Category Archives: Rules

wisdom that guides practical persuasion

the Rules with Big Money Relationships

A new company has created a relational database that tracks the interpersonal contacts among and between Other Guys who have money, a lot of money, that 1% money.

It sounds like a Rolodex for the 1 percent: two million deal makers, power brokers and business executives — not only their names, but in many cases the names of their spouses and children and associates, their political donations, their charity work and more — all at a banker’s fingertips.

Relationship Science manually builds a Rolodex of the wealthy then sells you access to the information. You want to meet Mr. Filthy Rich about a deal, but you don’t know him? Type in his name and discover if you share any contacts in common. Then go after the Other Guy through the contact.

Sounds indirect which is persuasion cool, but not digital cool. Why not just hit the Other Guy through email?

One of the most vexing and perhaps unusual choices Mr. Goldman seems to have made with Relationship Science is to omit what would be truly valuable information: phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Mr. Goldman explained the decision. “This isn’t about spamming people.” He said supplying phone numbers wouldn’t offer any value because people don’t like being cold-called, which he said was the antithesis of the purpose of his database.

Mr. Goldman (geez, just his name explains it) knows persuasion a lot better than the NYTimes writer complaining about the absence of contact information. Goldman even steals from the Persuasion Blog and the Rules to explain why.

“We bring the science,” he said. “You bring the art.”

Or as I rulify: Drive with Science, Putt with Poetry.

Peitho Rules

Persuasion by the Rules Visual and Metaphoric

Consider this image.

It Depends in Black and White

Across each row you see the same “color” while the down the column the shade moves from whiter to blacker across the grayscale. The background gradient moves from blacker to grayer from left to right.

Each square in a row is a metaphoric persuasion play. It is the “same thing” in each instance. The background is the persuasion Local, that gradient from blacker to grayer which changes.

See that the “same” persuasion variable has a different value depending upon changes in the Local.

It Depends, baby.

P.S. Graphic from, a fabulous website.


Selling the Sell with MOOCs – Move Fast, Be First!

Tom Friedman the best selling NYTimes columnist is all in with MOOCs.

O.K., not every professor will develop a global following, but the MOOCs revolution, which will go through many growing pains, is here and is real.

This is Friedman’s conclusion following a conference on MOOCs put on by Harvard and MIT. He was met at the airport by a Harvard prof who’s achieved rock star status in South Korea for his large lecture performances.

Gee. Big time MOOCers like Harvard and MIT put on a MOOC conference. They chauffeur guys like Friedman around. And then get headlines like the Revolution Will Be MOOCed!

See the persuasion opportunities, mavens?

But, get there now. Time is short. Supplies are limited. You can sell the New New Thing right now and make a tidy bundle on an idea that will have absolutely no detectable effect on Other Guys and their learning, but could earn you some Change you can Count.

You can see every other college and university in the US and the world tripping over themselves to get into the MOOC game. Write the academic version of MOOC for Idiots, Dummies, and Muggles, open an consultancy, and market through SM 2.0!

Now. Get even smarter. Why not MOOCs for plumbers, secretaries, gardeners, and on and on with other knowledge areas? Think about MOOCs as another kind of book or t-shirt, a wrapper you can brand and sell to Other Guys. Just call it a MOOC, present anything and call it a curriculum, package in something called a course, and you’re off.

We’re selling sand to Sauds, ice to Aleuts, and education to educators. Man, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Persuasion TACT and Play: How To Increase Gun Sales Everyday Everyway with Everyone

Today the US Senate plans to vote on several gun control proposals. Since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school, gun control advocates have been rallying public support to restrict access to gun in hopes of at least reducing the chances that events like this are less likely in the future. And, if you’re persuasion smart, you caught the play with the presence of that word, “restrict.” Hmmm. What happens when you try to restrict the Other Guys freedom of action?

You hit the TACT of selling guns to a lot of Other Guys everywhere and every day. Since the Obama re-election and especially since Sandy Hook and advocate calls for new legislation, gun sales are crazy. You’ll have to take my word for this since I cannot give you an Internet source (I blundered into a talk radio bit in a drive over the mountains and lost the channel before I could identify it), but during December 2012 and January 2013 Americans bought enough guns to equip every active duty member of both the Chinese and Indian armies, the two largest armies in the world. Guns are selling like cupcakes at the County Fair. (Try searching the FBI website for the National Instant Background Check System statistics to get another illustration of this boom.)

I could probably do nothing but blog daily on Reactance Theory applications caused by advocacy groups with all manner of health and safety TACTs. All that sincere outrage that advocates express may help attract the attracted or increase contributions, but calls to restrict freedom of behavior will always, and I mean always, elicit Reactance in people who see the restriction applying to themselves, no matter how remote.

