SuperSize as Status; a Persuasion Science Lesson

Today we’ll look at a detailed example of a persuasion effect seen through a great research program. In so doing we’ll understand that it’s not only what you know, but how you know it that makes persuasion science strong, useful, and unique. Furthermore, we’ll see the difference between science and those fairy tales I often disdain on the Persuasion Blog. When you read papers like this one, then you read a fairy tale, it’s hard to keep from laughing out loud. We’ll learn a lesson in interactions, specifically between Science and Persuasion. Use science, and persuasion becomes sensible. Use persuasion, and science becomes silly.

We begin with an interesting hypothesis. People use food sizing as a status signal. SuperSize can indicate more Power or Status, for example. I’ll try to keep this simple, but we’re talking about a 6 experiment package. You might enjoy reading the article, too.

Research participants were randomly assigned to view a scenario about another person, then make an attitudinal judgment about that person. The scenario described the target person as selecting either a Small, Regular, or Large serving of a meal. How’s it go?

For status dimensions, there was an effect of size of observed choice (F(1, 177) = 10.22, p = .001, eta2 = .10). Perceived status of the consumer in the scenario increased as a function of the size of the chosen option, from small (M = 3.03, SD = 1.19) to medium (M = 3.79, SD = 1.25) to large (M = 4.98, SD = 1.41). Planned contrasts further revealed that the consumer’s perceived status was significantly higher in the large condition than in the small (t(182) = 4.66, p = .001, d = 1.10) and medium (t(182) = 2.95, p = .01, d = .65) conditions. In addition, perceived status was significantly higher in the medium than in the small condition (t(182) = 2.27, p = .05, d = .46).

This is a Low WATT, Cue driven persuasion play. Quick. Look at this person. Are they cool? Size of portion drives that snap judgment with SuperSize delivering extremely Large Windowpane differences. So, impression formation favors the SuperSize. Status, coolness, positive attitude, no matter how you express it, people automatically associate SuperSize with what you are. Now, how can you manipulate people’s need for status? Let’s play with power.

Power was manipulated via an episodic prime adapted from Galinsky, Gruenfeld, and Magee (2003). In the high-power condition, participants read: “Please recall a particular incident in which you had power over another individual or individuals. By power, we mean a situation in which you controlled the ability of another person or persons to get something they wanted, or were in a position to evaluate those individuals. Please describe this situation in which you had power—what happened, how you felt, etc.” In the low-power condition, participants read: “Please recall a particular incident in which someone else had power over you.

Specifically, they were told: “Please consider the following assortment of smoothies. If such an assortment was available at the University Student Center, and you were considering purchasing a smoothie now, which one would you be most likely to buy?” The assortment displayed three pictures of a cup the smoothie was served in. In order to clearly indicate the size hierarchy among options, we varied the pictures’ size to reflect the relative size of each option. In addition, we labeled the three options “small,” “medium,” and “large” to emphasize their relative sizes.

So. We’re manipulating how powerful the participant feels, then we want to see what Portion Size they prefer. Results?

There was a significant main effect of power (F(1, 135) = 10.54, p < .01, eta2 = .09), such that low-power participants were significantly more likely to choose larger smoothies (Mlow = .32, SDlow = .72) than both baseline (Mbase = .03, SDbase = .79; t(141) = 2.21, p = .03, d = .43) and high-power participants (Mhigh = −.04, SDhigh = .82; t(141) = 2.29, p = .02, d = .47).

A Medium Windowpane, about a 35/65 effect. When you feel power down, you power up by selecting SuperSize. Let’s do power from another direction.

Small tables (one per lobby) were set up on people’s way out of the building between the elevator and one of the exits (a path that all residents have to take to exit the building). A large, highly visible banner (about 4.5 × 3.5 feet) advertising House of Bagels, a supposedly new bagel chain in the area, was displayed behind each table. Key to the experiment, the content of this banner differed from one lobby to another. In one of the lobbies (low-power condition), the banner read: “We all feel powerless in the morning: Treat yourself to free bagels.” In a second lobby (high-power condition), the banner read: “We all feel powerful in the morning: Treat yourself to free bagels.” In the third lobby (baseline condition), the banner read “It’s morning: Treat yourself to free bagels.

