are eating 3,000 calories or more a day (and are overweight or obese as a result), that they need to get down to 1,200 calories a day.  You’ll live LONGER because the monkey science says so.  It’s experimental.  It’s replicated.  It’s cross-species.  It’s diddles your DNA.  It’s Science!

PT BarnumAnd, for what real effect?  A possible gain in life span.  By one reasonable estimate (PDF), the standard deviation for life expectancy is about 15 years.  With a small of effect of .2 we are talking about an average expected gain in life of 3 years.  Thus, if you cut down to 1,800 calories a day for your entire life, you can expect to live on average 3 more years.

I’ll need to bring back P.T. Barnum from the dead to sell that proposition.

4.  Hey, instead of people having to do the heavy lifting of big calorie restriction, maybe we can make a pill that creates the same effect.  Now, that’s a persuasion proposition of an entirely different color.  Instead of poor old me having to design and run an intervention that tries to convince people to eat 1,200 calories a day, all I have to do is find the pill, get a patent that kills any potential competitor, unleash a media ad campaign, and rake in the big bucks.  But, remember, to achieve this gain, you have to take this pill your entire life.  That might cost some money.  And, of course, there’s no real serious chance of side effects like an erection lasting longer than four hours, vaginal dryness, wretching, runs, liver damage, or birth defects since you’re taking a pill that will affect the molecular functioning of your DNA!?!

5.  There is great science in this line of research.  Serious people are working seriously and have reasonable results to pursue.  For science.  Not for real life.  The newspaper buzz on this science is, to put it mildly, demented, irrational, and absurd.  And, the scientific community is playing along with the delusion, too.  The summary story in Science that describes this report puts lipstick on the pig.  Nowhere does anyone raise any of the points a lightweight persuasion “social scientist” like me makes.  And, the points I make are valid.

This is good science.

It is bad for persuasion.

It is bad for the general population.

It is good for journalists and scientists.

It is normal life.

P.S. The pictures are inflammatory.  The primate eating the carrot is not a monkey, but a baboon.  The monkeys eating the popsicles are clearly not experimental participants.  And, calorie control is not achieved by the type of food (carrots versus popsicles) but rather by the total number of calories in the yummy monkey chow.  And, that’s a cartoon image of P.T. Barnum, not a photo, but it is accurate.

P.P.S.  Don’t get confused here.  This is good science, but the reporting and PR spin on it is Very Bad.  I strongly support the science and would recommend funding for this line of research if I was on a grant committee or the Branch Chief evaluating my own scientists’ proposals.  I don’t want the results bandied about in the New York Times as if journalists know the difference between baboons and monkeys or between telomeres and mallomars.  They don’t, but they offer the prestige of public discussion and some scientists like that more than peer review.  Cassandra has spoken!

Wheeling Eats with Melanie and Sybil

Just back from a quick trip to Wheeling WV to visit my sweet wife while she teaches an off-campus graduate course.  I missed her, so we got together over white linen.  And, the next day, I had lunch with a former student, colleague, and now, friend, Sybil.  Much to blog on here, after feeding and loving up little Zeus who spent twenty four hours home alone.

Melanie and I ate dinner over white linen at the Ihlenfeld Dining Room in the Oglebay Resort and Conference Center.  Oglebay is set in a gorgeous location, up in a slight elevation from the river in Wheeling, on a series of small rolling mountains.  It is a tree crowded location with various resort facilities, golf courses, stables, and other resort treats nestled in the woods and hills.  The Resort is a hidden treasure of West Virginia.  And, if you like golf with hills and valleys, you need to shoot Oglebay.

Vista Shot of Oglebay

But, tonight was the Dining Room which has been recently and beautifully redesigned and decorated.  The Room overlooks a fabulous scene of hills and woods with a beautiful lake nestled in view.  Every seat in the Room has that view, plus the room has been arranged as a step down series of three staggered rows of tables so that you can look over other guests rather than through them at the view.

And, the food’s pretty good, too.

Steve with Creamed Spinach at Ihlenfeld
I had a wild mushroom cream soup, house salad, then rotissiere chicken with creamed spinach.  The mushroom soup was simply to die for.  Buttery, creamy, thick like gravy with at least two hundred and six pounds of chopping and slivered mushrooms.  We did not take a shot of it because we ate it so fast, I forgot.  But the creamed spinach (pictured above) was in the same Wow! category as the soup, so you get a taste of the flavor we experienced with the soup in the spinach shot.  Man, that was good spinach.  Hey, and the chicken was great too.  Moist, nicely seasoned with herbs and a fair amount of garlic that didn’t really finish like garlic.  Great touch from the chef.  And, this is just the kind of place the Food Police want to attack with required menus bearing calorie counts adorned with skull and crossbones warnings.

