persuasive Lancet-Meta-Analysis®

The July 18, 2012 issue of The Lancet – not to be confused with the Lancet or even just, Lancet – offers an exercise in self persuasion, reassuring itself that it is scientific, relevant, and maybe even cutting edge with a special issue on physical activity timed to ride the growing wave of London Olympics attention. Pretty clever, a British publication releasing a special issue on something related to physical activity just in front of the British Olympic Games. Almost persuasive! But, The Lancet is scientific and wants you and more importantly themselves to know it.

While the issue offers no new original research, it does offer a persuasive Lancet-Meta-Analysis® on the effects of sitting or standing on global life and death which is accompanied by a series of commentaries. Let’s start with the commentary about that Lancet-Meta-Analysis® on the effects of sitting or standing on global life and death.

There is substantial evidence to show that physical inactivity is a major contributor to death and disability from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) worldwide.

Pamela Dasa, Richard Hortona. (2012). Rethinking our approach to physical activity. The Lancet, available online 18 July 2012.

doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61024-1

Clearly, physical activity has vast potential to improve health throughout the world.

Pedro C Hallal,Adrian E Bauman,Gregory W Heath,Harold W Kohl,I-Min Lee,Michael Pratt. (2012). Physical activity: more of the same is not enough. The Lancet – 18 July 2012.

doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61027-7

Exercise has been called a miracle drug that can benefit every part of the body and substantially extend lifespan. Yet it receives little respect from doctors or society.

I-Min Lee, Eric J Shiroma, Felipe Lobelo, Pekka Puska, Steven N Blair, Peter T Katzmarzyk, for the Lancet Physical Activity Series Working Group. (2012). Effect of physical inactivity on major non-communicable diseases worldwide: an analysis of burden of disease and life expectancy, The Lancet, Available online 18 July 2012, ISSN 0140-6736,

doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61031-9.

Vast. Miracle drug. Substantial and major. Man, what’s in that persuasive Lancet-Meta-Analysis® on the effects of sitting or standing on global life and death? Here’s the headline (from the Lee, et al. cite above).

Worldwide, we estimated that physical inactivity causes 6–10% of the major non-communicable diseases of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colon cancers. Furthermore, this unhealthy behaviour causes 9% of premature mortality, or more than 5.3 million of the 57 million deaths in 2008.

Vast. Miraculous. Majorly substantial. This persuasive Lancet-Meta-Analysis® is something special. How do you do this wonderful thing?

Scan the literature on physical activity in every country of the world with a special emphasis upon WHO sources. Extract from each report estimates of: 1. Prevalence of sitting and/or 2. Risk Ratios of the mortality effects of sitting. Then you compute the Population Attributable Fraction (PAF) by essentially multiplying Prevalence times Risk Ratio and invent an estimate of how much death is caused by sitting.

Next you include all of this data in a persuasive display of numbers in various tables to inflate the length of a very short paper. Call this Killing WATTage With Meaningless Numbers. You build piles and reams and rows and columns of numbers, numbers, numbers, whether called RR or PAF, just nothing but numbers. And with all those numbers, numbers, numbers, you know you are dealing with serious people who tell the truth and maybe even the Truth – as Dr. Wakefield proved – since they are reporting at the Lancet, oops, The Lancet.

As important as what you include is what you exclude. Don’t mention an effect size. The Windowpane effect size from the INTERNATIONAL GLOBAL ANALYSIS OF EVERYONE IN THE WORLD is about one-fifth of a Small effect, about 49.999/50.001. Don’t discuss method flaws. None of the studies in this kinda report is based on a random sample. None of these studies randomly assigned participants to controlled conditions. All of these studies rely upon self report for all or most of the variables. All of the surveys use different measurement formats and are not directly comparable. Many of these studies were done in countries with lousy scientific and information infrastructure.

Vast. Miraculous. Majorly substantial. The NYTimes buys it and so do the readers who comment. It must be truly true!

Let’s pretend that we agree with The Lancet’s Cool Table attempt. Imagine that we convince world governments to pay for this so you’d have the billions needed to do whatever The Lancet thinks will actually get everyone in the world off their butts. And, of course, we are pretending that you could do an intervention at any price that would Change all those lazy Other Guys and that the Change would actually save lives. This is all pretend because there is no evidence that such an intervention would produce the congenial mortality effects that are assumed to exist.