Again we’re manipulating participants immediate sense of power, then letting them choose same food, but under different semantic attributes. So what?

On each table, two large plates were full of bagel pieces. Importantly, one plate contained small pieces (approximately 1.5 × 1.5 × 1.5 centimeters); the other plate contained large pieces (approximately 2.5 × 2.5 × 2.5 centimeters). Participants were invited to take as many pieces as they wanted, as long as they ate them on site.

There was no main effect of power on the total number of pieces taken (F < 1). However, there was a significant power × size interaction (F(1, 83) = 3.01, p = .03, eta2 = .03), such that low-power participants took more large pieces (M = 1.93, SD = 1.11) than both baseline (M = 1.22, SD = 1.18) and high-power (M = 1.24, SD = 1.21) participants (F(1, 83) = 3.79, p = .02, eta2 = .08). In contrast, the number of small pieces taken did not vary across low-power (M = 1.21, SD = 1.19), baseline (M = 1.44, SD = 1.28), and high-power (M = 1.38, SD = 1.26) participants (F < 1).

The low power signs led people to take more large pieces of bagels, about a Medium Windowpane, 35/65 effect again. So, manipulating power again makes low power people seek the SuperSize food option. Let’s manipulate power yet another way.

Power was manipulated through an imagination task adapted from Dubois et al. (2010). In the high/low power condition, participants were told: “We would like to imagine you are a boss/employee at a company. Read about the role below and try to vividly imagine what it would be like to be in this role (i.e., how you would feel, think, and act).”

Let’s manipulate three conditions, private, public, and social.

In the private condition, participants were told to imagine that they were “alone at home and about to order a smoothie/pizza” for themselves. In the public condition, participants were told to imagine that they were “alone at the restaurant and about to order a smoothie/pizza” for themselves. In the social condition, participants were told to imagine that they were “at home with friends and about to order a smoothie/pizza” for themselves (pizza consumed in the presence of close others).

So, now you’ve got power (or not) and you are eating in private, public, or social conditions. Results?

There was a significant effect of power (F(1, 263) = 10.45, p = .003, eta2 = .03), such that participants in the low-power condition significantly chose larger containers (M = .19, SD = 79) compared to high-power participants (M = −.13, SD = .82). More important, there was a significant power × social visibility interaction (F(1, 263) = 3.91, p = .03, eta2 = .05), such that low-power participants chose larger containers as the social visibility of consumption increased, whereas high-power participants’ preference for size did not differ across consumption conditions.

Again, low power motivates SuperSize especially as you become more visible to observers. This is a Small Plus Windowpane, about a 42/58. And, again, it is consistent with the power-SuperSize relation we’ve seen before. Less power, SuperSize me!

This research team executes two more experiments that manipulate participants sense of power, then connect that with the size of a food portion. These additional experiments produce the effect we’ve seen so far, but extend it to different facets of power. The cool part of this research is indeed all those different facets or expressions or manipulations of power. Turn the diamond many different ways and it always glitters with a different look that reveals the same connection: People associate portion size with power and status.

Now. If you don’t see applications of this, you don’t know Jack Kennedy. Let’s go with the Lifestyle Drum and Bugle Corps. When you march for downsizing food portions, you are also marching against status, power, and coolness. Direct attacks on portion size are also direct attacks on the Other Guys self esteem. Thus, the louder the Lifestyle Band plays, the worse the Other Guys react.

Remember, It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid. If you want Other Guys to prefer, offer, or consume smaller portions, you’ve got to address this Size-Status hydraulic or you will fail. Sure, you can point to the conditioned stupidity of this hydraulic and laugh at Other Guys who are dumb enough to follow it, but that won’t Change the Other Guys.

Consider beginning all those Lifestyle Parades with an Overture, the Self Affirmation Overture. Serenade the Other Guys with a pretty tunes that extol their virtues, charms, and features. Underscore their strength, commitment, and boldness. In other words, enhance their self concept and self esteem so you can then start the Parade of Change.

