Killing Them Softly with the Rules

Sure, it’s only fiction and Hollywood fiction at that, but the movie, Killing Them Softly, provides a deft portrayal of the Persuasion Rules in action – gory, violent, slow motion – action. If you can handle that, then the movie gives a great exemplar of persuasion that is beyond good and evil!

Brad Pitt plays Jackie, a mob hit man, brought in to solve a both an image problem and a practical problem. A mob-sponsored, high-stakes poker game has been robbed at gunpoint . . .

Killing Them Softly Poker Robbery

. . . twice. To restore faith and confidence in the mob’s ability to run a card game, Jackie arrives. See immediately the persuasion strategy here: the mob looks bad and needs to move decisively to restore the brand. Now, how do you accomplish this?

You bring justice to the evil-doers or the evil-doers to justice which – given the mob Local – means you hit the TACT with violence. Ahh, the confluence of persuasion and power with the benefits of their proper combination and the sorrows of one’s corruption to the other. We see both Rules.

First, we see how Power Corrupts Persuasion when the mob decides (against Jackie’s analysis) to first beat up a bad guy, Markie, before they kill him later. Jackie knows that Markie must die for obvious credibility reasons alone much less Markie’s bad behavior, so why rough him up if you’re gonna kill him anyway? Thus, Jackie resists the corruption of power while the mob surrenders to it. The mob excessively flexes its muscle, twice, in a nervous display of power while Jackie would deploy it just once, but decisively.

Later, we see Jackie employ persuasion and power to their mutual benefit when he uses the threat of death against Frankie, a poker game thief, to persuade Frankie to rat out another guy, Squirrel, involved in the poker game robbery. And, it is in Jackie’s use of power and persuasion that we see the Choice Persuasion Play. Jackie offers Frankie two choices: rat out Squirrel or I kill you. Of course, Jackie is lying about the choices. He’s gonna kill Frankie regardless, but if he can persuade Frankie to give up Squirrel, then Jackie’s job is a lot easier. So, persuade Frankie that he’s got a choice and Jackie gets two for one.

Jackie and Frankie Choices

Whenever someone offers you choices, the first effect – even with a huge list of options – is of limitation. The guy delivering the choices is always cutting something out. That’s why you always have more choices than you think. If you don’t know this, you’re letting that guy determine your fate already.

You see the punishing effects of missing this lesson when Jackie confronts Frankie in a bar and gives him two choices: rat out Squirrel for a hit or die. Frankie holds out, but only briefly, falling victim to the Rule, All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere. Jackie smells the sincerity and begins to exit the bar, removing Frankie’s chance to rat out Squirrel which means now that only option 2 is in effect for Frankie.

Frankie collapses and never realizes that other choices exist like fighting Jackie right now or running away or calling for the cops or playing along to find a chance to escape or trying to get help from somebody else. When the Other Guy misses the choices that are not on the list, then you’ve persuaded! Frankie calls Jackie back to the bar and rats out Squirrel while also assuring his own murder, but without awareness. You Can Get Farther with a Kind Word and a Big Stick Than with Either Alone.

Now, the reason that Jackie had this conversation with Frankie is because another hit man, Mickey, won’t do the job. Jackie had recommended Mickey do the work for the mob and had him flown in special for the job. The two old friends meet and have a drink to discuss old times and new persuasion opportunities.

Frankie and Mickey Drinking

Jackie slowly realizes that his old hit man friend has lost his nerve and talent for killing. At first he thinks he can persuade Mickey to do the job and he hits Mickey with Central Route arguments – give up booze, avoid hookers, get a good sleep – when Jackie realizes that Mickey is beyond persuasion. So Jackie stops trying to close him. See the combination of two Rules: Never Always Be Closing and If You Can’t Succeed, Don’t Try.

Jackie then designs a setup to trap Mickey in a simple plot involving Mickey’s weakness for prostitutes. Mickey will exit the plot and enter prison without knowing Jackie put him there. There’s a Difference between Persuasion, and Smoke and Mirrors; With Persuasion the Illusion Lingers.

Now, listen carefully, and hear Jackie employ a recurring line. The people he meets almost never know him and have never heard of him even though he looks like they do: Criminal. In the face of their puzzlement, Jackie responds,

“I am just a guy. Very few people know me.”

Anyone who believes this falls victim to the Rule: Persuaders Can Either Be Famous or Effective, But Not Both. When a guy like Jackie has your complete attention, but you don’t know who he is, you might remember this Rule. You may be in the presence of a persuasion master. His gun is not your largest concern.

Take Jackie’s persuasion whole and you see a clear demonstration of his excellence. Jackie always hits the TACT with the available resources and no one is the wiser. Great Persuaders Don’t Need Rich Uncles, Kindness from Strangers, or Third Party Vote Splitters.

Jackie exemplifies my extension to Professor Nietzsche: Persuasion is beyond good and evil. Jackie never betrays an ounce, a hint, a whisper of concern for good or evil, only the strategy and then the Boxes and Plays to make it happen. He is one of the best exemplifications of persuasion theory ever filmed.