If you were a first class maven with an unlimited budget and you created a successful intervention that got the lazy world on its feet, you’d save 5.3 million lives a year!

That sounds like a lot life, but you’re not thinking about it clearly. This imaginary intervention would only cause those 5.3 million people to die next year rather than this year because, as the researchers note, increasing physical activity would only add about 1 additional year of life. Really.

We estimated that the median years of life potentially gained worldwide with elimination of physical inactivity was 0.68 years.

Just to be tidy and The Lancet Accurate® we need to adjust our calculations from 1.00 to 0.68. So, 0.68 years of additional life works out to an extra 248.2 days except for Leap Years which add 248.8 days. At the end of life span. Or else you can take those 248.2 to 248.8 days and distribute them throughout the life span if you prefer to think of it that way. But everyone simply dies about 250 days later.

So. Yeah, you could say that your intervention saves 5.3 million lives a year.

Or you could say that 5.3 million people will die next year rather than this year.

And, you get this gain at the end of the life span, so all those guys who would have died at 81 will instead die at 81 years and 248.2 days or maybe as much as 81 years and 248.8 days.

Finally, to get that, you have to get EVERYONE IN THE WORLD off their butts all the time forever.

The only thing Vast, Miraculous, and Majorly Substantial about The Lancet is their tone-deaf self-importance. An entire issue functions as little more than an extended advertisement to encourage more grant money from governments to fund trivial research. You think I exaggerate? Here’s the previously cited Dasa and Hortona paper.

One might conclude that this Series should not be published in The Lancet. Physical activity is not a medical or pathological predicament but more a cultural challenge: to create a lifestyle inclusive of activity. It could be argued that this Series would be better placed in a national newspaper, a women’s magazine, or a television or radio programme. But the first step in what must be a social revolution towards an active, and away from a passive, physical and mental life should be to assemble the best experts in the field and the best evidence to understand what we know about the relationship between human health and physical activity. This goal is the purpose of our Series.

Be plain.

This is not science. This is not even persuasive. It shimmers with a veneer of polished sincerity over a hard core self promotion and regard. Think about this. That persuasive Lancet-Meta-Analysis® makes the strongest Argument against sitting and for standing that the research literature can produce without fabrication, falsehood, or fudging. Let the technique hide the bad method and the worse statistical whiz-bangery and accept the estimate: 248.2 days . . . at the end of the life span . . . if everyone in the world gets off their lazy butts all the time forever.

Vast. Miraculous. Major. Substantial.

Wow, 0.68 years. Doncha just love that kind of accuracy. Almost looks scientific, doesn’t it? Remember, the standard deviation for life span is about 15 years. Divide 0.68 by 15 and you get a d effect size of 0.04. A Small Windowpane d is equal to 0.20. Hmmm. 0.04 against 0.20. That’s one-fifth of Small.

Vast. Miraculous. Major. Substantial.

P.S. Hey, mavens, note the disclaimer at the end of the papers where everyone declares they have no Conflicts of Interest. In persuasion theory that is called Dissonance Reduction.

P.P.S. Hey, kids, read the research on the effect of getting off your lazy butt for its cognitive and emotional benefits. If you want to run, run for a clear mind and a contented soul no matter what it does to your life span.

P.P.P.S. Last one. Promise. Here’s the Google Trends on Lancet searches over the past 30 days collected on July 19, 2012. You see the weekly cycle from the publication schedule. Looks like this persuasively timed special issue gains nothing over past The Lancet issues. Sometimes PR is persuasive and sometimes it’s just PR.

P.P.P.P.S. Sorry. The Lancet Physical Activity Series Working Group is responsible for this special issue. What? A gaggle of researchers banding together under the title of a journal? Since when did scientific journals hire out researchers? What kind of peer review is that? What kind of independence is that? What next, the JAMA Soda Pop Working Group? The Science Perpetual Motion Working Group? The PsychScience Progressive Prejudice Working Group? Are we doing science or building brand synergy? Where’s The Lancet TLPASWG t-shirt? Certainly there’s a handshake and a song, too. Maybe even a password play. Two researchers who don’t know each other bump into one another at science mixer. The first one queries, “The?” The second, on that Cool Table, replies “Lancet.”

Literary Character as Persuasion Cue

Consider this from a Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

She wasn’t the only one who thought so, nor was she the last to realize that Bayardo San Román was not a man to be known at first sight.

