Category Archives: Metaphors

finding similarities from differences

Change as Death with Persuasion Implications

Extreme, true. Certainly the move from life to death is a change, but people do not resist death simply because it is change.  And people do not resist change because it causes death.  We see the differences, the points where the metaphor of change as death disconnects.  But death as a metaphor for change contains insights.

When change is like death, then those things that cause people to be more comfortable with death might also cause people to be more comfortable with change.  How do we theorize about people coping with the prospect of death?

I’ve only briefly mentioned Terror Management Theory (TMT) in this Blog (here and here) and never in the Primer.  TMT explains how people handle the terror of death primarily through the coping mechanisms of self esteem and cultural worldview bolstering.  When thinking about their own deaths, people feel great threat to their self esteem and their worldview.  When, however, we bolster their self esteem or worldview, then provoke thoughts of death, people are much less threatened, more rational, more controlled.

Do you see now how the change as death metaphor may pour meaning into practical persuasion?

Perhaps as both an article of faith and of science, it might be wise to follow a simple tactic before every persuasion play.  Always first bolster the Other Guys self esteem and/or worldview, then seek the change.  This is not merely praise or compliments where we seek a momentary boost in positive affect, but rather direct support for those crucial beliefs, attitudes, and values that form the core of our self concepts and cultural worldview.

TMT experiments address self esteem or worldview in many direct and simple ways.  With either concept, you must first know the Other Guys self concept/esteem and worldview.  Then merely support it, agree with it, provide evidence for it.  You can also invert this and take the opposite of someone’s self concept or worldview and instead dispute it, criticize it, marshal facts against it.  You may also simply instruct the Other Guy to think about their self concept or worldview and remember times in the past that confirmed, supported, or proved it.  And, of course, you can also invert it and ask the Other Guy to recall times where he saw the “opposite” of his self concept or worldview fail.

I’ve looked at similar plays in these prior PB posts on self affirmation with priming and health risk behaviors.  Each provides operational tactics for bolstering although each research team might prefer a different label for their work than my simplifying approach here.  You can also do you own search starting with Google and key terms like TMT, bolstering, self esteem, and worldview.  I’d also recommend you chase down TMT research with a good science search engine.

Realize that strengthening key elements of the Other Guys may actually make Them more amenable to change.

Persuasion Implications of Parody

The New New Thing lives at the New York Times and here’s a parody that proves it.  Take a minute to read it.  I’ll wait.

Why does this parody work?  Stated another way, what is crazy about the New New Thing?  Turned the last time, what are the persuasion implications of the New New Thing?

Why does this reveal?  Look at all the persuasion tricks in this satire.  Most Emailed.  Dr. Experts.  Privileged brights doing everything but living well.  A mad pursuit for mashups:  Organic farming on the West Bank, sustainable ibex farming, Chinese language immersion on the farm, bocce ball on the Upper East Side, Ivy League education as a merit badge.  Endless fascination with easy intelligence; brilliant home farming, brilliant dog training, brilliant Yiddish musical coffee houses.  A thoughtless dogma of technology, education, and Cool Table as the Way of Truth.

What is crazy about this?  The Other Guy is in love with herself, justified past empirical or rational counter-proof, and ambling along the Peripheral Route, unaware of the persuasion possibilities.  She’s Truman before the reveal.  She’ll give her time, her money, her body, but not her mind to the New New Thing.  She hears that Siren song and runs to it.

And the persuasion implications?  As Butch Cassidy put it in the movie, they are easy, ripe, and luscious; you know we’re not talking about Bolivian banks.  The New New Thing is a mark for the taking.  Sure, Facebook and twitter, Apple and xbox, and the gang of Usual Suspects have plundered and pillaged first, but it’s a big world, persuasion mavens.  Just get an expert, an app, and Pantone pink, you’re in the hunt.

P.S.  Yes, you and I are In Group and they are Out Group.  Sure, we’re all swimming in someone else’s fish bowl, unaware of the ocean that determines and sustains us all.  Ponder that after you get the expert, the app, and the pink Pantone, okay?

General ELM

While the ELM is most widely understood and researched as a persuasion theory, it can be used to understand all human social cognition including processes like choice, decisions, stereotyping, planning, economic behavior, and on and on.  When people are “thinking” in any reasonable sense of the word, then WATTage is in the scene, and ELM directs the play.  And since virtually all interesting, volitional, and changeable human thought and action requires WATTage, please consider the ELM as a flexible theory for explaining why and how humans think and act.  To illustrate this flexibility I’m going to look at an older set of experiments that looked at stereotyping, circadian rhythms, and the Kahneman and Tversky model of cognition.