Worse than the perverse effect of producing more of the TACT you hope to reduce, current gun control efforts may lead to even less gun control. For example, Senator Cornyn of Texas is proposing a reciprocal recognition among all States for concealed carry licenses so that they function like a driver’s license. Thus, a concealed carry license from West Virginia would be valid in, say, Connecticut or New York.

This outrageous outcome would probably never gotten to the floor of the US Senate under its own steam. If a year ago, Senator Cornyn had presented this proposal, it would have probably and literally been laughed out of the chamber. Today in the emotion of a Reactance-charged world, such a proposal seems a reasonable counterweight to the perceived unfair restrictions offered by gun control advocates.

The Rule grounds us: All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere. I’m going out on a limb before the Senate deliberations today to guess that none of the sincere efforts from gun control advocates will result in any legislation that remotely controls gun purchases. The Reactance against it is simply too large. And while I doubt also that the Cornyn proposal will pass, its vote will be close enough to produce near-death experiences in many control advocates.

Masters, learn from the muggles and Oscar Wilde. When you let your sincerity drive your persuasion you will fail. Wilde suggests that the great ones can be both persuasive and sincere, but only so long as the Other Guys never believe you care.

See, too, echoes of the Not TACT with those who propose restriction. Selling a Stop TACT is almost impossible compared to selling a Go TACT.

But observe yet again another demonstration of Reactance. When your persuasion proposes in any way to restrict the freedom of action in Other Guys, then They will resist.

Finally, to you muggles. You can take no solace in a well fought failure loaded with External Attributions to Big Guns or Little People. If you do, then you prove only that you love yourself more than the lives you claim to protect.

Great Persuaders Don’t Need Sandy Hook Shootings.

Embodied EyeTime


Sequence Matters

The same woman, the same midriff, but different sequence. Thick to Thin versus Thin to Thick. Can it matter?

According to Chae and Hoegg, yes, the sequence does matter and it depends upon the . . . language !!! you prefer to read. For folks whose language reads left to right (English, for example), you prefer an exercise program that promises results from the top sequence, but if your language reads right to left (Hebrew, for example), you prefer an exercise program that promises results from the bottom sequence. How your eyes move determines your attitude, a kind of Embodiment Effect.

Chae and Hoegg execute a series of lab experiments that randomly assign participants to different types of products under different processing conditions while focusing upon that sequence effect. They consistently find Small+ to Medium Windowpanes, about 35/65 effect sizes. The sequence produces those practical or clinically significant outcomes where an alert observer could pick up on the difference without needing a statistician. Let’s look at just one study.

The researchers recruited left-to-right readers (native English readers) and right-to-left readers (native Hebrew readers) as part of a marketing study about selecting furniture for home decoration. Each participant was randomly assigned to one condition that varied the style of furniture and the visual sequence in the ad.

Embodied Eyes Lamp

Each person then rated the furniture they saw in the ads on a standard 4 item semantic differential scale to assess their attitude toward the item. Obviously, the crucial bet here is that visual sequence will interact with eye movement from reading. We’d expect English readers to prefer the top panel in the ad and Hebrew readers to prefer the bottom panel. So? Consider an interaction graphic of the outcomes

Embodied Eyes Interaction

You see the crossover where those who read left-to-right prefer ad sequences that show the past on the left while those who read right-to-left prefer ad sequences that show the past on the right. Now, the effect size for this particular study is Small, a Windowpane of 45/55, so you need to carefully Count the Change to detect it. Other studies in this package find Small+ to Medium Windowpanes, so the basic effect depends upon other conditions. Stated in practical persuasion, the outcomes depend upon the Local, and the Box and Play.

These results point to an interesting association between habitual eye movement, time, and attitudinal responses. We associate the movement of time with the movement of our eyes. When those movements properly coordinate – English readers see the past on the left and the future on the right – we have a positive attitudinal response in the face of confirmed expectation. That’s the way time should read. However, when you violate that association and for English readers, you make the future appear before the past, you elicit a negative attitude. Time is out of sync with your eyes!

Now, the tricky part with the persuasion here is not the basic effect, but how you choose to use it. The researchers proceed in a fairly straightforward fashion where their studies always make the desired outcome arise from coordinated eye movement and time sequence. But, realize that you can use this Embodied EyeTime work to your advantage when you cross the Other Guys eyes.