Bayardo San Román presents as Cue, a persuasive force that strikes at first sight while hiding that it is both more and less than it seems at that first sight. And if you could have second sight with both Cue and Bayardo San Román, you would know your first sight was in error. Consider this testimony about Bayardo San Román.

My mother wrote to me at school toward the end of August and said in a casual postscript: “A very strange man has come.” In the following letter she told me: “The strange man is called Bayardo San Román, and everybody says he’s enchanting, but I haven’t seen him.” Nobody knew what he’d come for. Someone who couldn’t resist the temptation of asking him, a little before the wedding, received the answer: “I’ve been going from town to town looking for someone to marry.” It might have been true, but he would have answered anything else in the same way, because he had a way of speaking that served to conceal rather than reveal.

Cues always aim to conceal the persuasion. When the Other Guy knows it is a Cue, the persuasion fails. Arguments, in contrast, always reveal the precise direction of the persuasion. Arguments may persuade you somewhere you should not go, but the act of persuasion is obvious. With Cues, it never is.

One last description from Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Bayardo San Román had become our very good friend, a friend of a few drinks, as they said in those days, and he seemed very much at ease at our table.

Write a Funny Autobiography and Live 6 Years Longer!


Objective: This study examined whether specific types of positive and negative emotional words used in the autobiographies of well-known deceased psychologists were associated with longevity. Methods: For each of the 88 psychologists, the percent of emotional words used in writing was calculated and categorized by valence (positive or negative) and arousal (activated [e.g., lively, anxious] or not activated [e.g., calm, drowsy]) based on existing emotion scales and models of emotion categorization.

Okay. So we start with the written autobiographies of 88 well-known, but now deceased, psychologists. Analyze the kind of words they use. Relate that to life span.

What words? Consider the humor list.

Chuckle, laugh, funny, humor, giggle, hilarious, fun, hilarity, jolly, silly.

Thus, just count how often the writer used these 10 words, then correlate with longevity. And what do you get?

. . . use of these words was associated with increased longevity, accounted for 8% of its variance, and amounted to a 6-year advantage for humor word users.

Humor in your life is no joke. Live funny, live long.

Old Henry wasn’t feeling well so Maud, his wife, took him to see the doctor. After the exam, the doc pulled Maud aside and told her that Old Henry wasn’t doing well, but if he had sex five times a week, he’d be okay. On the drive home, Henry asked Maud what the doctor said.

“Henry . . . you’re going to die.”

Rimshot. Be here all week.

Pressman, S. D., & Cohen, S. (2012). Positive emotion word use and longevity in famous deceased psychologists. Health Psychology, 31(3), 297-305.


Persuasion Dysquotation – Your Brain on Applied Math

Remember the moment when you read this post. This is the day we began to win the war on obesity.

Carson C. Chow deploys mathematics to solve the everyday problems of real life. As an investigator at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, he tries to figure out why 1 in 3 Americans are overweight.

Finally, someone in the Federal government has awakened to the deadly threat of obesity in the US and has hired someone to study the problem! Now, we’ve got an expert on the case.

At the time, I knew almost nothing of obesity. I didn’t even know what a calorie was. I quickly read every scientific paper I could get my hands on. I could see the facts on the epidemic were quite astounding. Between 1975 and 2005, the average weight of Americans had increased by about 20 pounds. Since the 1970s, the national obesity rate had jumped from around 20 percent to over 30 percent. The interesting question posed to me when I was hired was, “Why is this happening?”

They hire someone who knows nothing about obesity and calories to solve the problem of obesity. But, ask him an interesting question and he’s off.

Why would mathematics have the answer?
Because to do this experimentally would take years. You could find out much more quickly if you did the math.

You’ve got to congratulate NIH. Don’t hire anyone with any training in human biology, physiology, nutrition, psychology or any such fru-fru. Get an applied mathematician who brings a Tabla Rosa and an H-P calculator to the fray. You don’t need no stinkin’ experimental research literature. You don’t need no theory. You don’t need no nothing except . . . a numbers guy. And, he’s figured it!

Did you ever solve the question posed to you when you were first hired — what caused the obesity epidemic?
We think so. And it’s something very simple, very obvious, something that few want to hear: The epidemic was caused by the overproduction of food in the United States.

It’s not easy being a Math Prophet to the World. No one wants to listen to you. But count on to the conclusion brave and unappreciated Carson Chow.

