Monthly Archives: December 2010

Blog in Review, 2010 Edition

Let’s take a jog past the last year and admire my insight, aplomb, and panache.  And, we’ll cheerfully ignore my errors, colossal or inconsequential.  That’s how to play the Man Behind the Curtain, isn’t it?  So, Steve speaks as Oz and Cassandra.

Mike Leach is still in court.  My money rides on him.  Too, while he is listed for every coaching vacancy that occurs, he’s still unemployed.  As a sign of respect, I’ll offer him, here and now, a regular, recurring Head Guest Blogger position with the Persuasion Blog.  Pay comensurate with Melanie’s approval.

I noted the School Marm as New Sheriff in DC with the FDA and everything they’ve done since has only confirmed that observation.

“Normal weight obesity” still hasn’t caught on in daily parlance.  Maybe this year.  Maybe.

Does Osama bin Laden still believe in Global Warming?  Maybe we can’t catch him because he’s working on a UN IPCC subcommittee?

The Internet ad guys almost have that new privacy icon ready for prime time.  Almost.  Any day now.  Soon.  Really.

Anyone know if the Dancing Disability Persuasion Campaign worked?  Great idea.  Fabulous execution.  Lottsa free publicity.

Pepsi has been giving money and getting publicity, but nothing official about the entire $20 million pledge by the end of 2010.

Oppressed people of the world are still waiting for the promised iGizmo revolution.

I’ve warned you about the persuasion peril with Web 2.0 and social media, but no one is listening.  Go ahead.  Jump.  You can fly.

A Federal court has ruled parts of Health Care reform are unconstitutional and other States have pending suits, so maybe my concerns about the Trillion Dollar Nudge won’t be realized after all.

Have we started winning the War on Obesity yet?

Remember NBC’s quiet campaign to encourage smarter and healthier living?  Using less plastic?  Walking more?  Yeah, right.

I’m usually awful at political predictions, but I got the midterm Election wipeout dead right and early to boot.  Sometimes persuasion past predicts persuasion future.

China grows.  What are the persuasion plays?

Seen the EcoIndex anywhere yet?  Must be a production meeting with the Internet privacy guys.  Great pair of legs in those green jeans, though.

No word on the latest Great Cocoa Caper.  With deals like this no news is . . . just no news.  But, man, it’s got to be twitchy sitting on that much chocolate this long.

Bang!  Got it right with Joe Manchin.  Helluva polispot.

So, the NFL knows how to handle FauxItAll science on concussions.  Got real quiet on that front, didn’t it?

Everyone in the NBA is on the Dress Code bus.  They read this blog!

Okay, it’s been less than a month, but the world is waiting for the new Homeland Security color blind alert system.

Who knew persuasion revealed so much?  Who realized that even a fool like myself could actually get so much so right so often?  Who doesn’t tremble in anticipation at what this Blog holds for 2011?



The New Phonebook Is Here! JPSP December 2010

The latest persuasion news in brief from the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  Things are going to start happening now!

Big Five Personality and Genetics

I’m killing two birds here and it may get both ugly and confusing.  First, most practical persuasion mavens use demographics and psychographics to slice people into categories.  May I suggest you learn about the Big Five (OCEAN) as a category system with a bit more science behind it than things like Hot Tub Boomer or Soccer Mom and on and on?  The Big Five describes the five primary personality traits of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism, along with other facets (subtraits).  If you are into behavior change, you might want to look at Conscientiousness.  For example, it correlates with all cause mortality at near moderate (40/60 Windowpane) effect size.  Search on Howard Friedman.

Second, and here’s the ugly and confusing part unless you are cuckoo for Personality research, everyone knows that personality is a function of nature and nuture, but precisely how these two factors work is a bit shaky.  The Human Genome provides some guidance.  The research abstracted here addresses that very issue and offers this conclusion.

Across all five factors, chi-square values tended to increase and peak at the 50% cutoff, suggesting that the genetics of personality traits is characterized by an extraordinarily large number of very small effects.

Gee whiz.  Remember when the Human Genome Project was going to Change Everything?  It still provides great science as that quote attests, but the practical application part is lagging just a bit.  Not to mention the penetrating insight, the leap forward in scientific knowledge.  One of my most interesting professors used to call it the Gah-gnome Project with an emphasis upon the “gnome.”  At the time I thought he was simply losing his mind with age, but maybe he was smarter than we knew?

This brings to mind a joke about dementia and personality research.  A famous experimental psychologist was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and disclosed this to a graduate seminar.  He wistfully bemoaned the impending loss of cognitive skill, then brightened.  “I can always do trait research!”