For example, you can Cross Their Eyes when you associate good news about a competitor with the reversed pattern of reading and seeing. The Other Guys (English reader version) expect to see past to future, left to right. With competitor good news, put the future first then the past. The pattern violates the habit and produces a negative attitude, not because of the content (the competitor good news) but because of the process (the off-beat rhythm between eye movement and time passage). Thus, you can present good information about a competitor and obtain a weakened response while still honestly presenting the information.

Yet again we see the Persuasion Rule: It Depends! A particular persuasion effect or variable can have different outcomes depending upon the Local and the specific Box and Play. Play it straight with Embodied EyeTime and (with English readers) left-to-right with past-to-future produces more favorable attitudes. Cross Their Eyes and (with English readers) left-to-right with future-to-past reverses the effect. It depends!

Stated finally, persuasion is almost always an interaction and almost never a main effect. That’s why you can rarely trust those PersuasionSureShotPlays that advise This One Thing as a magic bullet for change. You have to understand the Local first, then design a Box and Play. After you’ve set those variables, then specific persuasion can produce a reliable effect, but if you don’t understand the Local or run a different Box and Play, the variable will probably fail.

See Embodied EyeTime. Your native reading requires a specific pattern of eye movement, most often horizontal and either left-to-right or right-to-left. We then learn to associate those eye movements with the passage of time and habitually connect the past to a relative location (left for English readers, right for Hebrew readers). Persuasion situations that harmonize with that association produce favorable attitudes while Crossed Eyes klong the association and make us feel Crossed without knowing why. Our experience of this effect is in our bodies and not our minds.

Boyoun (Grace) Chae and Joandrea Hoegg. (2013). The Future Looks “Right”: Effects of the Horizontal Location of Advertising Images on Product Attitude. Journal of Consumer Research, published ahead of print, January 2013.

doi: 10.1086/669476

Nudge in the Door for the Magic Towel that Saves the Planet

Notably, the current investigation further provides important implications regarding our approach to the challenges of driving behavioral change.

While not Profound, Important Implications provide all the great taste of persuasion but with none of the calories from science. Consider. Researchers ran a commitment/consistency Cue with guests at a California hotel to encourage the guests to reuse towels and in so doing save the planet from certain destruction. Really.

Population growth and modern industrialization have increased human impact on the natural environment. Climate change, pollution, and water scarcity are just a few of the ongoing issues in resource conservation. Energy-related activities account for over 85% of our human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, and it is estimated that at least 36 states will face water shortages by 2013 (US Environmental Protection Agency 2011a, 2011b). These realities are hard to escape.

What any of this has to do with persuasion science eludes me, but then I’m getting older and haven’t read the latest research stat and methods books which doubtless now include political philosophy as a new skill to master. I’ll take the authors at their Rationale and assume the science of this old Cue is changed with the nearing collapse of civilization. So. Procedures.

Upon arrival, hotel guests were directed to the reception desk. At the end of the check-in process, a trained hotel employee presented guests with a card stating the hotel’s commitment to the environment, followed by a commitment message with an option to join the hotel’s environmental efforts. We used two types of commitments: general (be environmentally friendly during hotel stay) or specific (reuse towels during hotel stay). To further induce signaling and reinforce the commitment, after receiving the completed commitment card, the hotel employee handed a Friend of the Earth pin to some guests who chose to commit. Notably, branded pins are highly valued by the majority of this hotel’s guests, and wearing them is a tradition. In fact, hotel guests often wear multiple pins using a branded lanyard and tend to “check out” each other’s collections. Consequently, we expected those receiving pins to actually wear them during their stay.

We see immediately the commitment/consistency Cue. If you’ve taken a stand you must stay consistent with it! It’s the foundation of the Foot-in-the-Door tactic. Get the Other Guy to sign a petition, wear a pin or a hat or carry a tag or sign, and that’s the commitment. When the Other Guys are Low WATT, it’s more likely They will fall for the commitment play and then thoughtlessly behave consistently with that commitment. You never want the Other Guys to go High WATT on this because if They really thought about the situation They’d realize that doing something so demanded as signing a petition in public or wearing a pin has nothing to do with the ultimate TACT whatever that may be. Of course, all this is very old news and extremely well-established and one wonders what is new here. Well?

In this article, we propose a novel approach for increasing guests’ participation in towel-reuse programs. Our investigation, which hinges on theories of self-signaling, commitment, and consistency, takes the nudge approach and prescribes a simple yet effective mechanism for increasing individuals’ compliance with environmental appeals in an applied setting.

Nudge. Of course. How foolish of me. Nudge changes everything. This isn’t one of the oldest persuasion plays in the book. This is one of the newest plays you’re being persuaded to buy!