Peitho Rules

P.S. Killing Them Softly is a tricky movie. The violence generates enormous tension and obscures the fact that this is a character show and that the plot flows out of character. Some critics get philosophical about various elements of the movie, notably the recurring background of quotes from politicians during the 2008 Presidential election. This is a show about guys and how life happens to them and, for some, how they make life happen for them. The biggest artistic weakness is that no one learns. No one.

P.P.S. Once again we see how fiction prefers persuasion with its bad guys. Jeepers, simply because you are beyond good and evil doesn’t make you bad!

Inanimate Intimacy Persuasion Play©™®

Do you realize the Bolivian Bank here?

The conversation started with a look ahead toward future products. Noting that he was not at liberty to give away specific details on future Apple gizmos, Campbell did tell the audience to expect to see “a lot of things going on with the application of technology to really intimate things.” He pointed to Google Glass as one such intimate object. “It’s a phenomenal breakthrough,” he said. “When you start to think about glasses or watches, they become as intimate as the cell phone was.”

Let’s first name all the names. Campbell is a guy named Bill Campbell who is a technology mover and shaker of the first rank as observed in his role as board member for Apple along with other such appointments at other tech boards. Google Glass is that Queen of Tomorrow jet fighter pilot heads up display on George Jetson glasses. And intimacy is found with . . . cell phones, watches, or glasses.

And that’s the Bolivian Bank. Anyone who finds intimacy with an inanimate object like a cell phone, watch, or glasses is easy, ripe, and luscious. Mr. Campbell says there’s a huge market out there for this intimacy and he can point to an intimate object already in the marketplace.

A short while later, Campbell celebrated Nest, the company started by former Apple executive Tony Fadell that makes a fancy thermostat. “You would think that people would yawn at something as boring as a thermostat,” Campbell said. “So, I’ve been surprised at how it has done and is doing. It will be the first of many products that come out of that company, which has a brilliant CEO and engineering team.”

We’ve seen the Nest before as part of that really green Green persuasion play, a toy that saves the planet while making a fortune for Al Gore and the VC mavens of Silicon Valley. Now, realize another benefit from that iThermostat: Intimacy!

Inanimate Intimacy is, of course, yet another General Semantics variations. Instead of eating the menu, people are loving technology the same way they love people, but only better. You don’t actually share private information with other people who share private information with you. You don’t share intimacy to generate trust or relational depth or commitment. You just pay someone like Mr. Campbell for a phone, a watch, or a pair of glasses that lets you pretend you are intimate.

Off to Bolivia!

On the Central Route with Moses in Numbers

Now Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place of which the LORD said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us, and we will treat you well; for the LORD has promised good things to Israel.” And he said to him, “I will not go, but I will depart to my own land and to my relatives.” So Moses said, “Please do not leave, inasmuch as you know how we are to camp in the wilderness, and you can be our eyes. And it shall be, if you go with us — indeed it shall be — that whatever good the LORD will do to us, the same we will do to you.” Numbers 10:29-32

Hobab makes a difference to Moses. Hobab knows his way around the wilderness and his survival skills are useful to all the Israelites. He wants to leave for his own family, but Moses needs him. So Moses makes takes the Central Route. He argues that Hobab has the skills to lead all the Chosen People in their wandering and promises to deliver to Hobab all the goods that God will provides the Israelites, this despite the fact that Hobab is a Midianite, not one of the Chosen. Hobab finds the arguments compelling because he stays.

Scientific Self Persuasion with Math

E.O. Wilson puts the fish in the barrel.

For many young people who aspire to be scientists, the great bugbear is mathematics. Without advanced math, how can you do serious work in the sciences? Well, I have a professional secret to share: Many of the most successful scientists in the world today are mathematically no more than semiliterate.

I can only affirm that his confession is true of many scientists I’ve known, most particularly in biological and life sciences and the social and behavioral sciences. Most of these folks have trouble with checkbook math much less the basic numbers of their profession.

Wilson then follows this disclosure with a justification: Big deal, who cares, so what.

Fortunately, exceptional mathematical fluency is required in only a few disciplines, such as particle physics, astrophysics and information theory. Far more important throughout the rest of science is the ability to form concepts, during which the researcher conjures images and processes by intuition.

Wilson thus puts science in a category closer to art with his observations about images and intuition. And, I would support that overlap. A lot of good science starts with imagination and intuition. But, and this is where Dr. Wilson is absolutely, completely, and without exemption, exception, or excuse, wrong. Without numbers to demonstrate and test that original imagination and intuition, the concept is poetry, not science. But, Wilson anticipates that and offers this solution.

Over the years, I have co-written many papers with mathematicians and statisticians, so I can offer the following principle with confidence. Call it Wilson’s Principle No. 1: It is far easier for scientists to acquire needed collaboration from mathematicians and statisticians than it is for mathematicians and statisticians to find scientists able to make use of their equations.

Again, I assert that Wilson is fabulously wrong in this Principle. It sounds great in theory (and that’s what Wilson loves), but in practice it fails.

First, the Principle can only apply when the numberless, but brilliant, scientist recognizes the need for more math skill. With people who are imaginative, intuitive, and brilliant, it may take them awhile before they see the weakness in their math. You need to carefully study the author line on publications to see whether the bad math stems from this vanity or from the other problem with Wilson’s Principle.