May I also suggest that portraying food and marketing groups as Evil Enemies does not help here. Sure, they helped nurture that SuperSize-Status hydraulic, but they did not invent it. Big as Better is a strong heuristic with eons of evolution to support it. It is human nature to connect Big with Better. Food and marketing capitalize on this of course because it is an obvious feature of their product or service. And, sure, they make more profit from Big Is Better. But, that doesn’t change the fundamental human heuristic thinking. I’d argue that when the Lifestyle Corps attacks Big Food and Marketing it also indirectly attacks the status and esteem of the Other Guys.

The more you reflect on this the dumber a Size attack becomes. The Food Police will never have enough time and money to create an enduring massive persuasion campaign to build a Smaller Is Better heuristic with food. Attacking Big Is Better, whether aimed at the producer or the consumer, is counter-productive and instead attacks self concept and esteem. If you must confront Big Is Better with food, you’ve got to try something else, again like an Affirmation Play.

Of course, you could realize that overweight and obesity are largely due to self control issues and to massive changes in the way people live (technology removes almost all physical effort; education points people to toil in the garden of information; science provides pills for cures) rather than blaming McDonald’s Happy Meals. Are you a maven or a zealot?

Past the Food Wars, see the complexity of human nature, persuasion, and persuasion science in this paper. SuperSize seems obvious until you look at it with experimental research. Then you realize how tricky and complicated it is and how you can manipulate it when you understand it and that you understand it with science like this.

David Dubois, Derek D. Rucker and Adam D. Galinsky. Super Size Me: Product Size as a Signal of Status. Journal of Consumer Research. Published online ahead of print.

doi: 10.1086/661890

More Chairs for Men While Shopping!

Paco Underhill wrote a fun anthropological book about shopping called, Why We Shop. He observed a recurring effect that destroyed sales: the accidental Butt-Brush. When shoppers got bumped from behind, they tended to exit the store very quickly without making a purchase. But, of course, this is case study observation without experimental testing. So, let’s go scientific on the Butt-Brush.

Brett A. S. Martin conducted a nice little field experiment. Shoppers (male and female) in a mall were recruited while shopping to visit a bag and garment store, look at a particular product in the middle of the store, make an evaluation of the product, then receive a small payment for participation. During this product evaluation a trained confederate (male or female) walked by the customer and either accidentally touched the right shoulder blade area of the back or walked by closely (within 6 inches), then immediately exited the store. The customer then completed a self report on the shopping experience and was paid.

Key outcomes in the self report survey included an attitude measure toward the product and an intention to purchase plus an observed measure of how long the customer shopped. The big news is that Paco Underhill’s observation received strong confirmation. Shoppers – male and female – really did not like the touch. The difference between accident touch and a close passerby was a very Large Windowpane difference, about a 20/80 effect for attitude and intention, and the length of shopping time. If you got accidentally touched you really did not like the product, you definitely had no intention to purchase, and you got through the exercise as quickly as you could.

Not too surprisingly the negative effects of accidentally touch were worse when a man did the touching. Here’s a table to illustrate.

You can see the negative effects for either a man or a woman’s accidental touch, but that the difference is strong for men. Thus, there is clearly a sex difference, yet the main point remains. We don’t like getting touched accidentally while shopping.

Let’s consider the practical implications of this nicely little field experiment.

First, Paco Underhill got it right with his anthropological observations. So. We don’t need no stinkin’ randomization to controlled conditions, right? You can draw that inference if you’d like, but we’ll see you in the unemployment line. Realize that the qualitative research approach tends to find the same effects as experimental research as long as the effect is extremely large and very simple. Somebody touches anybody else while shopping and boom, you get an obvious effect. If the effect is less than Large or the effect is complicated, then qualitative approaches tend to not only miss the effect, but also mislead you into seeing things that may not be there. Of course, I’m an idiot on this and you know that focus groups can’t be beat. To each his own!