It fooled me. I thought this was just an old Cue employed yet again on a prosocial TACT and more specifically yet again on the same prosocial TACT of reusing towels. How many times do you have to do this before you believe FITD exists and works, especially with prosocial TACTs? Apparently at least one more time: But call it a Nudge.

Yet this study provides Important Implications when it only runs, Hey Diddle Diddle, pretty much in the middle of effect sizes meta analytic studies have reported. Past all the hoopla in the dramatic reporting of this paper, the results they report are Small Windowpanes, about a 10 point improvement in towel reuse among guests who got any persuasion manipulation compared to those who didn’t. Nearly 60% of people in the Control condition (no persuasion plays) asked for reused towels. In the various Treatment conditions, towel reuse was between 60-70%. A Small and predictable Windowpane.

And that “self-signaling” thing. Reread the procedure.

To further induce signaling and reinforce the commitment, after receiving the completed commitment card, the hotel employee handed a Friend of the Earth pin to some guests who chose to commit. Notably, branded pins are highly valued by the majority of this hotel’s guests, and wearing them is a tradition. In fact, hotel guests often wear multiple pins using a branded lanyard and tend to “check out” each other’s collections.

Some, among a population of Other Guys who are already riding the Big Green Machine with the Friends of the Earth, give them a groovy pin they can wear and compare and what do you get: A predictable, proven, and piddling Small Windowpane. What do you think would happen if you tried this at the Dew Drop Inn in some flyover Red State. “Friends of the Earth? Oh, you mean the power company!”

Hey, but even Small effects can translate into big financial savings. Count the Change, baby.

In our hotel alone, estimated savings from increased towel reuse in the specific commitment + pin manipulation is 147,000 towels per year (2,500 loads of laundry, $51,000, and nearly 700,000 gallons of water).

Wow. Now, read this.

The request for housekeeping compliance data came from the hotel’s management in order to better quantify housekeeping response to guests’ towel hanging, as past experience showed that even when guests hung towels to be reused, housekeeping tended to replace them with new towels. During our experiment, housekeeping replaced 43% of towels hung for reuse with new towels (68,000 towels per year; 1,285 loads of laundry, $26,000, and nearly 350,000 gallons of water). In addition to the economic impact, a lack of housekeeping compliance possibly decreases the likelihood that guests will hang towels on subsequent days.

So. The Cue-ball earned the predictable 10 point more towel reuse under some conditions, except housekeeping killed 43% of that effect, meaning that the net impact of the intervention was about 6 points. You need to read past the persuasion to see the science here.

Who’s fooling who? This thing is billed as the New New Thing that will save the world from catastrophe yet at every turn the New New Thing looks only like the Old Old Thing and by doing it with the Nudge, you actually produce about half the average effect this Cue-ball makes. And that’s pretty much what a Nudge does. Take existing Low WATT persuasion plays, run them with Benevolent Paternalism on a progressive TACT, obtain half the expected Windowpane, and declare Important, if not Profound, Implications.

Is anyone surprised that the housekeeping staff trampled on this effect? To claim that a towel got reused because you saw it properly hung before housekeeping got there doesn’t make the towel reused. This persuasion play does not hit the TACT of reusing towels, but rather the TACT of properly asking for a towel to be reused. Anyone who does not see the difference between these two TACTs demonstrates the difference between Nudging and persuading. Consider the persuasion incompetence of anyone trying to save the planet who overlooks all the Other Guys in the production chain of reusing towels and instead only targets the Other Guys who like Friends of the Earth pins and checking out lanyards. No time for the great unwashed Other Guys who actually do the wash.

You fill the menu with tasty descriptions of TACTs that reuse towels and save the planet, but then the dish served is different. No, it’s is not reused towels, but the request for reused towels. No, it’s not actual financial savings, but potential savings if housekeeping also hits the TACT. You see the Say-Do gap.

The science in this paper is the very Old Old Thing, your great-grandfather’s Oldsmobile, and guess what? It still runs! Train check-in personnel and have them take a minute or two to run a Cue and voila, you get a Small Windowpane . . . but on what TACT? Sure, you can call it Reused Towels, except all the towels you Count are not the Change you say because housekeeping kills half the effect. The TACT is actually Cueing the Other Guys to ask for reused towels and feeling good about Themselves in their self-affirming, self-defining, self-polishing pins, leaving everyone to believe they are saving the planet when they are just getting over.

This is perhaps the best example of the Nudge I’ve seen since that silly book hit the market. Take old wine and put it in new wine skins, call it a science for public policy, then hide your weak results in slick rhetorical writing. You’re only selling the sell to those who think they sell when all anyone’s doing is looking in the mirror.