I can unreservedly recommend both the Resort and Ihlenfeld Dining Room.  If you’re in the Wheeling area, it would be worth a day and night’s visit just for the view, the air, the scene, and the food.

The next day, on Melanie’s recommendation, I met my friend, student, and colleague, Sybil Ott at Figaretti’s for lunch.

Exterior of Figaretti's

Figaretti’s is a quiet, comfortable Mom and Pop, red (versus white) Italian place.  The clientele is older with abundant evidence of family and old friend tables.  Frank Sinatra croons perpetually from his Greatest Hits CD.  And nice pictures on the wall.  It’s not a big place, and dark with heavy wood paneling and low lighting.  Relaxing.  Plus they employ a friendly and helpful wait staff.  Ashley, our server, took this shot of Sybil and me.
Sybil and Steve at Figaretti's
Sybil and I go back a ways.  I met her in the mid 1990s when she was an undergrad taking my advanced persuasion course.  She took her bachelor’s from the Communication department, then stayed for her Masters.  As she was finishing her degrees, I moved over to the Federal government to take over the Health Communication Research Branch (HCRB) in the CDC.  Sybil became on of my first hires.  And, she liked the Fed so much she stayed after I left.  She’s now an administrative assistant in the Department of Justice.

When I miss professoring it’s because of people like Sybil.  She’s bright, practical, responsible, self-reliant without being a prima donna, friendly, cooperative, and very tactical – she knows how to get things done.  She’s smart enough to think conceptually, but skilled enough to translate theory into action.  One of my favorite work experiences occurred with Sybil when we sat down and worked out a complicated research and action plan for a multi-year Fed intervention.  We just found an empty workroom with a whiteboard and wrote it out as a storyboard, like shooting a movie.  I’d never done this with her before and she immediately got the scheme, then ran the project for the next several years and we never had to go over the plan again.  Strong talent with Sybil and if you are a taxpayer you should be pleased to know that she’s working for you.  I know I am.

It’s a joy to have a good meal with a friend.

Do the Right Thing with Persuasion

Two interesting health stories today with a strong persuasion link.  Carl Bialak has a nice essay on the relationship between caloric information on restaurant menus and eating.  The second looks at companies that require various health actions from their employees as part of the health insurance coverage.  At first glance most readers would see these as straight health stories, but the main point of each is not health, but rather persuasion about health and what works, how it works, and how it should be done.

I know and have worked with some of the people quoted in these stories from my work as both a professor and a Federal administrator on various health and safety projects.  Thus, this is both personal and professional for me, so all those biases operate on my thoughts and opinions here.

After spending over 20 years working all sides of the fence and the argument and talking out of all sides of my mouth, I am surely disgusted with the whole thing.  Most often, the intervention will at best have small positive effect, if any effect at all.  The Bialak article on calorie counting menus does a good job of addressing this.  The world clearly has an obesity problem and to fight for detailed menus as one means of reducing fat butts is an idea only a zealot can embrace.

From the perspective of a persuasion campaigner, interventions like this drive me insane because any persuasion campaign is hard to do, much less do well, and to go through all the effort a campaign requires just to add some numbers and words to a menu, is awful practice.  It reminds me of comparisons to bad generals in wartime who kill thousands of their soldiers to take an insignificant hill.  It’s a waste of resources and it doesn’t win the war.  Just makes a general look busy.

What’s worse is that the advocates involved are truly correct in their observations that there is a problem and that their intervention will likely have impact.  But, they lack proportion.  As I was leaving NIOSH in 2002, I encountered a locust eating safety zealot who inveigled me to back an intervention for . . . properly inflated tires.  Equipping all wheels with special tire valves that alert for low pressure could save at least 100 American lives a year.  Menus with calorie counts would probably have even less expected effect and given the poor science behind the original risk estimates, it’s more likely nothing good will occur.

My concern with the second article on mandatory health actions for employees rests on different issues.  Again as a persuasion campaign guy, I have to note these kind of programs operate under the persuasion advice of that old school Chicago philosopher who asserted, “You can get farther with a kind word and a gun than you can get with either alone.”  That would be the notorious gangster, Al Capone.  Employers who point guns at employees also tend to add kind words to the campaign to encourage, motivate, stimulate “free” choice.  The combination for persuasion is often awful.  The persuasion part, that motivating free choice, gets swallowed up with the threats of job loss.  (That’s not to say that power and persuasion never help each other, but rather to note that they can work against each other sometimes, like here.)  And, I also see the same proportion problems.  Most of these programs produce small positive effects in health at best, but require significant resources to run.

Persuasion campaigns can produce practical behavior change, but they always cost something to do.  You always need to make sure you are targeting the “right” behavior or else you are just a zealot and not a scientist or even a bureaucrat.