Galen Bodenhausen conducted two experiments in 1990 that employ variables not typically associated with persuasion and the ELM, but deliver results that are entirely predictable and consistent with the theory.  Bodenhausen had people show up to a lab during the morning, afternoon, or evening to complete a standard person perception task related to stereotyping.  For example, you’d read a list of attributes about a person that are stereotyped as common qualities.  Kahneman and Tversky describe a Similarity Heuristic where people can carelessly link ideas, objects, or people into the same category because they share superficial similarities.  It’s a top of the head heuristic.  Now, oftentimes similar things can be identical, so the Similarity Heuristic often works.

You can see how this applies with the person perception task on stereotyping.  With this heuristic, people make probability estimates based on the apparent similarity of the event or characteristic being judged to a representative stereotype. People show a strong tendency to believe that the conjunction of a representative (stereotypic) and an unrepresentative element is more probable than the probability of the unrepresentative element in isolation.  Stated another way, when people are using a stereotype as a Peripheral Route Cue they will assimilate a nonstereotyped attribute into that stereotype anyway.  Here’s how Bodenhausen handled this.  He had people read a list of attributes like this.

  • Bill likes sharp pencils.
  • Bill enjoys working with numbers.
  • Bill is precise.
  • Bill is neat.
  • Bill understands decimals.

After reading this list of stereotyped attributes, everyone would be given a descriptor that illustrates a heuristic from the work of Kahneman and Tversky.  With our example, they’d read:

  • Bill is an accountant who plays saxophone as a hobby.

If you are using the Similarity Heuristic, you are more likely to believe the conjunction.  Thus, people who are working top of the head with the Similarity Heuristic would be more likely to believe that accountants play the saxophone simply because the two (unrelated) attributes are read together at the same time while the person is that Low WATT, Peripheral Route processing, Cue-ing along with the stereotype.

Now, recall that Bodenhausen had people take this person perception task either during the morning, afternoon, or evening.  In addition to the stereotyping test, Bodenhausen also had the participants complete a self report measure of circadian rhythm to establish whether the person was either an “early bird” or a “night owl.”  He then crossed when the person did the experiment with that circadian score so that he had two categories:  You took the stereotyping test when you were “in” your rhythm (early bird taking the test in the morning, for example) or when you were “out” of your rhythm (a night owl taking the test in the morning).

Realize that this crossing of time (of day) and rhythm (of circadia) manipulates WATTage.  On a fairly large scale of abstraction, when night owls are processing at night, they are Higher WATT than during the day, especially morning.  And, when early birds are processing in the morning, they are Higher WATT than later in the day, especially evening.  Does this actually happen?  Here’s what Bodenhausen found.

94% of subjects with “morning” personalities committed the conjunction fallacy during an evening experimental session (n = 16), while only 71% did so in the morning (n = 14). Conversely, subjects with “evening” personalities were more likely to commit this fallacy during a morning experimental session (92%, n = 12) than during the evening (70%, n = 17). In an analysis of error rates, the interaction of personality type and time of testing was significant, F(1, 55) = 4.55, p < .05.

The effect size here is a Small plus Windowpane, about 40/60.

Bodenhausen ran a second study on stereotyping for a court case that manipulated perceive race with a person’s name (Robert Garner versus Roberto Garcia, for example).  Again, he used the circadian rhythm and time of day to manipulate WATTage as participants read a transcript then assigned guilt ratings.  As the following Result demonstrates, the predicted interaction between WATTage and stereotyping heuristic obtained.

For morning types perceived stereotyped targets to be more likely to be guilty in the afternoon and evening than the morning, F(1, 44) = 5.16, p < .05. For evening types, perceptions of the stereotyped targets’ guilt were significantly greater in the morning than in the afternoon or evening, F(1, 47) = 4.39, p < .05.

The effect size here is a Medium Windowpane, about 35/65.  How do you interpret these findings?  Here’s how Bodenhausen put it.

The results obtained in these studies have a number of interesting implications.  First and foremost, they support the view that stereotypes function as judgmental heuristics and, as such, are likely to be more influential under circumstances in which people are less motivated or less able to engage in more systematic and careful judgment strategies (Bodenhausen & Lichtenstein, 1987; Chaiken et al., 1989).