Mavens, see the Nudge as yet another Bolivian bank, easy, ripe, and luscious. The only people who believe the Nudge are people who are passionate about Change, but don’t know how to Count it. All you have to do is run any old, obvious, and effective persuasion play with a Nudge trademark tattooed on its hip and you can cash the check. You should also plan in cost overruns for “unexpected” problems with hidden conservative barriers – look for Other Guys who own guns, eat Slim-Jims, or drive pickup trucks. Conduct an extensive and expensive economic analysis of how much Change these barriers cost the intervention. You know: this team determined that 43% of their effect was lost from those idiots in housekeeping. You might try Fox News, McDonald’s, or WalMart instead.

Past the practical – perhaps Important, even Profound – implications, remember the Rules.

All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.

It’s about the Other Guys . . All the Other Guys.

Just Because You Count It, Doesn’t Mean You Change It.

All Bad Science Is Persuasive.

Katie Baca-Motes, Amber Brown, Ayelet Gneezy, Elizabeth A. Keenan, and Leif D. Nelson. (2013). Commitment and Behavior Change: Evidence from the Field. Journal of Consumer Research , Vol. 39, No. 5 (February 2013), pp. 1070-1084.

DOI: 10.1086/667226

Low Fat for Little Minds

Let’s do a meta analysis on the effect of low fat diets on weight, body mass index, and waistline. If you regularly eat a low fat diet (less than 30% of calories from fats), what happens to your body?

Meta-analysis of 33 randomised controlled trials in adults suggested that diets lower in total fat on average reduced body weight by 1.6 kg, body mass index by −0.51, and waist circumference by 0.3 cm.

By meta of RCTs we prove that low fat diets make you low fat! You’ll be 3 pounds lighter, your BMI will be .5 lower, and your waistline will shrink .1 inch. You know what that means?

The effect on health of an individual reducing his or her body weight by 1.6 kg is likely to be small, but the effects of a whole population doing so would be noticeable.

Or as an editorialist at Journal Watch puts it.

These results have public health implications and support the authors’ claim that attempts should be made to reduce total-fat intake . . . Clinicians should remain steadfast in recommending the same for their individual patients.

Of course those editorial claims are wrong. And completely unscientific. But, entirely persuasive!

The science of the meta indicates support for the claim that long term low fat diets lead to skinnier people. That’s true. But, the effect size, the Windowpane is so trivial that there’s no mortality benefit. Worse still, we know from other good metas that BMI itself has a trivial effect on mortality. Recall the main findings from that BMI meta analysis.

Let me display the outcomes in a more obvious fashion. Compared to “normal” weight people the risk of death is:

0.94 for “overweight” or BMI 25-30
1.18 for “obesity” or BMI over 30
0.95 for “grade 1 obesity” or BMI 30-35
1.29 for “grade 2+3 obesity” or BMI over 35

Sure, low fat diets will trivially lower BMI about half a point, but BMI itself is at best a trivial risk for mortality for people with BMI under 35 and even the risk for those with a BMI over 35 is minimal (1.29 is one half of a Small Windowpane, about 48/52.)

So, science says that low fat diets do lower body size. Science says also that body size has a trivial effect on mortality. While it is technically true that low fat diets lower body size, such interventions for individuals or groups have no proven value. Science says shut up. But, persuasion says nag people about fat intake.

What about morbidity? Fat produces hypertension, diabetes, and on and on. Lower fat in your diet and lower those morbidity risks. Heck, the meta authors even say that. Read.

The effects of low fat intervention on serum lipid levels and blood pressure were meta-analysed and appeared positive (statistically significantly protective) for low density lipoprotein cholesterol and total cholesterol, ratio of total cholesterol to high density lipoprotein cholesterol, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure (see supplementary table 3).

Now, really read that sentence and note the phrase “appeared positive.” If you chase down the Supplemental Table 3 you find once again trivial effect sizes made reportable because the sample size is humungous and you get statistically significant findings. The Windowpanes are less than Small in most cases and in some not even detectable with statistical significance.

The basic science from this meta analysis of low fat diet on body size produces evidence that shows a very Small effect, to put it politely. Low fat diets do reduce body size and metabolic (LDL, blood pressure) function. All true. But trivial.

Worse still, there is no science in the meta to support either the researchers or the editorialist belief about the intervention value of low fat diets. Think about that. They provide only inferences and no data to support a chain of logic like this.

1. Low fat diets lower body size.
2. Low fat diets lower bad metabolic risks.
3. Therefore, low fat diet interventions will make people healthier and live longer.

The first two statements are true, but incomplete. The third statement is made without evidence in the papers and is in fact contradicted by other evidence. Let’s speak more accurately.

