Monthly Archives: January 2010

the Queen of Tomorrow and Airport Security

Hey, I warned you about this a long time ago.  Now, they’re working on this for airport security.  See, they’re testing out technologies that would display a particular message aimed at a particular person or kind of person, then observe that person’s response to tailor a following response.  Like a SWAT team descending upon them.

Ignore the silly headline in the news report and focus on some of the technology ideas people are pursuing to increase the effectiveness of screening passengers at airports, and, of course, other public transportation centers.  The keys here are:   1. inventing the equipment that is small enough, fast enough, accurate enough, and cheap enough, and 2. apply known principles of cognition, psychology, and persuasion.

Queen of Tomorrow Erte

In my Queen of Tomorrow metaphor, I consider a fantasy person who has figured out how to make attractive sensory devices for vision or hearing that allow her to monitor the wearer and also communicate messages at a subliminal level.  Imagine a pair of cool sunglasses that also function like a fighter pilot “heads up” display.  Now, imagine you are wearing her iEye device while shopping.  A sensor detects your cool fighter pilot glasses and shoots a coupon message to your heads up display for a product on the shelf.  When you take it through the check out, another sensor notes the coupon message in your iEye and gives you the discount.

The trick here is that the Queen of Tomorrow, a tricky chick who knows the Laws – no stinkin’ Rules for her – also embeds subliminal messages in your iEye.  “The Queen and I Are One” flashes constantly just below your awareness and you feel good about yourself, but also find yourself voting for Her in every election.  While this is just my fantasy, the technology is advancing toward this every day as I noted in an earlier post.

Transportation security is looking into this intersection of technology and persuasion for its own uses.  The scheme here is promising.  Display messages that only a terrorist would recognize (think about all those tattoos and gang signs you’ve seen in those prison reality TV shows then generalize out).  Then scan faces to see which ones react to the symbols.  Call SWAT.

It Could Work - Wilder and Boyle in Frankenstein

In the immortal words of Gene Wilder in “Young Frankenstein,” This Could Work!  You just need to develop a technology that is fast enough, accurate enough, small enough, and cheap enough.  After that, we’re just falling off the persuasion log.

Now, of course, there are interesting Big Brother concerns here and we ain’t talking ’bout no fool TV shows.  We’re going back to the future and “1984″ with George Orwell’s dystopic vision of a government apocalypse.  It’s hard for me to imagine the technology ever getting good enough for the Queen of Tomorrow fantasy, but if a society ever decided to jump off the cliff like Germany did in 1933 with Adolf Hitler, my opinion would change faster than a subliminal message.  Willing adoption of loyalty iEyes in a postmodern society may not be a life worth living.

Fixing Intel . . . with Persuasion

As always with this topic, let me preface my remarks with the cogent observation that I have no military experience or training beyond talking with guys who do, reading some books, and playing computer games.  My content ignorance is huge.  I am a dilettante or a fool and maybe both.  Please bear this in mind.

Having just read “Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan” as authored by Major General Michael T. Flynn, Captain Matt Pottinger, and Paul D. Batchelor, I have one large reaction.  I read this as a rationale for an applied persuasion approach.  This is what people do when running an election campaign for political office or starting up a new product line at Coke or diffusing an innovation through an industry or getting community wide behavior change on health or safety.  The report is also entirely consistent with everything I read that declaims on COIN which essentially devolves to my Rule:

It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid.

I suspect that readers with a background in communication campaigns and interventions whether in politics, government, business, unions, whatever, react in a similar fashion as I.  We all have a different lingo, but everything revolves around watching the Other Guys and doing something other than Kinetics to change Them.

The good news in this observation (assuming it has any validity – recall my confession at the top of this post) is that this activity is well understood, principled, doable, provable, testable, countable, actionable, shootfire, just plain able.  The bad news is that most of the guys who know this are like me – untrained and inexperienced in the military arts and sciences.