You said earlier that nobody wants to hear your message. Why?
I think the food industry doesn’t want to know it. And ordinary people don’t particularly want to hear this, either. It’s so easy for someone to go out and eat 6,000 calories a day. There’s no magic bullet on this. You simply have to cut calories and be vigilant for the rest of your life.

Huh? Whodda guessed you have to eat less to lose weight?

You see the Self Inflicted Enthymeme: Wanna win the War on Obesity? Start a famine!

Now that Chow has solved the Obesity Epidemic we’re all hoping he moves onto Bigger Problems. Like explaining how Facebook is worth $100 billion.

Mavens, if you want to make money, follow people like Carson Chow back to the people who hired him. They are amendable to Box and Play.

Reading the Future with your Cueball

Persuasion runs on Cues, those Low WATT Peripheral Route plays that skip the Other Guys like stones across the water. If you read a little research you come away thinking that Cues are human weaknesses, some kind of divine or evolutionary flaw in cognition, but you miss the trick with such thinking. Mavens use Cues not because Cues are incorrect. You use Cues because the Other Guy is not High WATT and is easier to fool with a play that looks like a Natural Cue, but is only a Persuasion Cue.

I think we see this truth in an interesting set of eight experiments that present a cool manipulation. Think about how this play changes cognition even though it waves the cape of emotion.

In the Trust in Feelings Manipulation (TFM), after receiving an explanation of the distinction between using feelings versus logical reasoning to make judgments and decisions, participants are asked to describe a number of “situations in which you trusted your feelings to make a judgment or a decision and it was the right thing to do.” Participants in the high-trust-in-feelings condition are asked to describe two such situations, whereas participants in the low-trust-in-feelings condition are asked to describe 10 such situations. As shown in previous studies (Avnet 2005; Lee et al. 2009; Stephen and Pham 2008), participants in the high-trust-in-feelings condition tend to find it easy to identify two situations in which they were correct in trusting their feelings, and they therefore infer that their feelings are trustworthy. In contrast, participants in the low-trust-in-feelings condition tend to find it difficult to identify 10 similar situations, and they therefore infer that their feelings are not trustworthy (Schwarz et al. 1991).

So. I can jerk around Other Guys by asking Them to recall situations where They trusted their feelings to good effect. To make some feel High, I ask them to recall 2 events. To make others feel Low, I ask them to recall 10 events. It’s an ease of effort Cognitive Cue, right? When It Comes Easy I Must Be Good At It! Contrast these Cognitive Cues (made more famous through Kahneman and Tversky as Heuristics) with Social Cues from CLARCCS. Cognitive Cues trigger specific patterns for solving information problems while Social Cues trigger specific patterns for solving social problems. The important point here is whether Cognitive or Social, Cues operate on the Peripheral Route.

So what? A research team ran this manipulation and some other tricks like it in eight experiments, moving Other Guys into either High or Low Trust in Feelings. Now, the tricky part. They then asked everyone to make predictions about future events.

Who’s gonna get the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination?

Who’s gonna win the 2009 American Idol?

What’s the Dow Jones Industrial Index next week?

And more. This table shows everything. Click to enlarge.

Good grief, look at that! In each of the eight experiments, people who “trusted their feelings” did better at predicting the future than those who did not. All of the effect sizes are at least Small, several Small Plus, and a few Medium, thus ranging from Windowpanes of 45/55 to 35/65. Given the range of experiments here, I’d have to say the effect is real.

Take a moment to reflect on this. The experiments provide no explanation for why that High Trust in Feelings manipulation produces more accurate predictions about a variety of common events. All the experiments just show the effect.

There’s no way the manipulation makes you smarter, gives you access to better information, or gives you any kind of a leg up on the Low Trust condition. And, very quickly realize, that simply because people predict better in High Trust than in Low Trust does not mean they are suddenly oracles of accuracy – they are still wrong about the future, just not as wrong as in the Low Trust manipulation. Realize this manipulation does not find the Oracle in the Bottle.

The manipulation does, however, do something to the cognitive processing for the task of future predictions. My educated guess (and not my gut feeling) is that this manipulation produces a clear and uncluttered Peripheral Route response. In that High Trust condition, you don’t think at all – you don’t need to because you know you can trust your gut – and you provide a response that is the most active, easily available, and fluent answer. Pop!