Second, when the numeracy challenged scientist recognizes the wall he’s just hit, he knows what to do. He finds a friend who computes eigenvalues from matrices in his head. But, he tends to bring in math and stat guys not as genuine collaborators and partners, but as mechanics, hired guns brought in for a particular job. As I’ve demonstrated in many posts on the Persuasion Blog, under these conditions a skilled numbers guy (boy or girl) can produce congenial numbers for the scientist writing the checks, especially when the scientist discloses the imagined result. Given enough data and a clear statement of the desired outcome, a good numbers guy will provide the math or stats needed.

Wilson describes a terrible practice that might produce a great deal of fun for the scientist, but precious little fun that is science. What Wilson decries and disdains here is the hard part of the effort that distinguishes imagination and a good story (a Fallen Apple) from a tested theory (a Falling Apple). Math and stats are part of a general method that provides a built-in set of standards and practices that make the work, science, rather than something else like painting, poetry, or, as we often see, mere persuasion.

It requires little thought to see the persuasion pitfall of Wilson’s Principles. Maybe he got where he is like this and if so, I’d recommend he visit the nearest casino, look at a roulette wheel, and bet his intuition. He might actually win.

Take That Pill

Let’s begin with an obvious comedy.  Way back in the day when Saturday Night Live was new and fresh, they did a skit that portrayed a General briefing a Soldier on a dangerous mission that required lots of instruction and equipment.

General: This is a laser-guided electronic gaphook. This will help you get over the fuel dump selector fence perimeter. It’s a beautiful software item.

Soldier takes the gaphook.

General: This is the digispan target fighter. Team Lab One’s newest piece of personnel elimination equipment. You’ll love it.

Soldier takes the digispan target fighter.

General: And, uh, take that, and take that pill.

Soldier takes the pill!

General:  Okay, now . . . the chopper will drop you here, in Quadrant B, and, uh . . .  That pill, by the way, is an L-Pill. Kills within 20 seconds of time of consumption. Poison lab came up with it. Take it if they try to capture you.

Rim shot! Be here all week!

Now.  To the science of Take That Pill which is just as funny without being comedy!

Unless you are unfortunate enough to have a rare and properly diagnosed disorder, vitamin supplements are only the means to produce more expensive urine.  In just the latest meta analysis, we know that vitamins (and anti-oxidants) produce no mortality advantage, not even with silly statistical significance and this from a sample in excess of 290,000 cases!  Myuong et al. scoured the research lit and located 50 randomized controlled trials, then meta analyzed the individual outcomes to determine an RR of 1.00 with a 95% confidence interval of 0.98 to 1.02.  The big news with this meta is the old news that at least since 2003, meta analysis of vitamin experiments has shown no effect, yet researchers still keep doing vitamin trials.


Persuasion, baby.

Consider this fun two experiment package.  Other Guys were recruited to pilot test a future vitamin study by taking either the actual vitamin or a placebo.  They were randomly assigned to either condition and told which pill They were taking.  Of course, all pills were placebo, so the active persuasion variable is whether the doctor told the Other Guy it was a vitamin or a placebo rather than the actual pill contents.  The cover story here involved that pilot study to gather information about how the pill tasted and was tolerated before the main study.  Thus, all the Other Guy are influenced only through words.  The two experiments varied on health behaviors the Other Guys performed during the experiment.

We examined the effect of dietary supplementation on the relative desirability of exercise and hedonic activities (Experiment 1), the choice between a buffet and a healthful, organic meal (Experiment 1), and walking for health (Experiment 2).  Table 1 shows the means for the behaviors by the pill conditions.

Vitamin Table 1

All of the differences between the vitamin and placebo groups are Medium Windowpanes, about 35/65 effects, so they would be obvious to a careful observer and you wouldn’t need to count on your fingers (or toes!) to determine the difference.  The funny thing to note about these differences, however, is the direction of the effect.  People who thought they were taking the placebo showed the health behavior!  Not the vitamin group!

The researchers had anticipated this outcome and thought it would arise because Other Guys getting the (fake) vitamin would feel more invulnerable.  To that end, the researchers provided a survey to measure just that perception.  Sure enough, they found that people taking the faux vitamin rated themselves as less vulnerable to health problems.  The researchers then ran a standard path model test on the three variables of pill type, vulnerability, and health behavior.  While the pill manipulation alone had an impact on the health behaviors, all of the action came from that perceived invulnerability.

So.  We know from repeated meta analytic summaries of RCTs that vitamins have no effect on mortality, but just the belief that you are taking one is enough to make you feel invulnerable and therefore show fewer healthy behaviors related to diet and exercise!  Is this a great persuasion pill or what?

Physicians can stupidly recommend it and make money on the recommendation and then later on make more money on the patient who is no healthier for spending the money and taking the pill because the pill has no effect except to motivate a false sense of invulnerability which in turn motivates more couch sitting and large serving soda drinking!

All Bad Science Is Persuasive!