Still, the Big Five has a lot of implications for practical persuasion even if our science on nature and nuture is more charming than explanatory.

An alternative to the search for single polymorphisms: Toward molecular personality scales for the five-factor model.  McCrae, Robert R.; Scally, Matthew; Terracciano, Antonio; Abecasis, Gonçalo R.; Costa, Paul T., Jr. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 99(6), Dec 2010, 1014-1024.

doi: 10.1037/a0020964


There is growing evidence that personality traits are affected by many genes, all of which have very small effects. As an alternative to the largely unsuccessful search for individual polymorphisms associated with personality traits, the authors identified large sets of potentially related single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and summed them to form molecular personality scales (MPSs) with from 4 to 2,497 SNPs. Scales were derived from two thirds of a large (N = 3,972) sample of individuals from Sardinia who completed the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (P. T. Costa, Jr., & R. R. McCrae, 1992) and were assessed in a genomewide association scan. When MPSs were correlated with the phenotype in the remaining one third of the sample, very small but significant associations were found for 4 of the 5e personality factors when the longest scales were examined. These data suggest that MPSs for Neuroticism, Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness (but not Extraversion) contain genetic information that can be refined in future studies, and the procedures described here should be applicable to other quantitative traits.

P.S. Why aren’t Costa and McCrae on the list for a Nobel?  They’ve been doing some of the best work on basic personality for forty years.  Same thing with the late Martin Fishbein and Icek Aizen with TRA.  And the late B.F. Skinner.  Or John Anderson at Carnegie Mellon and his work on cognition.  Yeah, no science here.  Keep moving, Stockholm.  Nothing to see here.  Man, and you wonder why I’m cynical about scientists.

Nietzsche Rides Again

Hey, all you Live Longer zealots, consider a benefit to pain, suffering, and All That.  Nietzsche and Dissonance suggest that Bad is Good for You, something the Health and Lifestyle Drum and Bugle Corps march against every day . . . especially when Congress is in session and writing Appropriations or when the Executive is writing Regulations!  Consider, however, that unhealthiness may be healthy in the long run.

Or not.

Whatever does not kill us: Cumulative lifetime adversity, vulnerability, and resilience.  Seery, Mark D.; Holman, E. Alison; Silver, Roxane Cohen.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 99(6), Dec 2010, 1025-1041.

doi: 10.1037/a0021344


Exposure to adverse life events typically predicts subsequent negative effects on mental health and well-being, such that more adversity predicts worse outcomes. However, adverse experiences may also foster subsequent resilience, with resulting advantages for mental health and well-being. In a multiyear longitudinal study of a national sample, people with a history of some lifetime adversity reported better mental health and well-being outcomes than not only people with a high history of adversity but also than people with no history of adversity. Specifically, U-shaped quadratic relationships indicated that a history of some but nonzero lifetime adversity predicted relatively lower global distress, lower self-rated functional impairment, fewer posttraumatic stress symptoms, and higher life satisfaction over time. Furthermore, people with some prior lifetime adversity were the least affected by recent adverse events. These results suggest that, in moderation, whatever does not kill us may indeed make us stronger.

Night, Sleep, Death, and the Stars

A core belief and motivational problem in all health and safety behaviors is fear of death.  One of the most interesting and productive psychological theories about this fear is Terror Management Theory (TMT).  TMT explains that when people think about death, they respond badly to it, but that enhancements to self concept and esteem, and to their cultural worldview will reduce the negative effects of mortality salience making it easier for people to consider death-related thoughts, feelings, and actions.  Thus, TMT explains why many people react badly to health and safety messages and points to tactics for overcoming resistance beyond traditional fear appeals models (most notably the Health Beliefs Model).  Of course, all most no one dealing with death topics (health and safety; insurance; risk management; security; military; etc.) has heard of TMT.

You might find it useful.

Adjusting to death: The effects of mortality salience and self-esteem on psychological well-being, growth motivation, and maladaptive behavior. Routledge, Clay; Ostafin, Brian; Juhl, Jacob; Sedikides, Constantine; Cathey, Christie; Liao, Jiangqun.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 99(6), Dec 2010, 897-916.

doi: 10.1037/a0021431


This research builds on terror management theory to examine the relationships among self-esteem, death cognition, and psychological adjustment. Self-esteem was measured (Studies 1–2, 4–8) or manipulated (Study 3), and thoughts of death were manipulated (Studies 1–3, 5–8) or measured (Study 4). Subsequently, satisfaction with life (Study 1), subjective vitality (Study 2), meaning in life (Studies 3–5), positive and negative affect (Studies 1, 4, 5), exploration (Study 6), state anxiety (Study 7), and social avoidance (Study 8) were assessed. Death-related cognition (a) decreased satisfaction with life, subjective vitality, meaning in life, and exploration; (b) increased negative affect and state anxiety; and (c) exacerbated social avoidance for individuals with low self-esteem but not for those with high self-esteem. These effects occurred only when death thoughts were outside of focal attention. Parallel effects were found in American (Studies 1–4, 6–8) and Chinese (Study 5) samples.