Second, whether you prefer Underhill or Martin, accidental touch in the shopping experience is very bad mojo. It kills potential sales. Consider my headline for this post: More Chairs for Men While Shopping! I often carry Melanie’s purse on Michigan Avenue. When entering a shop with her, she prefers that I leave her alone and let her shop which means I’m free to wander the aisles, inevitably running into other customers. Wouldn’t a business prefer to keep me out of the way so I don’t accidentally bump anyone? Why not more chairs? Why not create a Man Zone with a bar, nudie calendars, and sports scores? Okay, the nudie calendar is a bit much, but a bar would be nice . . . and you get my meaning here. Get mules, donkeys, and carriers out of the way.

Accidental touch while shopping kills business persuasion. Many retail stores have created an unintentional Box (narrow aisles, poor sightlines, no chairs for men, etc.) that actually makes the negative Play – accidental touch – more likely. In this instance the persuasion analysis points toward changing the Box rather than making a new Play.

Hey, if you’re ever at the Ann Taylor’s on North Michigan, look for me sitting on the ledges at the front windows!

Brett A. S. Martin
A Stranger’s Touch: Effects of Accidental Interpersonal Touch on Consumer Evaluations and Shopping Time
Journal of Consumer Research 2012
doi: 10.1086/662038

Paradoxing Eternal Life

The NYT provides an unintentional paradox with the modern mania over health. Start with living forever. The NYT discusses a peer review study on the interrelationship of getting fat and staying fit on health outcomes like blood pressure or cardiovascular disease. The Times writer actually does a good job of reviewing the research. Here’s the key result from the peer review paper, not the Time summary.

Participants who maintained or improved fitness had 26% and 28% lower risk of incident hypertension, 42% and 52% lower risk of metabolic syndrome, and 26% and 30% lower risk of hypercholesterolemia, respectively, compared with those who lost fitness (Table 2) after adjusting for possible confounders and baseline fitness levels (model 1).

Consistent with other research we’ve looked at on the Persuasion Blog, if you exercise and don’t get fat, you have better health outcomes, here with high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and also with mortality. If you stay lean and exercise you are healthier and live longer . . . at about a half of a Small Windowpane, about a 48/52 effect. And forgive the dreary refrain, this puny effect obtains from observational research with convenience sample, measurement concerns, and on and on with Threats to Internal and External Validity. Run and diet and you may live a little bit longer. Maybe.

And, if you read the comments to the NYT article, you see a lot of reader skepticism, although not on my technical issues. Direct experience simply contradicts the extolled virtues of sweat, self-denial, and pain. Yet, everyone keeps spending trillions of dollars and publishing trillions of bits and bytes all in the pursuit of Eternal Life.

Now, let’s pivot to the paradox posed in the second Times story. It involves foreign doctors leaving their home countries to practice medicine in the US. The headline tips the perspective:

America Is Stealing the World’s Doctors

The writer moves nicely through personal stories and statistics to demonstrate that a lot of local doctors trained in poor countries, particularly Africa, leave their home countries for the US and never return. This is good news for the US because the AMA estimates that without these imports, we’d be short about 200,000 docs, particularly in primary care in rural locations. Of course, Nebraska’s gain is Namibia’s loss. And what is Nebraska’s gain: getting docs to nag you about running and dieting so you’ll Live Forever.

In these two inadvertent stories the Times reveals at least two paradoxes. First, we think can Live Forever if we watch our weight and run, except the science provides only the weakest evidence for this assertion. Second, we’ll take docs from desperate countries where their skill is needed for a dramatic, obvious, and compelling difference and pay them ten times as much money to tell us to do something that sounds good, but won’t have much effect.

When you take a hard headed look at it all – lifestyle, morbidity and mortality, health care spending, physician training, immigration policy – you see that the US devotes tremendous resources, even when that requires importing, to make a trivial difference. If you want to understand US health care, you’re better off studying persuasion than you are science.

Nobody Knows . . . So Test Everything

William Goldman, the great screenplay writer, observed in a book that Hollywood is haunted by one Rule: Nobody Knows Anything. Much like my Rule that There Are No Laws of Persuasion, Goldman asserts his Rule to explain why movie producers, directors, writers, and performers careen from hit to bust to bust to hit all the while aiming at the same goal. While you’re building it, you just don’t know how it will play.

Which is why in persuasion you always have to test your Box and Play every which way but loose. Most often you have more than one chance to get the Change and mavens become mavens through practice, not magic.

