Most people, including many scientists and researchers, dispute this, but science indicates that diet and exercise play an exceedingly modest role in life and death, maybe a 48/52 Windowpane or less and that’s still with all the drama observational designs provide. And, again most people, including many scientists and researchers, think that there are magic bullets of particular kinds of exercise or diet when the best science indicates a very simple model of eat less of any and all calories to lose weigh and exercise if you like it. As an example of this science you can read this pretty good pop press description from Gretchen Reynolds in the NYT.
Two groundbreaking new studies address the irksome question of why so many of us who work out remain so heavy, a concern that carries special resonance at the moment, as lean Olympians slip through the air and water, inspiring countless viewers to want to become similarly sleek. And in a just world, frequent physical activity should make us slim. But repeated studies have shown that many people who begin an exercise program lose little or no weight. Some gain.
Reynolds provide links to the studies and if you want another Brick in the Wall, I’d encourage you to read them. They are old, but interesting, news.
What I really want you to read are the reader comments. They are gold mine examples of Biased Processing. While you can find some examples of that Peripheral Route, top of the head, heuristic processing as commenters accept or reject without much thought, in the main, the comments betray High WATT activity. The commenter’s are thinking about this post, searching for and scrutinizing Arguments, those crucial bits of persuasion information that bear directly on the issue.
Yet, as you read those High WATT comments you clearly see that they aim at maintaining that nonscience conclusion that Diet and Exercise are Crucial to Life and Death and a Skinny Butt. You see clear instances of how High WATT thinkers carefully cut and trim the Arguments to make them fit their pre-existing Bias – some conclusion, belief, attitude, value, scheme, routine, habit – that says Diet and Exercise Are Crucial.
Folks provide their case history and how their life changed with this fruit, that exercise routine, or these supplements. They remember a study from The Lancet that proves the article wrong. They find a detail, fragment, or whisper of error, ambiguity, or flexibility in the article to discount it. In ELM terms they derogate a Strong Argument to make it seem Weak and they bolster a Weak Argument to make it seem Strong.
It is easy to manipulate the Bias – just prime up a Conclusion. Make people think about a stereotype associated with women or minorities or athletes or Diet and Exercise, and you can trigger Biased Processing. The function is in our human nature, hard-wired into our brains, just like a reflexive eye blink to a puff. You don’t learn Biased Processing, just being human is all that is required.
More interesting is the relationship between Biased Processing and the self concept. Almost anytime a key element of your self concept is activated, you are vulnerable to Biased Processing. We live in a life-saturated culture that thinks death is as controllable as room temperature with central air, so it’s not surprising that diet and exercise are now strongly connected to our self concepts. A consequence of peace and prosperity is that everyone thinks they should live forever without challenge or distress and you can fix it when problems arise. Thus, diet and exercise have become as important elements of the self concept as more traditional elements like God, marriage, family, friends, love, loyalty, work, duty, honor, country, and on and on.
It is not surprising that people engage Biased Processing when an element from their self concept like My Children gets activated. Nowadays, you can get the same outcome with My Diet or My Exercise. Of course, most people will resist this kind of analysis. Obviously, My Kids is more important to the self concept than My Diet. Unfortunately, the proof of this pudding is not how it looks, but what it does and you find that people engage that same process of High WATT search and scrutiny of Arguments with scissors whether over My Kids or My Diet. On a rational basis, offspring and exercise are two transparently different concepts, but when you observe how people think, you see once again, it’s the function you must follow, not the content.
Now, as a persuasion maven you see your opportunities. You can get the Other Guy into that Biased mode if you understand her diet and exercise, then use it against her to push your TACTs. Merely piggyback your TACT with her diet or exercise, and she’s likely to engage that gorgeous and effective Central Route processing, but while wearing blinders. You can sell a lot of bad exercise equipment that generates a ton of product loyalty because of the High WATT processing. Look at all those stupid cookbooks on the best seller lists. Look at Jamie Oliver. A celebrity chef; who ever heard of such a ridiculous title, yet there he is. Biased Processing got him there.
You also see your challenges. Americans are wasting billions of dollars of wealth and resource on diet and exercise to no grand effect and they are persisting because, in part, of the commitment from their Biased Processing. Science says diet and exercise don’t need this financial or behavioral investment, but Biased Processing plus a few artful dodgers like Oliver and the Lifestyle Drum and Bugle Corps have obscured that small detail. If you want people to use their time and money more effectively either as individuals or as voters, you’ve got to address the Bias manipulation that triggers this Central Route accident.
Peripheral Route plays with Cues cannot succeed in such circumstances. You are dealing with thoughts, feelings, and actions that arose from High WATT thinking and the Long (Biased) Conversation in the Head. You’ve got to persuade on the Central Route to overcome the strength and intensity of those thoughts, feelings, and actions and that means getting those High WATT Other Guys to go Objective where they follow the Arguments to Conclusions rather than allowing Conclusions to trim the Arguments to fit as with Biased Processing.
If history and human nature is any guide, such change is going to be a long, hard pull. People hate Objective High WATT processing like bad breath, taxes, and erections lasting longer than four hours. It could take nearly a generation before the status quo realizes the nominal benefits of diet and exercise.
So, from this commonplace pop press story, observe a great persuasion example of Biased Processing. From it draw lessons about human nature and the persuasion possibilities you may find.