By contrast, in the Low Trust manipulation, people probably go High WATT trying to guess the winner of American Idol much the way many weekend gamblers do with picking winners in sporting contests. They think hard about known predictors, who’s got More and who’s got Less, and think their way into confusion. Hey, it’s unknown and anything could happen, yet here you are in that Low Trust condition, fooling yourself into thinking that Thinking will pick the winner of an inherently unknowable outcome.

This may sound confusing as hell to you. How can a Ding-Donging Cue-based response beat the High WATT highway? Again. Remember the problem: Predicting specific outcomes of future events. The future is inherently unpredictable in detail. Usually the most thoughtful response is extremely wrong because of errors in thinking (yeah, you can compute gambling odds in your head, yeah, let’s play poker against a machine, yeah, you’ll do great, just click here to provide your credit card number). The Low Trust manipulation throws people onto the Central Route when that mode of transportation is probably the dumbest thing to do in this Local. They think themselves into failure.

The High Trust play elicits the easier and more effortless Cue response and in this case, top of the head is clearly more accurate. People forget that they form attitudes about people and events with good reasons. Attitudes become thoughtless repositories of the outcomes from a lifetime of experience. What feels good or bad is also usually related to what is cheap or expensive, safe or dangerous, likely or unlikely. Your attitudes encode information beyond mere evaluation.

In situations like predicting future events in detail, a pure attitudinal reaction is more likely to be accurate than a careful, thoughtful, and extended trip down the Central Route. Thus, going with your gut on an inherently unknowable outcome is more likely to be correct than engaging that Long Conversation in the Head over the search and scrutiny of issue-relevant information. When the correct answer cannot be computed, Don’t Compute!

The problem with the Peripheral Route is not that people stupidly follow Cues instead of Arguments, but rather that people are fooled into believing a Cue response is appropriate here. Persuasion on the Peripheral Route presents the outline of an effective Cue, If Other People Are Doing It, You Should, Too, but not the actual Cue. All those Other People are paid actors Doing the It that I want you to do. Because you are distracted and Low WATT, you see the shadow and react rather than seeing the reality and wait. Cue-based responding is highly effective and usually accurate, appropriate, and efficient. It’s just a lot easier to fake a Cue in front of Low WATT Other Guys then it is to fake an Argument in front of High WATT Other Guys.

See how these eight experiments demonstrate the functional value of the Peripheral Route. You fake Other Guys with that Trust in Feelings manipulation which encourages some to trust their gut and others to trust their mind. Then you give the Other Guys a gut task: Predict the future! All those Other Guys fooled into mistrusting their Peripheral Route then blunder all in with the Central Route, thinking their way into failure. By contrast, the Other Guys tricked into playing on the Peripheral Route, skip Cues over the surface and hit more winners.

We’ve walked a long, strange path in this post. Fooling people into trusting their feelings changes not their emotions, but rather their mode of thinking; they fall with the persuasion gravity of the Peripheral Route and land accurately on the Future. Fooling people into mistrusting their feelings trips them onto the Central Route and all that Controlled, Effortful, System 2 cognition which then crashes into Fooled By Randomness.

We could easily reverse this outcome with a new task. Instead of predicting the future, present choices based on a series of strong versus weak Arguments accompanied by obvious positive and negative Cues. For example a source who is similar to the Other Guy (positive Cue) or dissimilar (negative Cue) offers strong or weak Arguments in favor of a new product or a voting position. I predict that the High Trust In Feelings participants will fall for the Cues while the Low Trust In Feelings will follow the Arguments. The key comparison to illustrate the problem of Trusting Your Gut would show in those who believed the Similar Source with the weak Arguments in contrast with those who misTrust Their Gut and ignore the source, but track the strong Arguments. This isn’t rocket science, but it is a complicated triple interaction of the persuasion WAC, WATTage, Arguments, and Cues.

We see several persuasion lessons. First, this Trust In Feelings manipulates WATTage. Second, if the outcome favors Peripheral Route processing, then High Trust produces “better” outcomes; if the outcome favors Central Route processing, then Low Trust produces “better” outcomes. Third, in many instances, Peripheral Route operations lead to highly effective responses compared to the Central Route; neither Route is better or worse than the other for human adaptation.

On a practical basis realize how easy it is to move Other Guys. Just play a top of the head game about Past Success and you’ve turned the WATTage on Low with High Trust in Feelings. Kinda funny. I can change your thinking by asking about your feeling.