Technology Update

I’m currently adding new software to the Persuasion Blog to improve performance on mobile devices, most notably the various iGizmos like Android, the various Apple iThings, and related products.  If you are viewing the Persuasion Blog on one of these devices you may notice sudden format changes in the content.  Please bear with me as I determine the optimal solution.

For you propeller heads, I’m using the WordPress plugin, WP Mobile Pack, from James Pearce and Friends.  It installs easily and runs well right out of the box.  I’m tweaking various options, most particularly the color, in an attempt to maintain color guidance across my three Blogs (orange for Persuasion, red for Faith, and purple for Leadership), but that’s going to require tearing apart code across several inter-related files.  Really bear with me on that.

So far, though, two thumbs up for James Pearce and Friends and the WP Mobile Pack.

If you care to share feedback with me about your mobile experience, please contact me with an email to drsbb at HealthyInfluence dot com.


Pornographic Persuasion Part Two

Nedra Klein Weinreich of sent me an email regarding yesterday’s post, Pornographic Persuasion.  She’s found a UK social marketing campaign on condom usage that applies the concepts I described in that post.  You can inspect this effort for yourself here.  I appreciate the information from Nedra and hope you find it interesting.

Let’s do a Comparison and Contrast between my Porno Persuasion and the intervention.  Sorry.  No pictures.  Use your imagination.  Isn’t that better?

Comparison . . . you can clearly see the POV manipulation in the intervention videos.  The images strike me as incredibly involving and certainly executions that should elicit that Long Conversation in the Head, characteristic of ELM Central Route processing.

I also like the audience analysis quality.  This intervention crew seems to have a good sense of the target receivers they wish to influence.

The “treatment” is also extended over many different “episodes” so you’re getting a bigger dose of the message that can be spread over many viewings (distributed versus mass learning for you Ed Psychers).

Looks like a sharp and thoughtful intervention.

Contrast . . . this is not an experimental test of persuasion theory, but clearly an applied intervention based on existing theory and research.  Science is not the goal of an intervention like this, so my gear head motivation remains.

I’m also concerned at how often the key condom usage behaviors are actually shown.  Most of the video I’ve seen conveys the social psychology of the scene, but the actual condom action appears in a quick flash.  My argument here is that people must elaborate extensively and exactly over all the actual condom action (buy, store, access, negotiate, use, dispose) and the videos leave much of that as inferential rather than a detailed portrayal of the action.

And, about that viewing:  With a YouTube placement, those videos are always available and that’s great, but the cost here is the receiver controls the viewing.  If you saw channel flipping with a TV remote control as a persuasion problem, then how people surf the Internet is a persuasion nightmare.  If the intervention crew is also doing something that controls access to the videos (like through a classroom, seminar, training, workshop, etc.) that would help greatly.  You can see a good count indicator on this problem with the number of views for the 12 videos.  It ranges from nearly 300,000 to less than 30,000.  That’s a lot of variability in the Exposure/Reception phase of the Cascade.

Outro . . . it will be interesting to hear about any evaluation study from this intervention.  That’s typically not a major element of these kind of public health attempts which is unfortunate.  As I’ve documented in various ways in the Primer and this Blog, applied persuasion does work, but it more often fails.  Often the government sponsored efforts are the worst at evaluation because no one wants to pay for it and assumes that it is easy to get something out there . . . which is true.  It’s just hard to get something out there that actually works.

Brett Favre’s Sideline Endorsement of Smokeless Tobacco

Last night we watched the first ever Tuesday Night Football game between the Eagles and the Vikings.  Did you notice Brett Favre dipping smokeless in an extended sideline shot?

A Google search on key terms shows no hits for this, but both Melanie and I immediately saw the tell tale signs of Brett dipping during a shot.  (Hey, we live in West Virginia.  We know that script.)

Is everyone at the Cool Table unaware of this?

Not that there’s anything wrong with dipping . . .



Pornographic Persuasion

I am unlikely to do this research anytime soon, so I offer it to any enterprising maniac who’s willing to die in the lab for science.