Somebody in the Pentagon needs to go headhunting to find these guys instead of waiting for them to show up at the nearest Recruiting Station.  This is just the newest version of the game, Star Search, except you’re not looking for people who look good in bathing suits with marginal talent in baton twirling or ventriloquism.  Your guys are Out There and know how to Hit The Ground Running.  You can find them.

Look, if you’ve been doing this since 2002 and MGs are writing reports like this, you might want a bigger tent.

Just a thought . . . from a confessed dilettante, fool, or both.

Name Calling on the Census

NPR alerts us to the danger:  The government is calling some folks, “Negro!”  Officially.  On official forms.  Negro!  Here’s a shot from the actual, official form.

Census Race


The Census guys try to justify this stick in the NPR eye with a lame excuse:  Some older American citizens prefer to identify themselves with that descriptor rather than more contemporary terms like “African-American” or even “black.”

As if in a democracy a government has to be responsive to the desires and preferences of all citizens.  The nerve.  Just because a small group of old fuddy-duddies (is that term NPR-speak?) prefers an old label, the government should use it?  How uncool.  How unNPR.  NPR would never let people think like this, much less talk like this.

And, to prove it, NPR solicits the expert evaluation from several non-Negro people who call themselves – correctly – a contemporary approved term and who find the Census form outrageous, bodacious, a source of bad vibrations.

Please, think about this everyone.  The Census used this language on the 2000 Census form.  Congress did not riot.  People did not take to the streets.  In preparing for the 2010 census, the Census department has conducted numerous public hearings on its forms so that all Americans could comment, complain, and carp.  Congress has seen all the forms and had Congress disapproved of a comma, colon, or color term, would have cut the Census budget to zero.

The NPR response is a biased, self-serving perspective that fundamentally misunderstands the democratic process and clearly has little respect for it.  The American fabric is the quilt of many colors, unique in its range, size, and depth in human history.  Our way of government is to have a seat at the table for all citizens and their factions and have them work it out under rules.  That’s how the Census arrived at this form.  We want all citizens to respond to the Census form because those counts are a fundamental method for our democracy.

Apparently NPR, like other advocacy groups, wants to play by a different set of rules.  Smarter rules.  Wiser rules.  Rules that attract a bigger audience, perhaps.  But, certainly not the rules of our democracy.

All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.

It’s about (All) the Other Guys, Stupid (In A Democracy).

Skateboards, Hot Chicks, and Performance

Skateboard Guy GirlIt’s not easy being a guy especially when attractive women are on the scene.  Sure, laugh about it.  But, guys can’t help it.

Ronay and von Hippel recruited skateboarding males (average age 21 with a range of 18 to 35) who were paid about $15 to attempt easy and difficult tricks.  The men were randomly assigned to either Control or Treatment.  In the Control condition each guy tried an easy trick 10 times and a difficult trick 10 times.  They then took a scheduled break and repeated the process of 10 each at easy and difficult tricks while a male experimenter observed them.

In the Treatment condition, the men did the same activity, but after the scheduled break, an attractive female experimenter joined the scene and observed the men as they attempted the second series of 10 easy and difficult tricks.  That’s it.  That’s the Special Sauce, the New New Thing, an attractive female experimenter observing the scene.  (How attractive was she?  Before this experiment 20 different males of the same age ranged rated a photo of the female experimenter and scored her as a 6 on a 7 point scale.  The experimenters also noted that the woman received many positive comments from the skateboarders and many requests for her phone number.  In other words, she was pretty hot.)

After the experiment, regardless of Control or Treatment, all the skateboarders gave a saliva sample so that the experimenters could determine their testosterone levels.  Guys in the Control condition (who never saw the attractive female experimenter) had a mean testosterone level of 212.88 pmol/L while guys in the Treatment condition had a mean score of 295.95.  This is a moderate Windowpane effect of 35/65.  Stated another way, you’d have no trouble identifying the guys who’d been around the attractive female.