A Kitten Demonstration of Persuasion

Meet Zeus, new kit of the house and both inspiration and assistant for today’s post.

Zeus with Dramatic Pose
As you can see Zeus already has a flair for the dramatic pose and the attitude of a runway model.  Perhaps, Zoolander, Zooey for short, would be a better name?

Zeus enjoys many toys and games as a kitten – but of course to a kitten life itself is merely a game and a toy – but now he prefers to punish a turkey feather.

Zeus Spies Mr. Turkey Feather
While we were playing Zeus demonstrated an interesting observation about doing persuasion.  Actually, he inspired a metaphor with his dramatic fights to the death with Mr. Turkey Feather.  Look closely at this.
Zeus in Motion after Mr. Turkey Feather

Note Zeus’s eyes.  While this looks a snap of random cat eye fixation, in this case, the eye fixation is not random.  Young Zeus only attacks the tip of Mr. Turkey Feather.  When he loses sight of the tip, but not the feather, he thinks it is gone.  Much like a human infant in the first Piagetian stage of development, Zeus is still learning and right now incapable of feats of cunning and intelligence older cats possess.

But Zeus can also be read as a metaphor for persuasion.  He is the receiver, the target, the thing with the TACT, a source (me, just right of camera) wants to change.  My hand holding and manipulating Mr. Turkey Feather is the persuasion play aimed at changing the way Zeus thinks, feels, and most importantly, acts.

Zeus does not see the entire feather (the persuasion play), but only sees the tip which drives him wild with mad kit killer fever.  As long as my play with Mr. Turkey Feather keeps the tip in front of Zeus, my sweet new kit will run himself ragged until he is hungry and exhausted.  Then a quick snack and a long nap for Zeus and I’ve attained my persuasion goal:  Enough free time to write this post!

And that is a visual demonstration of how persuasion works.  You want to create a persuasion play that hides in plain sight, but presents a “tip” that moves your target when you want the target to go.  Zeus “sees” the feather, but doesn’t (yet) realize the feather and my hand holding it makes the tip so interesting.  Soon he’ll figure out my persuasion play and instead of falling for the tip, he’ll just jump at my face!  Which is what people do when your persuasion plays fail.  (Remember the Rules:  If you can’t succeed, don’t try!).

And you thought kits were only good for props!

Zeus and Steve Wave Goodbye

Stay tuned for the continuing persuasion adventures of Zeus, the persuasion kit!

Who Do You Trust? (with update at end of post)

Exterior of Washington Post buildingToday I stumbled into a disconcerting story about the Washington Post.  They are using their journalistic connections with various shakers and movers in the Obama adminstration and Congress to setup meetings between said shakers and movers and those who desire access to them – for a price ranging between $25,000 and $250,000 per meeting.

Here’s a description from the WP offer:

“Offered at $25,000 per sponsor, per Salon. Maximum of two sponsors per Salon. Underwriters’ CEO or Executive Director participates in the discussion. Underwriters appreciatively acknowledged in printed invitations and at the dinner. Annual series sponsorship of 11 Salons offered at $250,000″

So, if you pay WP $25,000, you can have an upclose and personal dinner with a very powerful person, all compliments of the brokering services of the Washington Post.  I’ll quote Mike Allen on this:

The offer — which essentially turns a news organization into a facilitator for private lobbyist-official encounters — is a new sign of the lengths to which news organizations will go to find revenue at a time when most newspapers are struggling for survival.

This astonishes me.  While news sources often do a less than competent job in reporting at least I’ve assumed that they were independent of the people and stories they reported on.  It now appears that the Post thinks it can “independently” report on people and then take money from third parties to arrange private meetings between the third parties and the people the WP covers.  The tangled bias here is so obvious – how can you honestly report on people when you are also selling access to them – that it renders me speechless, but not wordless.

Has this been going on for some time and I’ve not known it?  Do other media sources do this?  Will Lassie rescue Timmy from the well?

The persuasion angle on this is that I often rely upon the credibility of sources like the Washington Post for information about persuasion concepts.  If, for example, I find an interesting story in the WP about how health care advocates are trying to influence Senators – oh wait, I’ve already done this – I assume the WP is an honest broker in its reporting of the story.  But, if the WP is also using its connections to sell meetings between advocates and Senators as this report discloses, then what can I really believe in the report?

UPDATE:  Howard Kurtz of the WP reports that the paper no longer plans to offer this program.  Importantly, however, the WP admits that such planning was in development and had at least gotten to the stage of printing potential offers for public distribution.  Apparently, a flier got leaked and the leak may have been responsible for the decision to drop the program, for now, rather than concerns about credibility and integrity.  I still don’t trust the WP.

UPDATE UPDATE:  Howard Kurtz again reports on the continuing confusion over this program.  He works for the WP and he’s not sure what’s going on still.