Which is why the Internet is so good for persuasion. Look only recently with President Obama’s re-election effort. He released a 17 minute video by the Oscar winning Davis Guggenheim (Al Gore’s, An Inconvenient Truth) extolling the virtues of Mr. Obama. Set aside any political or hipster snark and just think about this. Here we are in April, seven months in front of Election Day. A monster creative talent has created his take on a foundation theme video for the President and it’s going straight to the Internet. What a waste, right?

Wrong.

What a test.

Obama gets a free shot with this. He’s pretesting a Box and Play here and it costs next to nothing to produce, distribute, and evaluate. He gets a commitment from Hollywood (and Guggenheim gets the sheen of working with a politician who actually won the White House rather than that other guy). He gets reactions (and if bad can shrug off on some digital geek on the staff who pressed the wrong button). He’s also messing with his opponents. Hey, a 17 minute video from an Oscar winning producer. This is how Obama’s gonna run. Right? Right? Maybe.

Mr. Obama runs a real good campaign. He’s always messing around, experimenting, trying something. He’s testing.

Nobody knows anything. There are no laws of persuasion.

Always test your Box and Play.

The Sea Was Happy That Day . . . Stories for Change

Consider two learning programs with computer game narratives.

First, Crystal Island was developed and revised by James Lester at North Carolina State University, who is a well-known expert in narrative game design. In Crystal Island (Spires, Turner, Rowe, Mott, & Lester, 2010), the player is a visitor to a research team on a remote island whose stay is disrupted by the spread of an unknown disease (shown in Figure 1). The player’s task is to discover the source of the disease through interacting with other characters and using lab microscopes to run tests. The game is intended to help the player learn about how pathogens work within the context of playing the game.

Sounds like a CDC bugs ‘n drugs detective game. Cool.

Second, Cache 17 was developed by Alan Koenig at Arizona State University, using game design principles with a focus on narrative theme (Koenig, 2008). Development required approximately 6 months of programming time, and the game has undergone several cycles of revision based on field testing. In Cache 17, the player views a brief introductory cinematic that lays out the story line about a long-lost painting that may be found in an old bunker system dating back to World War II. The player’s job is to make his or her way through the bunker system to solve the detective story about the whereabouts of the painting, along the way constructing electromechanical devices to help open doors (shown in Figure 2).

Hey, cool teaching idea, huh? Use sophisticated computer games to hook students into learning about pathogens or electromechanical devices. Kids grow up with computer games and get intensively drawn into the narrative meme inherent in the game with characters, plots, movement, success and failure. It’s all about the narrative, baby. The meme. That hooks the kid’s attention and the rest is learning theory. Let’s compare it to something more standard, more doggy, more like Your Father’s Oldsmobile.

The learning environment for the slideshow was a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation containing information that was presented within the game, excluding information about the game’s story line (e.g., the mystery of the disease carrier, who was responsible for the infections, names of the staff). All text and poster images relevant to learning about human diseases were taken directly from the game and presented on static slides. All three quizzes given in the game were also given during slideshow, with each quiz being given after the relevant slideshow information was presented. The slideshow was self-paced and included 28 slides of information.

What a hoot. A PowerPoint presentation! With 28 slides. Bor-Ing! Randomly assign college students to either the compelling narrative of an immersive game or that PPT presentation, then give everyone tests of learning about pathogens (Experiment 1) or electromechanical devices (Experiment 2). Here’s the results from Experiment 1.

Students in the slideshow group scored significantly better than did students in the narrative group on the retention test, t(40) = 4.37, p < .001, d = 1.37, and marginally better on the transfer test, t(40) = 1.84, p = .07, d = 0.57. In terms of self-reported learning measures, students in the narrative group rated their learning experience as significantly more difficult than did students in the slideshow group, t(40) = 2.96, p = .005, d = 0.93. The narrative group also reported more effort in learning than did the slideshow group, although this difference was not statistically significant, t(40) = 1.56, p = .127, d = 0.49. These results offer no support for the claim of the discovery hypothesis that narrative computer games are superior or easier venues for academic learning than conventional instructional media.

What? The PPT participants did better than the computer game narrative? Here’s the graph to help with the numbers from the analysis.