The experimenters also recorded the skateboarding tricks and coded each attempt as Successful, Aborted, or Failed.  Compared to the Control men, Treatment guys doing tricks in front of the attractive female, had more Successes (very large Windowpane 15/85 effect), more Failures (large Windowpane effect of 25/75), and fewer Aborts (very large Windowpane effect of 15/85).

Now, you don’t have to be a Persuasion Wizard to know that physically attractive people, female or male, are compelling in our society.  This study demonstrates that for men, the presence of an attractive woman has a strong biological effect and that change can motivate a behavior like increased risk taking.  Is it any wonder then that attractive people are also useful for persuasion?  And, it is a surprise that attractiveness most often functions as a persuasion Cue rather than an Argument?  When your body is talking to you, you don’t need any other messages.

P.S. This study is published in the first issue of a new social psychology journal, Social Psychological Personality Science.  I’ve not been able to locate an online abstract for the paper and only have my print issue.  It does exist and I’m not making this up.  Here’s the citation if you want to pursue it further.

Ronay, R. & von Hippel, W. (2010). The presence of an attractive woman elevates testosterone and physical risk-taking in young men. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1, 57-64.

You Say Placebo, I Say Persuasion

Placebo Persuasion PillA meta analysis from the Journal of the American Medical Association on the effectiveness of antidepressants is making the news.  This research indicates that these drugs are helpful in people with major illnesses, but in less severe instances, the effect is not different from a placebo.  The interesting persuasion angle here is what physicians should be doing with those less severe cases.

A lot of research indicates that a placebo, commonly understood as a “sugar” pill with no proven pharmacological efficacy, can nonetheless cause significant, practical improvements in peoples lives.  Of course, the trick here is that the receiver cannot know this is a placebo.  It’s up to the physician to enact a performance of diagnosis and prescription that looks to the receiver like the real deal while in reality, it is not.

Technically, physicians would call this a professional activity of prescribing a course of treatment that will truly help the receiver, but not in the way the receiver expects it.  I’d call that persuasion.  To produce a change in you I present you with communication that changes your beliefs, expectations, and behavior, but not with a pill’s effect, but with my persuasion.  I just use the pill along with my white lab coat, sterile office, and diplomas on the wall to establish credibility.

While I understand the effect of a placebo and see its value, I’m also trying to point to an interesting dynamic tension here.  Should physicians use persuasion placebos?  Sure, it works, but what happens when patients discover the trick?  Will it undermine future recommendations?  Will patients feel less trust?

It’s a horny dilemma, isn’t it?  The placebo works as a persuasion play, but physicians have to trade on their credibility to mislead people with the sugar pill.

COIN is the Second Rule of Persuasion

CSM Michael HallIt’s About the Other Guy, Stupid is the second Rule of Persuasion.  And it is apparently another way of saying COIN, at least according to Command Sergeant Major Michael Hall.  His video is only 1:33 and while he uses different words, it all comes to the same end.

Hall provides another, bad, illustration of the Second Rule (and the Third:  All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere) with a blog entry on his experience in Afghanistan.  Let me quote:

Before the success in Eastern Afghanistan, we had such a failure in another Afghan province.

I won’t mention where it happened; I will say that things had been going relatively well.

But our troops were having a hard time maneuvering their large vehicles down one tree-lined road. To improve their mobility, and ostensibly to make themselves a bit safer, they cut the trees down.

What the troops didn’t know – they hadn’t bothered to ask – is that they’d cut down fruit trees. Many of the locals saw their livelihoods destroyed when the trees fell. Rather than gain their support, our troops alienated a village. It wasn’t long before the trees were replaced by roadside bombs.

Persuasion and COIN may be the two sides of a coin.  Think about it.

Farewell for Martin Fishbein

Martin Fishbein has passed away at age 73.  He is survived by his wife since 1959, Debbie Fishbein.

Beyond his major and enduring research legacy in persuasion and behavior change, Marty was a charming, open, and tolerant man.  I had the opportunity to work with him in several professional settings and found him admirable and likable as both a colleague and a man.  My own work has obviously benefited from reading his research.