Michel Tuan Pham, Leonard Lee, and Andrew T. Stephen. (2012). Feeling the Future: The Emotional Oracle Effect. Journal of Consumer Research.

doi: 10.1086/663823

Persuasion Dysquotation – Cancer Testing Hyperbole

You could put it that way.

No test has ever been so accurate in predicting cancer outcomes, researchers said. The data from studies of the test are “unbelievably impressive,” said Dr. Michael Birrer, an ovarian cancer specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. “I would die to have something like that in ovarian cancer.”

Certainly a Persuasion Dysquotation.

Pleasuring Yourself with Your Self

A persistently powerful persuasion variable is the Self. Little old you. When anything in the Local involves your Self, the persuasion possibilities skyrocket. What is it about your Self that so interests you?


Thinking about your Self gives you pleasure. See it in two studies. Participants completed a series of choices and evaluations while in an fMRI machine. Sometimes they could chose to evaluate themselves, other times they evaluated another person (President Obama, for example). Here’s a schematic that shows the presentation order.

We obtain both self report from the participant and also a measure of brain activity during the task. The revelation is with those pretty pictures of your brain on You.

In both study 1a and study 1b, both left and right aspects of this independently defined NAcc cluster revealed significantly greater activity during trials in which participants disclosed their own beliefs or opinions than when they judged those of others [study 1a: t(77) = 3.59, p = 0.0006, Cohen’s d = 0.41; study 1b: t(116) = 3.73 p = 0.0003, d = 0.35; Fig. 1D].

What’s the big deal with the NAcc cluster?

In both humans and animals, the mesolimbic dopamine system—which includes the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) and the ventral tegmental area (VTA)—responds robustly to primary rewards such as food (12–15); secondary rewards such as money or other tokens that can be exchanged for primary rewards (16–22); and even social rewards such as learning that others share one’s opinion, experiencing humor, or catching a brief glimpse of an attractive member of the opposite sex (23–27).

Ahhh. Talking about your Self stimulates areas of the brain strongly associated with pleasure like food, money, and that glance at a Hot Blonde. Here’s a picture of your brain on you.

We’ve actually got some useful pretty pictures here that relate a cognitive task (that Self-Other choice and evaluation) with brain function. Let’s extend this now without an fMRI. Here’s another way to gauge the pleasure you feel when you feel your Self.

Participants (n = 37) in study 2 made a series of choices to perform one of three tasks: (i) a self trial on which they reported their own opinions and attitudes (e.g., “how much do you enjoy winter sports such as skiing?”); (ii) an other trial on which they judged the attitudes of another person (e.g., “how much does Barack Obama enjoy winter sports such as skiing?”); or (iii) a fact trial on which they answered “true” or “false” to a trivia item (e.g., “Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa”). On each of 195 trials, participants chose between two question types: that is, between self and other, other and fact, or self and fact. Each choice was associated with a small monetary payoff ($0.01–$0.04) that the participants received at the completion of the experiment.

Okay, so participants face that Self versus Other choice and they are getting or forgoing small payments for each choice. The experimenters deliberately set up choices where participants get less money if they choose to talk about their Self rather than the Other. In other words, people face an immediate financial payoff depending upon their choice. Certainly people will take money over talking about their Self?

Participants gave up an average of 0.63¢ per trial to perform the self task instead of judging another person [t(36) = 3.32, p = . 002, d = 1.11] and were willing to forgo an average of 0.54¢ per trial to perform the self task instead of answering a fact question [t(36)=2.12, p = 0.04, d=0.71; Fig. 2B]. This translated into an average loss of 17% of potential earnings, owing to participants’ choices to receive the lower payoff amount to answer questions about the self. Just as monkeys are willing to forgo juice rewards to view dominant groupmates and college students are willing to give up money to view attractive members of the opposite sex, our participants were willing to forgo money to think and talk about themselves.

Look at those d effects, Large to very Large, Windowpanes above 25/75. An obvious difference. People will give up money to talk about their Self!

We now have an interesting demonstrating of how we please ourselves with our Self. The first study provides a plausible link to a brain region associated with other pleasures like food and money. The second study ties the effect to another demonstration of how much pleasure we experience if we can only talk about our Self.

Usually we are trained to ask about the Self of Other Guys to be polite. Mavens now understand you’re dealing cocaine when you ask that Other Guy, hey, tell me a little bit about your Self. If you can’t figure out how to maneuver from here, you’ll never know Jack Kennedy!