I’d now like to drive a theoretical truck through this empirical opening.  WATTage, Arguments, and Cues can be understood as highly abstract constructs that apply not just to standard persuasion variables (involvement, arguments about Senior Comprehensives, cues about source credibility), but all types of human cognition and action.  WATTage is the crucial variable in all this, with thoughtfulness, that Long Conversation in the Head, as the determinant of Route of Processing and all That implies.

Now, I’m not the first guy to see this basic Dual Process Model.  Shelly Chaiken and Yaacov Trope edited a fabulous book on Dual Process Theories (1999) that presented dozens of these ideas together in one book.  Here’s just a quick, abbreviated, and short list.

  1. Impressions: Piecemeal vs Category (Fiske)
  2. Persuasion: Central vs Peripheral (Petty and Cacioppo)
  3. Behavior: Automatic vs Controlled (Bargh)
  4. Behavior: Mindful vs Mindless (Langer)
  5. Persuasion: Heuristic vs Systematic (Chaiken)
  6. Att Activation: Deliberate vs Spontaneous (Fazio)
  7. Memory: Elaboration vs Activation (Anderson)
  8. Decisions: System 1 vs System 2 (Kahneman and Tversky)

There’s much more in the book and if you truly pant for the weariness of great knowledge, this book may slake your thirst.  Best of all, most of the chapter authors in this collection smartly observed the generality of two processes controlled through what I call the WATTage switch.

Now, the nuance.  Yes, there are large differences between the theories and you can go places with Susan Fiske’s model of person perception you cannot with a General ELM.  And, yes, you could pick a different theory and make it the General over the others with interesting advantages.  And, yes, I am a cheerleader for the ELM who cannot see through my blind eyes which means I’m just a shouter.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

But, a General ELM provides an extremely effective practical blueprint for thinking about, planning, executing, and evaluating any and all real time, real world, here-and-now human thought and action.  If you are a scientist, this is a weak Argument, but I’m not writing about persuasion here just for scientists.  Isn’t that what you do in the peer-review literature?  I’m trying to make persuasion science work in everyday life.

General ELM is the best way for that.

Tackies – Nietzsche Was an Environmentalist Prophet

True green must be immoralist.

“Could it be that the moralists harbor a hatred of the primeval forest and tropics?”

Beyond Good and Evil, section 197, Kaufmann translation.

Stated immorally, true green is beyond good and evil.  And any Green who appeals to morality is not true green, but just another bad moralist in a long line stretching from Plato onward.

Science for Change

Aristotle claimed that political science was the Queen of Wisdom and that anyone who misunderstood politics did so at their own peril.  Consider his argument in the Nicomachean Ethics.

It would seem to belong to the most authoritative art and that which is most truly the master art.  And politics appears to be of this nature; for it is this that ordains which of the sciences should be studied in a state, and which each class of citizens should learn and up to what point they should learn them; and we see even the most highly esteemed of capacities to fall under this, e.g. strategy, economics, rhetoric; now, since politics uses the rest of the sciences, and since, again, it legislates as to what we are to do and what we are to abstain from, the end of this science must include those of the others, so that this end must be the good for man. (NE, Book I, Chapter 2, 1094b7-10).

One can apply this point of view with the American Anthropological Association’s recent move to drop the word, “science,” from their new mission plan to address the politics of anthropology.  The NYT writer puts it thusly.

The decision has reopened a long-simmering tension between researchers in science-based anthropological disciplines — including archaeologists, physical anthropologists and some cultural anthropologists — and members of the profession who study race, ethnicity and gender and see themselves as advocates for native peoples or human rights.

You can see this tension in every science.  The field of study begins with roots in science, both in method and content, but rather inevitably the field grows and attracts more members who bring the New New Thing to the old field and often times that New New Thing involves politics.  Physical scientists scoff at this and believe that it is a problem unique to the social sciences.  They do real science and politics has nothing to do with that . . . while nervously ignoring global warming standing behind the curtain.  It plagues them all because a field cannot exist without humans and humans cannot exist with human nature and that nature, as Aristotle observed, revolves around politics.

The politicization of science has intensified over the past 20 or 30 years for the same reason that reality-based programming has become so popular on TV and that social media in Web 2.0 now runs rampant.  We are living through a Chaotic Age where we lack widespread agreement on fundamentals, essentials, standards, definitions.  This will not last and we will soon find agreement on a standard, but in the transition the loudest, most common, and best organized voices will seem the most desirable, attractive, and powerful.  The temper tantrum of the 1960s still reverberates through society.  Truth resides in politics, you know.