I offer his family, friends, and colleagues my prayers and sympathies.  He lived a life worth living.


iPhone Apps for Democracy! A Cascade Analysis

VOA PNN logoMatt Armstrong at MountainRunner reports a new iPhone app that will allow users in Iran to up and download information to the Voice of America’s Persian News Network.  If you are not up to speed on this issue the value of the new app is that it opens a new and safer pipeline of information in and out of Iran.  The app will permit more Iranians (and anyone else interested in this information) access to more information that is not controlled by the Iranian government.

My persuasion analysis of this gives high marks for opening a new channel, thus starting a new Cascade.  The app is clearly a vehicle for creating Exposure and Reception.  My hope and recommendation is that VOA and any allies also think about downstream stages of Processing, Response, and Behavior Change with this app.  I suspect that people who download the app and use it are quite different receivers compared to people who do not download the app, but still seek nongovernmental controlled news.  I know that VOA has limitations on what it can do with information, but anything it or its supporters can do to focus on the specific needs of app users would be a good persuasion play.

I also imagine that there are going to be huge security concerns on the part of Iranian app users.  “Gee, here’s a new app from America that will give me access to information my government says is bad.  Sure, no one can trace me using it.  Sure, my government won’t question me if they find the app on my phone.  Sure, I can use this like Facebook and feel safe!”  VOA might consider running broadcasts on app security.

And, as a purely tangential observation, we need to use the word, Propaganda, to apply to both the Iranian and US government’s, don’t we?

AOL, TimeWarner, and Dissonance

AOL Time Warner MergerOver lunch I flipped on the TV and clicked into CNBC roundtable discussing an admission of failure from the former chairman at TimeWarner concerning the disastrous merger with AOL at the top of the Tech Bubble in 2000.  One of the participants laughed about this, noting that it took nearly 10 years to admit the mistake and another followed up by asking why people rarely admit they are wrong.

A great persuasion explanation in this case comes from Dissonance Theory.  Briefly this theory describes how suffering increases your commitment rather than causing you to break the commitment (which is what Reinforcement Theory and common sense predicts).  When we commit to a decision, position, action, attitude, policy and on and on, that commitment can cause us to accept all manner of abuse, discrepancy, and surprise.  Indeed the more abuse we suffer, the stronger our commitment becomes.  Typically we are most likely to fall prey to this dissonance effect when the commitment involves our self concept.

In this instance, it’s easy to understand how the Chairman of TimeWarner might have come to see himself as the company and the company as himself.  Thus, when good things happened to the company, he probably felt good about himself (I’m a Winner) and when bad things happened to the company, he also felt bad about himself (I’m a Loser).  After making the commitment to the merger with AOL, that deal became part of his self concept.  Thus, to even consider the deal as a bad thing and something that must be changed means also changing the self concept.  It’s not just a decision; it’s personal.

Under such conditions, we tend to persist with a bad choice even as we continue to receive bad news.  Where an outsider (who does not have that self concept connection to the decision) can more objectively view the situation, our judgment is contaminated with threats to our self esteem and concept.  No wonder it takes us so long to see the “reality” of the bad choice.  We have to separate the commitment from our self concept first.

If you have children, you’ve fallen into dissonance numerous times.  For most parents, their children are a crucial element of their self concept and self esteem.  They cannot think of themselves without thinking of the children, too.  Then, if the parents receive bad news about the children (grade report!), that news can trigger a dissonance response that causes the parent to love and support the children even more for the very thing that received the bad grade, complaint, or visit from the police.  If you cannot separate the child from your self concept, attacks on your child are attacks on you.

There is no solution to this.  Dissonance is wired into our human nature either from evolution or the Eternal.  There are interesting persuasion plays, however.

Whenever your receivers are in the throes of dissonance, they are extremely vulnerable.  They are operating with hot High WATT processing that is Biased, not Objective.

If the dissonance is causing them to move in the direction you desire, heap on the abuse, pile on the discrepancy, support the suffering!