Myung S, Ju W, Cho B, Oh S, Park SM, Koo B, et al. Efficacy of vitamin and antioxidant supplements in prevention of cardiovascular disease: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. BMJ 2013;346:f10

DOI:  10.1136/bmj.f10

Wen-Bin Chiou, Chao-Chin Yang, and Chin-Sheng Wan.  (2011).  Ironic Effects of Dietary Supplementation: Illusory Invulnerability Created by Taking Dietary Supplements Licenses Health-Risk Behaviors.  Psychological Science published online 15 July 2011.

DOI: 10.1177/0956797611416253

P.S.  Think about that meta outcome of 1.00 with a CI of 0.98 to 1.02.  That’s 50 different RCTs with nearly 300,000 people.  Think of all that effort and cost to run 50 randomized and controlled trials on that many people.  And combined, the results are zero.  Zero, with a tight little confidence interval because it is nearly 300,000 cases.  If you were teaching stats and wanted a real life example of a random distribution, you could use these data.  Or else a random number generator.

Sight, Sound, and Memory: Keep It Solitary Stupid

Advertisers often push Other Guys into the Cascade at the first stage of Exposure through a combination of sight and sound in the message. Pay a zillion dollars to get a Beatles riff for your new car campaign. More nuanced attempts not only combine sight and sound, but also the timing between the two, such that a particular sound occurs as a cue to highlight a particular sight. A “ta-dah” sound, for example, may proceed and accompany a brand name or icon. That cued sound exaggerates the sight it accompanies, enhancing attention, processing, and perhaps memory. And memory is key. If the Other Guys can’t even remember the message, it is unlikely to have later effect.

So, the interesting question here is, what’s the best combination of cued sound with sight? A new study in Psych Science provides a surprising answer: One sound with one sight.

Researchers ran participants through lab experiments that presented stripped down sights and sounds.

We adopted the pip-and-pop paradigm (Van der Burg et al., 2008b) to determine the capacity for detecting audiovisual events. In Experiment 1a, participants saw 24 black and white discs (see Fig. 1). Every 150 ms, a randomly selected subset of 1 to 8 discs changed polarity from black to white or the reverse. The penultimate change was synchronized with a spatially uninformative auditory signal. The discs that changed at this time were the targets. Participants were asked to remember which discs were the targets and to determine whether or not a probe presented at the end of the trial fell on one of them.

Just dots and discs on a computer screen. And, that sound? It was “. . . a synchronous sound, a 60-ms, 500-Hz tone.” Clearly this is a bare bones manipulation of sight and sound and nowhere near as complex as a typical video or billboard display. Participants then completed an immediate memory test over the visual information from the experiment.

So, the Other Guy is looking at a computer screen, sees small discs appear, sometimes just one, sometimes eight, then that dull auditory cue sound and a probe (a red disc) appeared either directly on a disc or somewhere else on the screen. After the trial, the participant reported whether the probe had landed on a disc or somewhere else on the screen.

And, there’s a lot more control and detail I’m omitting here which means you need to read the report yourself. The studies employ a methodology drawn from testing nuclear bombs which means you control all the moving parts with a complexity that seems just plain stupid if you don’t know anything about the psychology of sensation, perception, and memory. If you do know anything, you realize how complicated these processes can be (which explains why persuasion is so damn difficult).

But, back to the opera. Other Guys see one to eight discs on a screen with a single tone preceding that probe which either hits or misses a disc on the screen. Then report whether the probe hits or misses. What difference does the number of sights make?

Turns out that anything past one visual, kills memory for the event. Here’s a line graph that shows correct recall by number of visual items paired with that cued sound.

Sight Sound Exp 1 Results

You can see that the recall task is trivially easy with just one visual at 90% correct recall. But as soon as the visual field gets bigger by even one more item, recall goes to hell in a handbasket and only gets worse with more information, down to a mere 50% which in these experiments is the chance guessing rate. So, in these well controlled experiments you see almost the total range of memory, of getting almost perfect recall to just guessing. And all a function of how many visuals paired with one sound cue.

Now, at first take, it appears the crucial variable here is the number of visuals, but actually it is the sound. As the researchers note:

Previous work has arrived at a visual-capacity estimate of about 3 to 4 individual units of processing. For example, Yantis and Johnson (1990) and Wright (1994) found that about four flashed locations can be prioritized in search, and other researchers have found that similar numbers of items can be easily enumerated and tracked across space . . . Ultimately, this limit of 4 appears to reflect the capacity to individuate, or index, visual events in a visual short-term or working memory system.

So, people can normally process and recall up to four visual items without much loss of recall. But. When combined with that sound cue, people can reliably only recall one visual item.

Now, quickly. No. This was not a marketing study that employed well known brand names and images with text and cool riffs from famous songs. This is just a simple study of simple perception and memory. The generalizability of the results beyond the lab is an open question.

The studies do, however, point to a fundamental limitation in information processing of sight and sound that appears to have implications for that first stage of the Cascade. People simply cannot correctly remember more than one visual with one auditory cue. If a persuasion message is designed with that kind of “ta-dah” example I introduced, but the sound is connected with several visual items, the effect is likely lost to memory.

Again, make sure you understand the sight and sound combination. These studies say nothing about the commonplace of Ding-Donging a famous song with famous brand words or icons. Nike paid a small fortune to use the Beatles song, Revolution, to sell sneakers (YouTube).