1. Low fat diets trivially lower body size.
2. Low fat diets trivially lower bad metabolic risks.
3. BMI has a trivial effect on mortality.
4. Low fat diets as intervention have no proven value.

That’s the science. Anything past that is persuasion and most of it seems to be self persuasion among physicians. Nagging everyone about eating a low fat diet is offered as a great use of time and effort from a physician to Change the Other Guys into great health. A clear headed evaluation of a wide range of evidence strongly suggests such nagging is unnecessary, a waste of time, and likely to create boomerang effects, most notably Reactance as patients rebel in the face of a finger-wagging physician.

As I’ve frequently noted, the medical community is oftentimes the largest barrier to getting useful Change from the Other Guys they service. That community is all thumbs when it comes to both Counting the Change and running Box and Play in the Local. The persuasion implications of this are apparent.

The medical community remains one the largest Bolivian banks in this history of persuasion robberies: Easy, ripe, and luscious. They take nearly 20% of the US GDP and spend it on problems that don’t exist and solutions that won’t work. Assuming you can check you sanity and sincerity at the door, you can make a lot of money with Problems ‘n Solutions R Us.

You think I’m joking, but I’m persuasion serious. As the little appreciated persuasion theorist, Donald Rumsfeld, noted: Weakness Is Provocative. When Other Guys are this stupid while thinking Themselves that smart, you have a duty, an obligation, and a marvelous opportunity to work Them over. Just make sure you include a lot of risk ratios of 121% and words like Statistical Significance in your conversation and materials. Good grief, how do you think all my bachelor degree persuasion students turned drug reps are skinning physicians? With science?

On a more personal level, you might use low fat diets as a diagnostic test for the competence of your physician. No matter how you Count this Change – whether as a health risk or as an intervention for better health – low fat diets are another hobgoblin of the little mind. At the very least you need to understand the limitations of that Other Guy in the white lab coat sitting across from you, even if He doesn’t.

Or, you could eat broccoli and live forever, smugly, if stupidly, like a bank robber stealing all the pennies from the vault.

Mueller, P. (2013). Low Total-Fat Intake Is Associated with Lower Weight, Body-Mass Index, and Waist Circumference. Journal Watch General Medicine, January 3, 2013.

Hooper, L., Abdelhamid, A., Moore, H., Douthwaite, W., Skeaff, C., and Summerbell, C. (2012). Effect of reducing total fat intake on body weight: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials and cohort studies. British Medical Journal, 345. (Published 6 December 2012)

DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e7666

TACTful Implementation Intentions or Good Plans Don’t Save Bad TACTs

Townsend and Liu provide a provocative 5 study package that investigates a boundary condition on Implementation Intentions or just planning, more generally. We know that II is one of the fastest, easiest, and more effective Central Route persuasion plays you can run with Other Guys. Essentially through an act of self-persuasion, your instruction to think about how to implement an intention or plan a change, kicks the Other Guy into High WATT processing that engages the Long Conversation in the Head over the best Arguments possible – the one’s you think of yourself! As we’ve noted many times on the Persuasion Blog, II works and now we must note from Townsend and Liu a strong boundary condition.

They call it Goal Standing and it refers to the discrepancy between the ultimate Goal and your current State. In those five experiments, the researchers convince me at least that when the discrepancy between Here You Are and There You Want To Be becomes too large, then planning or Implementation Intentions won’t work and worse still will boomerang and create negative change! Thus, a proven and effective persuasion play under this circumstance will violate a Rule of Persuasion: If You Can’t Succeed, Don’t Try!

I am not going to detail the studies as I normally would, so you’re going to have to accept my acceptance of their work. If you’ve got doubts, then please read the paper (and I’d encourage anyone to read the paper even if you believe everything I write on the Persuasion Blog!). I want to take the premise of Goal Standing as supported and think about that for practical persuasion.

In Persuasion Blog terms, the problem here is in the selection and statement of the TACT. I always assert that the first practical problem that must be successfully solved is the TACT you choose and how you define it. Most persuasion fails at creation rather than in implementation because you pick a stupid TACT or define it badly. After that happens, nothing else matters because you will hit the wall eventually even if you get all the way to Counting the Change.

Muggles miss this every time. When we first published our work from the 1% or Less Milk campaign many people stupidly criticized us for the simplistic TACT we’d chosen – just move the Other Guy’s hand a few inches in the dairy aisle. We got great Windowpanes, unusually large for a large scale, community-level intervention, but muggles thought that we were grabbing the low hanging fruit when we actually figured out how to make the apples more accessible. We could have targeted many different nutrition TACTs (hey, just read the Food Police Gazette!) but many of them have a steep Goal Standing gradient meaning it’s the long way around the mountain. Why not find a TACT that is easily within the Goal Standing of almost all the Other Guys and also produces a significant change in fat intake?