Diana I. Tamir and Jason P. Mitchell. (2012). Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

doi: 10.1073/pnas.1202129109

Bad Persuasion: Stop the Unions Stop The War On Workers!

They’re mad as hell and they’re not gonna take it anymore!

Sigh. Doing the Not TACT? Doesn’t anyone read the Persuasion Blog? Where have I gone wrong?

Try this instead.

Hug A Teamster!

Make Peace with a Teamster!

Teamsters, Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em!

Anything, but the Not TACT. Jeepers, and unions wonder why they’re getting dismantled. Everyone thought it was the bad economics, but turns out, it’s the bad persuasion!

Box as Play with Metaphors

Within the persuasion Local, the mess of life, you select a few elements to create a persuasion Box – the psychological setup that activates, predisposes, or accentuates a key variable – then deliver the persuasion Play – the specific say and do that moves the Other Guys to your TACT. But, sometimes the Box is the Play as in this research example.

Using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe and cardboard, we constructed a box that measured 5 ft by 5 ft and could comfortably seat one individual. We placed the box in a laboratory and asked participants, who had been told that the study concerned the effects of different work environments, to complete a 10-item Remote Associates Test (RAT; M. T. Mednick, Mednick, & Mednick, 1964) while sitting either inside or outside the box. We also included a control condition in which participants completed the task without the box present.

What fun! Does the metaphor matter? Tell some Other Guys to sit outside the box while others remain within it and others still sit in a control chair. Does that affect creativity?

As predicted, participants who completed the RAT while they were physically outside the box generated more correct answers (M = 6.73, SD = 0.50) than did participants who were physically inside the box (M = 5.08, SD = 0.51) and control participants (M = 5.43, SD = 0.35), F(1, 99) = 3.93, p < .05, ηp2 = .06.

That works out to a Small Plus Windowpane, about 40/60. An embodied metaphor! Let’s Play with another metaphor based on This Hand and On The Other Hand.

During the first trial, participants read the question of how the university building complex could be used (the question was printed on a piece of paper attached to one or both walls) and verbalized answers while holding their right hand toward the wall with the palm facing up and their left hand behind their back. During the second trial, control participants generated additional ideas while raising the same hand they had raised during the first trial; participants in the experimental condition, however, switched hands by holding their left hand toward the wall and their right hand behind their back while they generated additional ideas.

So. People giving impromptu speeches are told to engage a particular nonverbal gesture, that open palm held out in one hand. On the second speech, some switch to the “other hand.”

. . . on Trial 2, a greater number of ideas were generated by participants in the experimental condition (M = 8.17, SD = 4.00) than by participants in the control condition (M = 5.75, SD = 3.15), t(38) = 2.02, p = .05, ηp2 = .10.

That’s a Medium Windowpane, about 35/65. A clear, practical, easily observable difference in divergent thinking.

We’re seeing another illustration of Embodiment Effects wherein body action, posture, or movement changes the way we think, feel, or act. We’ve looked at power moves as a fun illustration. The interesting part is the connection we form between various beliefs, attitudes, and values with our body orientation, such that the body orientation can trigger cognitive changes.

Part of Embodiment is certainly a Ding-Dong, a classically conditioned response through repeated associations with Stimulus-Response pairs. The fun part is our general lack of awareness for this conditioning as it occurs and even less awareness when we react with the Embodiment Effect.

Metaphor changes Other Guys as a metaphor. But, see here how metaphor as behavior – outside of a box, turning hands – also changes Other Guys.

Angela K.-y. Leung, Suntae Kim, Evan Polman, Lay See Ong, Lin Qiu, Jack A. Goncalo, and Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks. (2012). Embodied Metaphors and Creative “Acts.” Psychological Science. First published on April 3, 2012.


Morphing Liking with Familiarity

I’ll show you the trick first. We’re going to create a morphed-face. Combine two faces into one. Like this.

Let’s randomly assign people to view these morphed images of the pre-scandal Tiger Woods and rate them for trustworthiness. What happens when you blend features of a familiar and liked face with an unfamiliar face?

However, despite participants in the two conditions reporting the two images as being equally familiar, their reported trust ratings revealed a different pattern. In fact participants in the Tiger-morph condition rated the face as being more trustworthy (M = 1.75) than did participants in the control-morph condition (M = 0.95; t(107) = −2.2, p < .05). Thus it appeared that subtly incorporating elements of a highly familiar face into an otherwise unfamiliar image increased perceived trust in the pictured individual.