That’s just classical conditioning as Nike associates themselves with an evocative sound from a famous group. The sound runs over all the visuals and is never used to cue up a particular sight.

Imagine instead an ad that shows all those Nike visuals with no sound. But, at the end of the ad, we hear the famous da-da-da-dah from Beethoven’s Fifth Sympathy, then see a final shot that is visually complex: Michael Jordan’s image, a sneaker heel, the Nike swoosh, and the word, Nike. These studies suggest that people would not be able to correctly recall any single image above chance. However, if that final shot fell on just one image, the Nike name, that fateful riff from Ludwig von would trigger a 90% correct recall rate.

As with so much in both persuasion and psychology, an effect always depends upon the Local, what else is going on. Sound wrapped around a bunch of visuals can simply Ding-Dong. Sound used as an underscore, italic, or boldface can either improve or harm memory, depending upon the number of visuals in the message. Same sound, different Locals, different effects.

Erik Van der Burg, Ed Awh, and Christian N. L. Olivers. (2013).  The Capacity of Audiovisual Integration Is Limited to One Item Psychological Science, first published on February 6, 2013.


P.S. I encourage anyone with an interest in persuasion to read this research. This is the science, baby. You die in the lab to build generalizable knowledge. See the obvious and silly contrast with those Tales from the Tooth Fairies. There is science. It can be done. You don’t need shortcuts. You just have to think and work at it rather than pump out press releases.

Dissonance Works Even When You Can’t Remember It

Let’s get weird with Dissonance Theory. Generally we start our travails along the Dissonance path with an inconsistency: we love our lovers, then forget their birthdays. Typically these inconsistencies produce suffering for us but rather than fall within the physics of operant conditioning wherein we hate the negative consequence of suffering, Dissonance and its Reduction leads us to love more that for which we suffer. Through a baroque cognitive operation we turn the lemons of our consequences into sweet lemonade of internal harmony, balance, and consistency of self. I love you so much it doesn’t matter whether its your birthday or any day!

The interesting part of that Dissonance Reduction is that cognitive work of turning lemons into lemonade. How are we thinking when confronting Dissonance? Consider this study.

Take 12 amnesiacs and 12 age matched controls. Have each participate in the choice paradigm where you rate a bunch of objects (in this case either pictures made by famous artists like Monet or pictures from unknown Aboriginal artists) then make a choice between two similarly rated pictures or two dissimilarly rated pictures for the one you’d like to hang in your home. Then perform the rating task again.

Common sense would predict that rating the same objects twice in a row should produce very similar ratings. But remember that choice task in between. You had to express a preference for one of two objects, one pair of equal rating, the other pair of unequal rating. These choice paradigms produce the surprising (common sense), but predicted (Dissonance theory) outcome where behavioral choice changes preferences. But even with people who have amnesia and can’t remember the last thing they just did? Consider the attitude change for the rated art objects by Amnesia versus Age Control.

The age-matched control participants showed the typical behavior induced attitude change. That is, there was a greater difference between the mean ranks of the selected and rejected pairs in Phase 3 than in Phase 1, t(10) = 3.07, p < .02, r = .68. Amnesic patients also showed attitude change, t(9) = 2.52, p < .03, r = .62.

Consider the results in a Table.

Amnesia Diss Table 2

You see the predicted Dissonance effect. Among both Amnesiacs and Age Controls both re-rate the chosen object higher and the rejected object lower. If no choice occurred (bottom half of the Table), re-rating showed no change. Thus, when forced to choose between two equally rated objects, we alter our attitude so that our following attitude is stronger for the object chosen and weaker for the one not taken.

Now, the important point of this study is the lack of difference between Amnesiacs and their Age Controls. Amnesiacs cannot remember what they thought just a few moments ago, so all the work they did in the first rating task is completely lost to them, yet they still show Dissonance Reduction just like the Age Controls who have standard memory processes. So, Dissonance operates even when you cannot remember.

The researchers then push this idea with another test. They take college students and have them perform the same rating and choice task, but now under conditions of Load or No Load.

Participants in the cognitive load condition heard a series of tones, each at one of three pitches, and were required to keep track of the number of tones at the lowest pitch (Gilbert & Silvera, 1996; Lieberman, Gilbert, & Jarcho, 2000). In the no-load condition, participants were told to ignore the tones.

These kind of load tasks are great at killing a wide variety of cognitive functions – reception, perception, memory, for example. No matter how smart you are, multiple tasks rob your limited cognitive capacity and something has to give. Typically in persuasion experiments, Load kills WATTage which throws the Other Guys onto the Peripheral Route which makes Them follow the bouncing Cue. What happens when you kill cognition with these Dissonance tasks?

No-load participants showed the standard behavior-induced attitude change; there was a greater difference between the mean rank of the selected and rejected pairs in Phase 3 than there was in Phase 1, t(14) = 2.23, p < .05, r = .51. Our prediction that participants under a cognitive load would also show attitude change was supported, t(14) = 2.64, p < .02, r = .58.

Again, let’s look at a Table of means.

Amnesia Diss Table 3

We see the same manner of outcome. Regardless of Load, the Other Guys run down the Dissonance Path when given the choice between equally attractive objects. When they don’t have to make a choice (the bottom half of the Table), there’s no Dissonance and no change in ratings.