Now recall those d effect sizes. The retention test, the most basic measure of learning information from the game or PPT is 1.37. A d of 0.80 is a Large Windowpane, a 25/75, so a d of 1.37 is a Stupendous difference. All that crapola about narrative and immersion and involvement is just that: crapola.

Experiment 2 replicates the basic finding of PPT superiority over the narrative game and looks at various process differences, too. Most interestingly, the narrative game technique took a much longer time to complete compared to the PPT presentation, yet the PPT group scored better on basic learning measures.

I regret to report that the researchers did not collect (or at least did not report) any measures of attitude or affect towards the presentations or the learning experience. I suspect that people more strongly liked the narrative game with all that immersion, involvement, and, let’s not forget, all that meme compared to the PPT. Maybe not. For many people learning is always a pig even if the pig is wearing lipstick.

What’s this got to do with Persuasion?

1. There’s a difference between Learning and Persuasion. Stories (or narratives or memes or Flavor) are strong persuasion tools, especially on the Peripheral Route as a Cue. Simply because you have something that is compelling, attractive, and involving to the Other Guy does not mean They will then Learn from it. They may Like it, but Liking isn’t Learning.

2. Persuasion is useful for leading the horse to water, but you need to use Learning Theory, not Persuasion Theory, to get the horses to drink. If students do not receive well structured information with repetition and feedback, learning will not occur. Anything that interferes with basic learning processes – like narrative or meme or Flavor – will reduce learning. And that’s what narrative or meme or Flavor is in the learning environment, interference. Now, generalize the Learning here past the traditional Learning context, the classroom with students. All kinds of organizations require Learning. You don’t need Teachers and Students in this role playing drama. Anytime you’ve got Information Acquisition as a goal, you’re doing Learning Theory.

3. Smart people are stupid about computers. Some view them as the New New Thing whether for political revolution, social relationships, or, here, for learning. Sure, computers are powerful devices, but you need to understand how they fit in the Local, the box and play, you are running on Other Guys. For example, Facebook permits all kind of interactivity among groups of people, but using a Facebook computer interface for teaching about pathogens, electromagnetic devices, or the five steps of the Monroe Motivated Sequence for Persuasive Speaking would kill learning because all that interactivity between learners is not fundamental to learning.

4. These games would be fabulous Persuasion Plays on Parent’s Night at a school. Put them up on free running laptops and let parents play with them and get all gassed up in a group. Hubba-hubba. Then hand out a sign up sheet for volunteers.

It was a dark and stormy night as I fumbled over the floor searching for that pathogen . . .

Adams, D. M., Mayer, R. E., MacNamara, A., Koenig, A., & Wainess, R. (2012). Narrative games for learning: Testing the discovery and narrative hypotheses. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(1), 235-249.

doi:10.1037/a0025595

Significance versus Effect; Muggles versus Mavens

Thunder on Climate Change!

Denying the links between greenhouse gas emissions and man-made climate change is akin to denying the links between HIV/Aids and unprotected sex, smoking and lung cancer, or alcohol consumption and liver disease. In each of these cases, well-funded deniers have had to be exposed and confronted before appropriate health-promoting legislation was put in place.

It is interesting that an advocate for policy change regarding Climate Change should use the examples of unprotected sex, smoking, and drunkenness as comparative standards for assessing Global Warming. In these three examples, the relationship between the stimulus and the response, the cause and the effect was at minimum, Large, a Windowpane of at least 25/75. The relationship was relatively direct from smoking to lung cancer or addiction, from unprotected sex to AIDS transmission, from alcohol abuse to liver disease or addiction. Nothing in the Climate Change research contains data to support such a simple, clear, and strong pattern.

No one in the Climate Change Chorus can point to any evidence of a link between human energy use and harmful climate change at the strength of the cited examples of unprotected sex, smoking, and drinking. There is no evidence of such clarity and power in the research literature. None. At best when researchers strain with sophistical statistics they can find evidence of a trend for something like warming temperatures, but they cannot provide any direct, clear, and unambiguous link between human energy consumption and harms from climate change. We are building the science of climate change, but nothing in that science to date is like the science of tobacco, sexual behavior, and alcohol abuse.