The persuasion lessons in this are apparent, but dark.  Persuasion is only and always about Change and just Change, not Good Change or Bad Change, just Change.  People use persuasion to Change science in all and every sense of the word.  They are not using science to Change science which is what a Good Science does.  Thus, even the truth or the Truth, whether from the Light of God or the Flash of the Big Bang, is nothing but a persuasively determined Change for the politicians of science.  Stated ironically from my Rules: while you Cannot Persuade a Falling Apple, when no one believes in Falling Apples, persuasion is all that counts.

Perhaps, Aristotle is correct in his valuing of politics.  And since politics is only applied persuasion, then I’d extend him and argue that Persuasion is the Queen of Change.

Desktop and Handheld as WATTage Metaphor

The lede says it all.

As inflection points go, the Consumer Electronics Show that kicked off yesterday couldn’t be sending a clearer signal: The era of the personal computer is drawing to a close. For an industry gathering that once showcased each new generation of desktop and laptop, this year’s show is buzzing with every imaginable flavor of tablet, smart phone and mobile appliance. Welcome to the age of mobile computing.

I want to draw a sharp persuasion point.  The “era of the PC” versus the “age of mobile computing” implies that everyone is doing the same cognitive activity, but through time have shifted from the desktop to the hand.  Anyone who thinks like that is going to have major persuasion problems.  It is more correct to label these as the Styles or Types or Modes or, in persuasion terms, Routes of Computing and not Ages or Eras because people do not bring the same cognitive demands to handheld computing that they do to desktop computing.  It is the difference between Computing and Computering.

Handheld is a prime example of low WATT processing in a receiver, someone who wants Cues to guide the Internet experience.  Compare that to somebody fully engaged in a desktop environment who is more likely operating with high WATT.  Desktop computing compared to handheld computing is more cognitively demanding, more creative, more reflective, more thoughtful, more resourceful.  Handheld computing is easy, fun, and popular, the connection comes to you because you don’t have to make the connection.  It is WATT as Willingness and Ability to Tap, WATtap.

Of course!  Of course!  Of course, there are exceptions to this metaphor.  Low WATT surfers ride desktops all the time and everyone sometimes goes High WATT on an iGizmo.  Here’s your Gold Star for thinking of the obvious dissimilarities in this analysis.  Now, go make money on your finding.  In other words, prove your distinction with a difference.

By contrast, if you stay in the metaphor, I think you’ll more properly make your persuasion plays more often.  Certainly, move flexibly – WATTage changes in an instant.  But realize the device constraints and consumers desires with a handheld versus a desktop.  Realize that these devices are part of a Persuasion Box you build to attract the Other Guy into the range of your tactics.  Realize that these devices affect WATTage and WATtap with all people at all times – population-wide and time unlimited.

Realize the large persuasion difference between what the Other Guys can do with one hand and what They can do with two hands.  Zen, baby.  Zen.

The Persuasion Box and a Cartoon Metaphor

One simple approach to practical persuasion is to combine Persuasion Boxes with Persuasion Plays.  A Persuasion Box is a designed and built situation, context, or script that predisposes people to react in a preferred way.  Arrange chairs so either:  1) folks face each other or, 2) they cannot even see one another.  That’s a Persuasion Box.  Or build a Standard Complaint Department or a Standard one plus smells of hot brewing coffee and pastries in the air.  That’s a Persuasion Box.  You construct a scene the Other Guy will enter and then . . .

. . . you deliver you persuasion play.  Central or Peripheral Route.  Args or Cues.  Pick your CLARCCS.  Maybe something hotter with Inoculation or Dissonance.  Maybe something primitive and simple like Ding-Dong or For Me?  And, sure, you design your Persuasion Boxes with the Plays in mind and think about the Plays with the Boxes in mind.  Do you see?

Now, of course, there is a learning curve.

Persuasion Mavens learn where to stand in relation to the Persuasion Box, the Play, and the Other Guy.  Not only do you write and direct the thing, but you do perform in it, too.

It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid.

If You Can’t Succeed, Don’t Try.

All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.

All Persuasion Is Local.

Persuasion Is Strategic or It Is Not.

P.S.  Here’s a much earlier post with the same idea, but the clever handle of Persuasion Box had not quite occurred to me then.