We found one item – high fat milk – that makes a big difference in nutrition (at least for the Food Police) and is the kind of TACT that Other Guys can easily access and perform. Instead of requiring calculators, calorie counts, checklists, Excel spreadsheets, or even a groovy iGizmo or app, we targeted low fat milk and that easy arm movement down the dairy case. That ain’t Low Hanging Fruit. That’s careful selection and definition of the TACT. The knuckleheads at the CDC didn’t get this point in 1995 and clearly still do not today. As with most who march in the Lifestyle Drum and Bugle Corps.

If you’ve got a background in behaviorism you conceptualize this problem with terms like successive approximation and fractionating goal response. When smart guys like Thorndike, Watson, and Skinner focused on behavior, they immediately understood the Goal Standing problem. If you read Skinner’s more popularized work you often find stories about researchers tearing their hair as they wait for the pigeon to finally peck the disk or the rat to push the lever. They even discovered an origin of Superstitious Behavior as pigeons inadvertently hit the disk while they were lying upside down. Suddenly the When-Do-Get included not simply pressing a shiny disk but doing so while lying upside down!

Kids: It’s about the Other Guy whether primate, avian, or rodent. Some Other Guys simply cannot make the stretch or the combination or the coordination your genius TACT requires and when you Count the Change you find yourself cursing and then writing a grant for a larger sample size which only may provide statistical significance and not a Change that truly Counts.

While this is a bright, important, and now documented persuasion problem, here’s the bad news: There’s no easy solution. To my knowledge there is no Goal Standing test, measurement, or process that allows you to know if your proposed TACT is an easy hit for your Other Guys. Hey, is the corporate work style causing Other Guys to sit to death? Why not a treadmill desk!?! Extolled in peer review as the solution to cubicle obesity, consider the sales figures from the leading manufacturer.

TreadDesk sold 2,800 workstations in 2012 — 50 times more than when it launched in 2006, according to CEO Jerry Carr. Sales of the TrekDesk increased tenfold in the last two years, says Mr. Bordley.

Tens of millions of workers suffer in cubicles turning life into death through sitting when a simple treadmill will solve the problem, yet the biggest supplier has sold just a few thousand units since 2006. Clearly, the TACT here is not getting hit. Maybe it’s a stretch for Goal Standing?

The TACT we chose for the Milk Campaigns involved just moving one’s hand a few inches down the dairy aisle from high fat containers to low fat containers. What could be easier in terms of Goal Standing? But, imagine that grocers reorganized aisles and high fat items were at one end of the store and low fat at the other end. Now our easy reach TACT becomes a journey of a thousand steps.

You see the problem. There’s no way to premeasure your proposed TACT on the Goal Standing Scale. And the persuasion Local can vary wildly, too. If you’ve got any background in behavior analysis (and nowadays no one does because behaviorism is deader than paisley shirts, poodle skirts, and sex only after marriage), you know you need to suffer in the field first, carefully observing what the Other Guys do in the Local, determine sequence, timing, and dependency of actions before you can figure out your TACT.

Go back in the dusty shelves of a good research library and look at the behavior analysis work done on people with severe learning disabilities. You can change Helen Keller if you understand behavior analysis. Anyone who hits TACTs of concrete observable behavior should look at the literature on behavior analysis if only to help stimulate thinking. But realize that even BA does not possess that measuring stick for Goal Standing. You figure that out through the systematic process of behavior analysis which means grinding it out in the Local, testing various Boxes and Plays, then carefully observing effects.

So. In summary realize that Implementation Intentions or planning in general is limited by the quality of the TACT you aim the Other Guys at hitting. When a great distance exists between You Are Here and There You Want To Be, these studies demonstrate how planning will fail. You need to mind the gap, measure the reach, and feel the stretch first.

Claudia Townsend and Wendy Liu. (2013). Is Planning Good for You? The Differential Impact of Planning on Self-Regulation. Journal of Consumer Research , Vol. 39, No. 4 (December 2012), pp. 688-703.

DOI: 10.1086/665053

The Rules Test Persuasion with Pornography (and Media Violence, too)

Consider a primary Rule of Persuasion: If You Can’t Count It, You Can’t Change It.

The Rules focuses upon the essence of persuasion, Changing the Other Guy, and advises that the Change you seek should be something that can be obviously and easily counted, if only at the most simple, Yes or No, binary system. Anyone who claims to do persuasion, but does not Count the Change is not doing persuasion by the Rules.