So, we’ve got two different tests and demonstrations of “thinking” that show the same outcomes. Whether with Amnesiacs who cannot remember or with people who are situationally overloaded so they cannot remember, we still get Dissonance Reduction.

Isn’t that weird?

Clearly everything about Dissonance requires a lot of different kinds of thinking. You’ve got cognition in the first rating task as you look at each object, evaluate it, consider it, then provide a score on a standard measurement scale. You’ve got cognition in that choice task as you consider the two objects and now make comparisons between them, and then you make your choice. And, finally all the cognition from the second rating task. Dissonance requires a lot of cognition.

But, the nature of that cognition is strange. You do not have to remember prior thoughts whether from the person (amnesia) or the situation (load) to get Dissonance Reduction. Yet at the same time, you are able to express in detail what you are doing and why. You can form sentences that create arguments. You’ve got a ton of psycho-logic running.

And, another weird thing about Dissonance. If you’re numbers-sharp, you’ve noted the Windowpanes for just these studies. Really small samples, but really Large effects. Dissonance tends to produce unusually large persuasion effects in a flash of some kind of cognition and those effects tend to persist over time, resist counter-attacks, and predict future behavior which exactly describes the outcome of the Central Route with High WATT Other Guys engaging the Long Conversation in the Head about Arguments. Except with Dissonance, there doesn’t appear to be a conscious Long Conversation and WATTage doesn’t seem to matter either.

And, finally, consider how Dissonance looks different whether you are observing it in someone else or it is happening to you. Here’s how the researchers put it in Discussion.

The possibility that behavior-induced attitude change can take place automatically and without conscious processing casts new light on the role of motivation in rationalization. People tend to look unfavorably on individuals who change their attitudes to justify their behaviors because these individuals should be able to see that they are “just rationalizing” and thus realize that their new attitudes are glaringly inauthentic. Our results suggest, however, that the behavior induced attitude-change process may not be consciously experienced. Because the results of automatic attitude processes are often experienced as given by the environment rather than constructed by the mind, what looks like disingenuous rationalization from without may feel genuine from within (Bargh, 1989).

One large ending point. I’ve never read anything remotely like a Dissonance concept in any other field across the history of human thinking. It wasn’t until Leon Festinger thought it through and ran the experiments that we began to get a grip on the idea. We’re now 55 years past Festinger’s first formal statements on Dissonance and we’re still charting it.

There is a persuasion science.

Lieberman, M. D., Ochsner, K. N., Gilbert, D. T., & Schacter, D. L. (2001). Do amnesiacs exhibit cognitive dissonance reduction? The role of explicit memory and attention in attitude change. Psychological Science, 12(2), 135-140.

Persuasion Quotation: Taking a Pitch

Consider baseball metaphors.

In the summer of 2002, the agile Dominican superstar Alfonso Soriano became the first New York Yankee in history to notch 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in a single season. Soriano broke another record that year: He was the first Yankee to strike out 157 times in a season. Asked to explain his habitual wild swings, Soriano produced a great line: “You don’t get out of the Dominica by taking pitches.”

Swing at everything to succeed . . . in baseball as an escape from Dominica.

In New Haven, the world’s most famous literary critic, Harold Bloom, murmured his approval of Soriano’s statement to friends. Bloom has been a Yankees fan since he was a kid growing up in the impoverished, heavily Jewish East Bronx of the 1930s, and so he applied Soriano’s adage to himself: “You don’t get out of the East Bronx by taking pitches.”

Swing at everything to succeed . . . in literary criticism as an escape from the East Bronx.

But swing at everything to succeed . . . in persuasion? That violates the Rule,

Never Always Be Closing

. . . which means, of course, never be obvious. And, you will be obvious when you are always closing or never taking a pitch. All the Other Guys will see you for what you are, a terrible perception for a change agent.

So. Take a pitch when it suits your purposes. Learn when and why the Other Guy throws His pitches. Discover whether taking a pitch might actually change later pitches the Other Guy throws. Never take a pitch when you’re trying to escape some Other Guys, but take a pitch when you’re trying to change the Other Guy.


P.S. Bloom’s back briefly on Richard III!

Cueing Up Dishonesty or Liking the Friendly Thief

While dual process models like the ELM or HSM typically apply to attitudes in obvious persuasion applications, you can abstract a General ELM that applies the blueprint to human thought and action in daily life beyond attitudes. We’ve done this before, for example, with studies of stereotyping and prejudice. We’ll do the same thing in this post with dishonesty. Consider just the Procedure.

Participants entered the laboratory and were randomly assigned to four conditions based on a 2 (affect: positive vs. neutral) × 2 (self-awareness: high vs. low) factorial design. First, following the procedures used by Dijksterhuis and Van Knippenberg (2000), we manipulated self-awareness by asking participants to sit at a cubicle with a mirror or a cubicle without a mirror. Participants randomly assigned to sit at the cubicles with the mirrors were in the high-self-awareness condition, whereas the participants seated at the cubicles without the mirrors were in the low-self-awareness condition. Participants then watched a short movie clip designed to induce positive or neutral affect (e.g., Fredrickson, 2001; Tice, Baumeister, Shmueli, & Muraven, 2007). Participants in the positive-affect condition watched a clip of a cartoon duck showering. Participants in the neutral-affect condition watched a clip of a screensaver-like animation of colored sticks.