Sexually active men and women are given their choice of a model that they find sexually attractive.  They then watch a video of that model having sex with another person in a “POV” style where the camera is positioned not from the point of view of the model, but rather the target.  Thus, the POV style makes the interaction seem to take place from the viewer’s perspective, as if he or she is participating.  Now, the interaction intensifies through various stages of sexual intimacy until the model requests penetrating sexual contact.  At that point the model says, “We need a condom, get the condom,” and we then see action consistent with getting, wearing, and using a condom.  The action in the video continues to conclusion with the model expressing satisfaction over the sex and with positive comments on the condom.  Now, run this several times over a varying time schedule, say three times a week for three weeks with different POV episodes each time.

Okay, what have we got here?  You watch an explicit video that portrays enjoyable and consenting sex with a POV style aimed at a model you find attractive.  You see the behavior from your point of view, making it seem more vivid, intense, and real.  The video is also matched to your sexual orientation and preference, so whether gay or straight, you get what you want.  You then see that attractive model ask you about condoms, then getting the condom, and using it all within the natural flow of action.  The sexual behavior always leads to a positive conclusion with those reinforcing and praising comments from the model.

Do you think that participants in this study would think, feel, and act differently about condoms?

This idea is clearly based in the behavioral treatment called Systematic Desensitization (SD) developed by Joseph Wolpe.  SD requires people to first engage in deep muscle relaxation (not hypnosis, just relaxation) then actively and imaginatively think about a real situation that usually elicits anxiety.  The combination of thought with relaxation creates a new conditioned response that reduces anxiety.  That thinking element is a key component in SD and, to my mind, is like the ELM’s Long Conversation in the Head you engage on the Central Route as you generate unique cognitions over an Argument.

In this example, we are using the video to both stimulate and guide the Long Conversation with sexually explicit behavior and model comments about condom usage so that the participant will generate more favorable thoughts, feelings, and attitudes about condoms.  You could vary the explicitness of the videos, the content of the condom usage comments, the schedule of treatment, among others.  It would also be interesting to obtain thought listings or other measures of cognitive activity and run structural equation modeling on the relationship between treatment, cognition, and change whether attitudinal or behavioral.

The Human Subjects clearance on this would be challenging and you’d have to handle it with detail, especially on recruitment and debriefing, but if you keep your head on straight most IRBs would certainly sign off.  I also suspect a wide variety of research funding sources would be interested in this.

An interesting extension of persuasion theory, doncha think?

If you do this, please let me know how it goes.


inSincere Appearances

What do you think of this dress code for UBS employees (a Swiss bank).

The UBS Dress Code: Do’s and Don’ts Do’s

For women:
* Wear your jacket buttoned.
* When sitting, the buttons should be unfastened.
* Make sure to touch up hair regrowth regularly if you color your hair.

For men:
* Store your suit on a large hanger with rounded shoulders to preserve the shape of the garment.
* Schedule barber appointments every four weeks to maintain your haircut shape.


* Eating garlic and onions
* Smoking or spending time in smoke-filled places
* Wearing short-sleeved shirts or cuff links
* Wearing socks that are too short, showing your skin while sitting
* Allowing underwear to be seen
* Touching up perfume during or after lunch break
* Using tie knots that don’t match your face shape and/or body shape

The article provides many other specifications, but I’m sure you can see the USB employee:  Blue suit, clean cut, no unique spangles, bangles, or flashes.  Sober.  Prudent.  Institutional.

The Code reminds me of a famous theatrical injunction:  Dress the role and the part plays itself.  Which is another way of saying:

All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.

Codes like this are clearly persuasion tactics aimed at influencing customer perceptions of USB employees.

Of course, many folks hate dress codes and find them restrictive, stereotyped, and institutional.  Which, of course, means, persuasive.  Even at work, It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid.

Getting Sick with Food and Statistics

From my former lead agency, the CDC . . .

Researchers said that there was a great deal of guesswork in the new estimates. The 48 million figure is near the midpoint of the range of projections in the survey, which said the number of illnesses could be as few as 29 million or as many as 71 million.

This regarding food borne illnesses.  Anywhere between 29 and 71 million.  That’s a lot of between.  The between for deathstimates is much smaller:  3 to 5 thousand.  But, hey, a billionth here and a billionth there and pretty soon you’re talking real risk to paraphrase the late and great Everett Dirksen, meaning that deceiving with numbers is easy.

But, believe me.  The CDC believes it does science.  State of the art.  And it scientifically can assert that 29,000,000 to 71,000,000 cases of food poisoning occur in the US annually.  Or maybe more.  Or less.  But scientific.  Trust us.