That trustworthy difference is a Small Plus Windowpane, about 40/60. Now, let’s replicate with a different face.

Combine President George W. Bush’s face with another. What do you get?

Turning to our primary dependent measure of interest, there was once again an overall effect of face condition on reported trust (F(2, 176) = 4.56, p < .02). A planned comparison revealed that this effect was primarily driven by participants in the Bush-morph condition rating the face as being significantly more trustworthy (M = 2.16) than either participants in the unaltered face condition (M = 1.27) or the control-morph condition (M = 1.30; t(176) = −3.02, p < .01). There was no difference in perceived trust between the control-morph and unaltered-face conditions (t(176) = .08, p > .90).

Again we get a Small Plus Windowpane, about 40/60. People move to the familiar and trust that face more even though they cannot recognize the subtle morphing of the image. And realize that liking plays a role. Let’s try another morph experiment with Tiger Woods, but collect data before and after the scandal.

Hey. Would you buy something from a salesman who looks like this?

Results indicated no main effect of face presented or timing but a significant interaction between the two (F(1, 318) = 12.01, p <. 001). As shown in figure 4, while pre-scandal participants indicated that they were more likely to buy from the Tiger-morph than from the control-morph (MTiger-morph = 1.46, Mcontrol-morph = 1.04), this pattern reversed itself post-scandal (MTiger-morph = −.11, Mcontrol-morph = 1.02). Of note, given the particular nature of the scandal, there were no effects of gender.

This translates into another Small Plus Windowpane at about 40/60. Even though people do not consciously recognize the familiar face in the morphed image, they still unconsciously process whether they like or dislike it. That deep attitude apparently drives trust.

Sure, the effect sizes are not whopping, but given the experimental control and the consistency with the research literature, morphing is a practical persuasion play. You can easily increase the effectiveness of a face with this trick at an extremely low cost.

How much morphing is enough or too much? That’s an empirical proposition. Create several versions and test for recognition. As soon as a small minority of your sample sees the famous face, you’ve gone too far with the morph.

I assume, too, that you can use the famous face for more than just general likability. Consider pre-scandal Tiger Woods and President Obama. You could use either face to increase the liking and trust for your model face, but you can see that some products and services might combine better when associated with Tiger Woods (again pre-scandal) than with Mr. Obama and, vice versa. Morphing becomes a kind of micro-targeting manipulation that combines familiarity, liking, and attitude object (the thing you are promoting or selling) all into one image.

On the risk side of this proposition is the legal implication. I have no idea about the risks of taking famous faces and using them like this. Sure, you can’t take George Clooney’s mug and plaster it on your message without his permission, but morphing his mug into a model’s face? And what if you take a couple of different famous mugs for the morph? If you’re risking serious time and money with a play like this, consult with your legal crew first.

Let’s get out with theory. See the Low WATT Peripheral Route Cue, Liking. See how familiarity enhances the effect, but without the fundamental affection, the effect fails. The pre- and post-scandal Tiger data demonstrates that. Also realize how deep the Cue goes. People have no conscious recognition of the morphed resemblance, but they still react attitudinally and affectively to the face.

This ties back to Zajonc’s work on the Mere Exposure effect where constant exposure to a strange and unrecognizable stimulus produces positive affect in you for that unrecognizable stimulus. Through thousands of views of a famous face, your mind abstracts key features of the appearance, remembers them, and associate that memory with an evaluation of liking. Then when you are exposed to only the key features – the strength of the chin, the spacing of the eyes, the width of a smile – your mind activates that stored attitude. Feels familiar and more importantly, feels good.

Persuasion operates through fooling you into reacting with a useful Cued response. Familiar sources are usually trustworthy. Liked sources are usually trustworthy. That’s not stupid or illogical. Persuasion, however, finds a way to trick you into thinking you can trust your Cued up mind.

Robin J. Tanner and Ahreum Maeng. (2012). A Tiger and a President: Imperceptible Celebrity Facial Cues Influence Trust and Preference. Journal of Consumer Research

doi: 10.1086/665412

P.S. Of course, this is just persuasion science and lacks an fMRI, molecular genetics, or a huge database of temperature readings; you know, the real science.