The two independent variables, Affect and Awareness, have very different WATTage effects. Positive Affect is a friendly thief that robs WATTage and produces an Other Guy who just wants to drift on the Peripheral Route. Self Awareness, particularly with that mirror manipulation, tends to make the Other Guys go High WATT, keenly aware of both Themselves and the world around Them. Combine Positive Affect with Low Awareness and you’ve got a great example of the Low WATT processor, while the contrast with Neutral Affect and High Awareness generates the High WATT processor. Now, one more measure.

Following this task, participants completed a validated and widely used survey of moral disengagement (Detert et al., 2008): Using a 7-point scale, participants rated their agreement with 32 statements, such as, “It is ok to tell small lies because they don’t really do any harm” (α = .90).

You quickly see where we’re headed with this preview. Hmmm, the Other Guys are completing a measure of moral disengagement with small lies. Wonder why we’re measuring that?

We now get to the TACT. All participants perform a series of cognitive tasks involving number search for 5 minutes. Correct performance is worth more money in the form of a cash payment. The better you do on the search, the more money you will get. Here’s the fun part.

The researchers designed the payment system so that the participant got to compute how well they did and how much money they should receive while believing the researcher was in the dark on all this. Unknown to the participants, the researchers could actually measure the participants’ performance and knew exactly what was correct and exactly how much the participants should get paid.

Now, the experiment comes clear. We’ve designed a WATTage manipulation that pushes and pulls Other Guys along the Central or Peripheral Routes then provides an opportunity to tell small lies for personal gain. Does WATTage matter? Consider this graph.

Dishonest ELM Study 2

WATTage illuminates honesty! In front of the mirror and regardless of that Affect manipulation, the Other Guys honestly report their performance and pay. No difference. But, without the mirror, see the impact of the friendly thief, Positive Affect. Here’s the official jibber-jabber of Results.

Consistent with our prediction, results also showed a significant interaction between the self-awareness and affect conditions, F(1, 88) = 10.23, p < .001, η2 = .26 (see Fig. 1). In the low-self-awareness condition, participants who experienced positive affect stole significantly more money (M = $1.27, SD = $1.17) than did participants who experienced neutral affect (M = $0.12, SD = $0.44), t(45) = 2.27, p = .03. Conversely, in the high-self-awareness condition, participants who experienced positive affect did not steal significantly more money (M = $0.12, SD = $0.45) than did participants who experienced neutral affect (M = $0.19, SD = $0.45), t(41) = 0.54, p = .59. Additional analyses showed that, even when self-awareness was low, participants who experienced neutral affect did not steal significantly more money (M = $0.55, SD = $0.88) than did participants whose self-awareness was high (M = $0.19, SD = $0.45), t(39) = 1.79, p = .08. Finally, a 3-to-1 contrast analysis indicated that individuals in the positive-affect and low-self-awareness condition stole significantly more money than did participants in the other three conditions, t(88) = 5.22, p < .001.

The interaction effect is a Large Windowpane (that “η2 = .26″) and from that you see that dishonesty is most intense at the combination of low Awareness with Positive Affect. And, if you read carefully you see that even that 55 cent effect for the Neutral Affect with Low Awareness is not different from the High Awareness conditions, but only different from the Positive Affect plus Low Awareness. Thus, even though 55 cents looks like a difference, it is within sampling error here.

And, sorry for the grind, please note that standard deviation of $1.17 in the most dishonest condition. That’s a lot of variability in that condition and it probably indicates that most people were honest, but a few were extremely dishonest. I suspect that if you looked at the distribution within that cell, you’d find a very long tail. Thus, I’d argue that this effect doesn’t move most of the Other Guys a little bit, but rather moves some of the Other Guys a huge amount.

And just to tie a bow around it all, remember that moral disengagement survey. How’s that figure in all this? The researchers ran a nice little path model to show how moral disengagement gets activated with the Positive Affect manipulation and then produces the dishonesty. Read this path diagram carefully.

Dishonest ELM Path

Look at the bottom path between the Affect/Awareness box leading to the Dishonesty box. You see two equations, one above the other below the path line. The top equation shows the direct effect of Affect/Awareness on Dishonesty without moral disengagement. The bottom equation shows what happens when you add moral disengagement to the equation. Notice that the p value goes from .003, highly significant, to .08, nonsignificant. Thus, moral disengagement kills the simple effect of Affect/Awareness on Dishonesty. Now, look at the other path lines and you see that each path going to and from moral disengagement is statistically significant.

The data show that our independent variables of Affect and Awareness produce their effect on Dishonesty through moral disengagement. Stated another way, Positive Affect plus Low Awareness combine as the friendly thief that robs us of our moral standards. We get sloppy, loose, and lazy. We cut corners. Hey, we’re on the Peripheral Route, baby. That profile of attitudes and beliefs is active as we do the number search task and, more importantly, is active while we compute our pay. And, you see what happens.