Remember this Rule when thinking about the role of pornography (and media violence, too) as persuasive messages that produce bad TACTs. Here’s an argument about internet pornography from a new book.

Consider pornography. Part of the problem is that it’s extremely tempting to some people, as alcohol and crack cocaine are. Commentators who don’t investigate the issue much, who might once have had a peek inside Playboy or caught a preview of a naughty film on the television channel of a hotel rest too easy that there’s no problem. But there is. A largely unwitting alliance made up of Cisco, Dell, Oracle, Microsoft and thousands of pornographic providers have now found a way of exploiting a design flaw in the male gender. A brain originally designed to cope with nothing more tempting than an occasional glimpse of a tribesperson across the savannah is lost with what’s now on offer on the net at the click of a button: when confronted with offers to participate continuously in scenarios outstripping any that could be dreamt up by the diseased mind of the Marquis de Sade. There is nothing robust enough in our psychological make-up to compensate for developments in our technological capacities . . . We are vulnerable to what we read and see. Things don’t just wash over us. We are passionate and for the most part unreasonable creatures buffeted by destructive hormones and desires, which means that we are never far from losing sight of our real long-term ambitions. Though this vulnerability may insult our self-image, the wrong pictures may indeed send us down a bad track.

Pornography persuades men to bad TACTs! And, worser still the combination of ubiquitous Internet access and a design flaw in male psychology makes the persuasion even more powerful. This is a straightforward Argument and implies obvious Counts. Start with the worst kind: Crime.

Here is a table that shows rape and murder rates in the US expressed as a change from 1973. It is adjusted for the population size, so the comparison across time is fair.

Rape Murder Rates 1973 base

As you can see, America has experienced a decrease in murder and rape over the 40 years even though through the magic of new media (VCRs, DVDs, cable, Internet) the exposure to pornography over that same time period has vastly increased.

You see the persuasion problem. The basic Argument that media messages persuade bad behavior is clear enough, but the Change doesn’t Count. If bad media messages are as persuasively bad as the Argument claims, you’d expect to find evidence in crime statistics, especially over time and in a large population. Yet, the data decisively dispute the Argument. When you Count the Change with those evil outcomes like rape or murder, the Count kills the claim.

Now, if you read the academic research literature you can find numerous studies on the impact of media messages about sex and violence. Those studies typically find Small Windowpanes on indirect indicators of aggression – negative attitudes, desensitization effects, delivering blasts of white noise. And you can search for yourself to find well done meta analytic studies that survey the research.

The problem with these Counts is that they are nuanced, subtle, and indirect when the basic Argument is obvious: Bad media messages persuade bad TACTs. The disconnect between the implication of the Argument and the Counts is fatal. The real world experience that most people would use – crime – refutes the claims about media messages. Thus, when many people hear the Argument, they reject it because their own experience Counts no Change.

You are then left making those sophisticated presentations on Charlie Rose that detail complex linkages between quantity and quality of exposure to pornography or violence, variations in perception, construal, and attribution, followed by subtleties in memory storage and retrieval . . . and that’s the problem, Charlie. And sometimes when Charlie asks, but what about the crime statistics, the presenter smiles that condescending academic smile about the well known problems with accuracy in crime statistics . . . then changes the topic.

When you are making these Arguments with implications for major policy changes in America, such Counts are vital for the proof of the persuasion. Pornography, especially modern pornography, causes bad TACTs. Intervene on the pornography and you’ll reduce the bad TACTs. And, of course, we are currently seeing a similar kind of persuasion with gun control and Arguments that violent computer games persuade bad TACTs. If anyone wants to create these major policy changes regarding pornography or violent video games, then those crime Counts are unfortunately decisive for many people.

Yet, the people who offer these Arguments cannot see the weakness. The Change does not Count according to the persuasion theory from those who would control pornography or media violence or even assault rifles.

Peitho Rules

It’s Illegal, but It Would Work!

So much for banning large size serving soft drinks in New York City. A New York state Supreme Court judge has thrown out the new regulation that was to have taken effect on March 12, 2013.

The regulations are “fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences,” the judge wrote. “The simple reading of the rule leads to the earlier acknowledged uneven enforcement even within a particular city block, much less the city as a whole . . . the loopholes in this rule effectively defeat the state purpose of the rule.”

Other than that this public health persuasion play would have stopped the obesity epidemic.

Power Corrupts Persuasion.

All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.

Just Because You Can Count It, Doesn’t Mean You Can Change It.

You Can Get Farther with a Kind Word and a Gun Than with Either Alone.

If You Can’t Succeed, Don’t Try.