If there is another aspect of the receiver’s self concept that is remotely connected, bring that element into the conversation.  Anything that is related to the self concept may get mixed into boiling pot of dissonance.  For example, if a pet project of the Boss is failing and the Boss is in dissonance, bring up another business element that meets two criteria:  It’s part of the Boss’s self concept and it’s important to you.

And, if the dissonance in the receiver is harming you, realize that you need to separate the decision from the receiver’s self concept.  Thus, you don’t try to reason with the receiver about the deal, you try to get them to see the deal as an object outside of themselves rather than as a crucial part of their self concept.

Isn’t it fun being human?

Persuasion and the CIA Interrogation Manual

Let’s begin with a disarming disquisition on persuasion and ethics, shall we?

Persuasion uses communication to change how freely choosing people think, feel, or act.  Please note the term, Free, in the definition.  Receivers are Big Kids and can do what They please including spit in your eye because They are Free.  Please note, too, that persuasion is an activity (function, skill, action, behavior, and on and on) that humans produce.  If there were no humans, there would be no persuasion; if there is persuasion, there must be humans, too.  Whether chicken or egg, people always come first, then persuasion.

Any ethical considerations should focus on the human and not the activity.  Thus, people’s use of persuasion may or may not be ethical, but the activity itself has no ethical properties in much the same way that a hammer, a needle and thread, a cookbook, or a chemistry kit have no ethical properties in themselves.  Ethics is in the person doing the activity.

If you disagree with the proposition that persuasion as an activity has no ethical properties and the related proposition that ethical considerations reside in, on, and from the human doing persuasion, then we shall cheerfully disagree and you will move on to another website, leaving me in the digital dust as I wave a fond farewell at your traceless IP address in my webstats log.  Adieu, cheerful antagonist.  Adieu.

CIA Training Manual

To you who remain . . . read these PDFs from the CIA on interrogation techniques.  Yes, interrogation techniques and yes, CIA.

CIA Human Resource Exploitation A1-G11

CIA Human Resource Exploitation H0-L17

What can that and them have to do with persuasion?

First, the training manual is built around almost all of the Rules, but most particularly with a relentless focus upon one:

It’s About the Other Guy, Stupid

The first PDF provides a great description of an effective Questioner, which from our perspective means, Persuader.  Consider these qualities the CIA thinks makes a good Questioner.

1.  Motivated to succeed at task.
2.  Alertness to receiver behavior.
3.  Patience and tact.
4.  Credible, sincere, and direct in appearance.
5.  Able to monitor performance while communicating.
6.  Self controlled.
7.  Adaptable.
8.  Perseverant.
9.  Professional appearance and action.

If you do face-to-face persuasion, you need these traits in Aces and Spades.

The second PDF outlines strategy, planning, and tactics for interrogation that apply directly and without translation to persuasion.  I recommend in particular sections H, I, and K, which continually develop the Rule about the Other Guy.

Warnings, caveats, and yeah, that’s trues . . .

. . . the second PDF closes with Coercive Techniques.  They scared the hell out of me because they are based on a great reading of the psychology literature and since the CIA used them in the training manual, one would assume they must have practical evidence of effectiveness.  They exactly cleave the difference between persuasion and interrogation of intelligence assets.  Many people scoff at psychology as a science with any proven principles.  Read the section on coercive techniques and then tell me if you still believe there’s no science there.

. . . even with noncoercive techniques you must continually remind yourself of the context differences between persuasion and interrogation.  Much of the manual is useful as a metaphor, an analogy, a stimulus to thinking for persuasion rather than as a blueprint, template, or set of instructions.  You do not persuade a prisoner or any enemy by my definition of persuasion.  The Other Guy is not free to choose except in the most extreme metaphysical meaning of the word, Free.

. . . finally, you may find yourself disquieted about ethics throughout reading the manual.  I would only remind you of the context of application here.  We’re talking about life and death situations with people sworn and dedicated to killing you or someone like you.  This is communication and psychology in war.