And, you see all the persuasion lessons. This is the General ELM that applies more broadly than mere attitude to human thought and action. You can manipulate WATTage with mirrors and YouTube fripperies. That relaxes your standards of evaluation whether with attitudes or in this case with values. Sliding along the Peripheral Route our Low WATTage makes thefts of all kinds easier. Here we take more than we deserve. In other cases, as with stereotyping and prejudice, we classify people with cartoon categories. See the general impact of WATTage.

Find interesting WATTage manipulations with, of all things, a mirror! Ever since Wickland’s research on self awareness in the 1970s, we’ve known about the wonderful properties of mirrors. If Wickland rings no bells for you, chase it down. They actually did persuasion science in the 1970s and without iGizmos or Facebook or, gasp, online search engines. If you’ve got mirrors in your Local, you need to think very carefully about them.

Finally, Positive Affect. By itself Positive Affect typically generates Low WATTage and that vulnerability to Cues. Notice, however, that when other manipulations are around, the impact of Positive Affect can change remarkably. Just look again at that interaction graph and observe that in front of the mirror, Other Guys can have Positive Affect, but still go High WATT on honesty.

Affect, as I have repetitively noted, is an extremely tricky persuasion variable and you have to be extremely careful in its application. Assume you do the setup with YouTube videos of fun events (cats lol!) to generate that Positive Affect, hoping to generate Low WATTage so you can hit the Other Guys with a Cue. But, there’s a mirror in the room you forgot about and all the Other Guys can easily see themselves in the mirror while They are lol-ing over the cat videos. Now, They are High WATT and when They see your Cue, They lol at it.

Let’s get out of here. Salute the General ELM and see the broad applications of the WAC. Anytime people engage in thought and action, the General ELM provides a simple, but proven blueprint for predicting, describing, and producing Change. Always look for WATTage first; that’s the driver. Then understand how the Long Conversation in the Head applies here whether with attitudes, beliefs, stereotypes, values, decisions, whatever. Now you can determine the Arguments and the Cues and how they will operate.

Lynne C. Vincent, Kyle J. Emich, and Jack A. Goncalo. (2013). Stretching the Moral Gray Zone: Positive Affect, Moral Disengagement, and Dishonesty Psychological Science, first published on March 6, 2013.


P.S. Mirrors and the ELM for persuasion? Yeah, they’ve done that. Hutton and Baumeister used mirrors as a WATTage manipulation in a standard ELM persuasion study published in 1992 with Personality and Social Psych Bulletin. You can look it up!

God and Faith without Persuasion

If I was the Nervous God of the skeptics, unsure of my followers, worried over my popularity, and concerned more with obedience than love, here’s how I’d handle things. I’d use the principles imagined in Brave New World, 1984, The Manchurian Candidate, and The Truman Show. I’d create a flock of faithful who’d never doubt, always comply, but, alas, would be less than human.


From Brave New World, take genetic engineering that simplifies human nature into a few pure types of biological, hardwired potential. This vastly reduces variability in responding to just a few factors so that you don’t even need a computer to handle the available combinations. Everyone falls into just a handful of categories that restrict awareness, perception, intelligence, evaluation, memory, and desire. Even the Alphas will have built in limitations, most notably an arrogance that arises from their superiority to everyone else . . . except me . . . and they won’t see that.

From 1984, take the technology of surveillance, scrutiny, and communication. We don’t need to get old school Soviet with this like we’re Uncle Joe Stalin or even old school Nazi with Uncle Adolf Hitler. We can make this technology feel friendly, useful, inert even. We’ll run fun shows on it that you like so that you don’t realize you’re being watched on the other side. And I’ll offer lots of helpful reminders to you when I sense that your loyalty is wandering.

From The Manchurian Candidate, take the techniques known to the vulgar as brainwashing, but to the cognscenti as subliminal conditioning. I’ll develop a really cool looking headset that even designers at Nike would think is good. The headset will include ear buds and a sunglass visor with a heads up display like with those modern fighter aircraft. Again, I’ll make it fun and useful so you don’t realize the subliminal messages are there.

From The Truman Show, take unawareness. No one will know any of the above is happening. Everyone will be happily appearing in their own daily experience not realizing that I’m in the background, essentially producing everyone’s life with genetic engineering, constant surveillance, and continuous conditioning. As long as no one walks through the door and sees that they’ve been living in a metaphoric Hollywood motion picture studio, again produced by yours truly, everyone will be faithful.

Just think about this.

It would work. People would develop unshakable faith in me even without any miracles like parting a sea or raising the dead or casting a plague upon the Pharaoh. A few simple biological types, constant monitoring and communication, continuous and quiet conditioning, and a complete lack of awareness – combine those elements and faith is easier than falling off a log.

Now, consider the implications of this thought experiment.

Why didn’t God do something like this? The Bible and your own everyday experience demonstrates that people have volition and use it all the time. People are not mindless automatons programmed for faith. They do what they want. God could easily employ the tactics I’ve outlined here and we’d all be living blissfully in The Truman Show. Yet, the variety of human faith and skepticism would seem to prove that God is not loading the dice, but rather is letting us roll them straight or crooked as we choose. It’s hard to see this as the Nervous God of skeptics. He allows volition even when He could easily overcome it. Doubters don’t disprove God; they prove volition.