Notice the lack of context, or more technically, a base rate, in these numbers.  How do you contextualize annual cases of food poisoning?  How about this.  There are 300 million Americans.  We eat at least 3 times a day.  There are 365 days in a year.  Thus, each year the nation would have 328,500,000,000 chances to get sick from food (300,000,000 X 3 X 365).  Take the high estimate of food poisoning cases (71 million), divide by the number of chances (328 billion) and that gives an annual national rate of illness of 0.0002%.  The rate for death (5 thousand divided by 328 billion) is 0.00000001%!  For a great illustration of Getting Sick with Food and Statistics, check out the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and their Food Alerts – no base rates!  Just those numbers that sound big all by themselves, like . . .

I was running a communication unit in the CDC when they started making scientific assertions about mortality from lifestyle (diet and exercise).  It began at 500,000 which was about the same number as deaths from tobacco use.  Pretty damn scary.  Then shortly after that scientific announcement, the CDC made “improvements” in their science, largely due to the echoing laughter from real scientists about that initial estimate.  The CDC proclaimed that the real scientific number is closer to 365,000 annual deaths.  Then, well, maybe 200,000.  The last time I checked they were claiming (PDF) about 100,000 annual deaths.

If we’re lucky and CDC science keeps improving at this rate, within the next decade, no one will die from lifestyle factors!

Joking aside, please consider the persuasion implications of this kind of work.  How can you possibly convince people to change thinking, feeling, or behaving about anything when your science can’t hit the broadside of a barn in daylight with a blast from a double barreled shotgun?

Of course, you can’t.  And the CDC is a creature of Congress which accounts for the wide variability in everything the CDC does or ever will do.

But, what about you?

You have got to control your science whether the science of peer review literature or simply the science of running a business with your head and not your heart.  You must always understand and obey the Rule that

You Cannot Persuade a Falling Apple.

Be careful what you claim or understand as a Falling Apple.  If folks sitting under the apple tree don’t get hit in the head, then you look foolish.

iGizmos on the Central Route

WSJ reports on what is sure to be a growing consumer habit:  comparison pricing with iGizmos while shopping in a store.  Hey, it’s easy and confers a huge advantage to the consumer.  Consider Tri Tang out shopping for his girlfriend at his local Best Buy store.

Last year, he might have just dropped the $184.85 Garmin global positioning system into his cart. This time, he took out his Android phone and typed the model number into an app that instantly compared the Best Buy price to those of other retailers. He found that he could get the same item on Inc.’s website for only $106.75, no shipping, no tax.  Mr. Tang bought the Garmin from Amazon right on the spot.

“It’s so useful,” Mr. Tang says of his new shopping companion, a price comparison app called TheFind. He says he relies on it “to make sure I am getting the best price.”

The Journal article provides other snapshot examples of this phenomenon.  For the consumer, it’s all good.  But . . . to the dark and ominous portion of the program.

The shift in consumer behavior also imperils some of the most lucrative aspects of selling in stores, such as the ability to use salespeople to lure customers into making impulse buys, or entice them to buy one thing after they came in for another. A 10-country study by management consultant Accenture this year found that 73% of mobile-powered shoppers preferred peering into their phones for basic assistance over talking to a retail clerk.

Reading the future is a mug’s game, so take my crystal ball analysis with a grain of salt and a shot of tequila, but as a persuasion wizard, I don’t see the threat here.

While an iGizmo makes this task easier to perform, it still requires High WATT commitment – you’ve got to be thinking while you are doing even an easy task like price comparison on a smartphone.  This High WATT cost runs counter to the cause of the incredible success of iGizmos:  Low WATT demand.  Many people like iGizmos exactly because you don’t have to be Willing and Able to Think, just be Willing and Able to Tap, certainly a kind of WATTage, but just as certainly not the same as my original meaning.

Thus, there have always been folks like Mr. Tang, High WATT consumers.  It’s just easier to spot them when they are casing Campbell Soup prices with their iGizmos.

For a couple of years at least, this price comparison revolution is unlikely to create anything more than an evolutionary wrinkle in the consumer experience.  Most in the herd will not go High WATT and never will.  Certainly technology makes it easier to be effective on the Peripheral Route, but technology can never go High WATT for you.  And, don’t forget that businesses have a compelling motivation to go High WATT on maintaining profit.  Mr. Tang zigs with TheFind app on his Android; Best Buy zags with . . .

Simply put:  Who’s got the greater stake in the High WATT contest?