Note the mark of the muggle here, particularly with smoking. When you hear Change Agents compare their cause to tobacco, you can be certain you are listening to advocates, persuasion muggles, people who loves themselves more than they love Changing Other Guys.

Sincere Is Bad but Pediatrician Is Worse

Childhood vaccines are a proven intervention with excellent effect sizes on increasing longevity and health in kids. They work and with very small side effects. Vaccines are one of the great intervention wonders of the modern world. But, vaccines have acquired an unfortunate reputation for causing autism due in part to mere coincidence (autism typically appears during the same ages as childhood vaccines occur) and bad science (see Dr. Wakefield and the Lancet). Some parents refuse to follow vaccine recommendations. Which leads to this.

In a study of Connecticut pediatricians published last year, some 30% of 133 doctors said they had asked a family to leave their practice for vaccine refusal, and a recent survey of 909 Midwestern pediatricians found that 21% reported discharging families for the same reason.

The WSJ article then provides several detailed examples of specific physicians firing their patients that nicely fleshes out the main point. It is not uncommon for physicians to terminate their services with people who refuse vaccines.

And, so, you understand why my bright undergrad students took my persuasion course and then went on to make a small fortune selling to Other Guys like these physicians. When they dismiss customers they are sworn to Do No Harm, you know you’ve got a target rich environment for mavens.

The persuasion playful possibilities in this situation leap. Whenever you have Other Guys engaged in Hot Cognition, the persuasion pickings are easy, ripe, and luscious. Start with children who tend to activate highly biased Biased Processing in parents, and apparently, not a few pediatricians. The Bias aims at both protecting the child and the pediatrician’s and parent’s self concept and esteem. The participants in this drama are all Hot Thinkers – thoughtful and emotional.

See, science did fail in the case of Dr. Wakefield. The editors and reviewers at the Lancet did a miserable job evaluating his work. If you take the time to read up on the case you’ll find that immediately upon publication, critics lit up both Wakefield and the Lancet for the sloppy work. It was a manifest failure of the peer review process. Science then made things worse as the Lancet permitted Wakefield and allies to go about their business for over a decade before the Lancet finally withdrew the paper. Parents have good reason to mistrust vaccines and physicians. The best medical journals saw to that. And rather than confront the failings of the profession, some physicians merely fire their clients.

It’s inherently lunatic. From a persuasion perspective, firing customers “for cause” is a failure because you lose all future chances at changing the Other Guy. (Firing Customers as a persuasion play – not “for cause” – is okay which we’ll see later at the P.S.) You cannot be a change agent and throw Other Guys off the cliff.

This case exemplifies the frustrations of working with health and safety professionals. They see themselves as so damn smart that they become impervious to reality. Sure, vaccines are great and confer not only an individual, but also a public, good. And, sure, many parents who refuse vaccines are poorly informed. But, to literally dismiss them from your services is a stupendous and obvious failure and stupidity. Yet even in the face of this stupendous and obvious failure and stupidity, these physicians still fire their patients.

The persuasion lesson here is not in the message, but in the messenger. Look at yourself and ask where have you done something unilateral like this that destroys any future possibility of changing the Other Guys. It is easy to find barriers to your persuasion success, but remember the Rule:

Great Persuaders Don’t Need Help.

If you view yourself as a change agent, then moves like firing the Other Guys destroy your self perception. You are your enemy. You deliver your own defeat. You commit persuasion suicide.

I appreciate the nuances in this case and I’m sure you’ve got nuance behind your decisions to fire the Other Guys. But only a muggle makes moves like this. You are not who you say you are. Worse. You are not who you think you are.

All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.

It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid.

P.S. Firing Customers can be a great persuasion play. Such moves create attention for themselves and motivate Other Guys. You shake the tree with such a move. You can make a Reactance Play off of it. You can generates tons of Dissonance with it. You can manipulate it as a WATTage switch that engages a Long Conversation in the Head over Arguments. You can Cue up Comparison, Authority, Reciprocity, Commitment/Consistency. Firing Customers has persuasion validity.

P.P.S. How do you handle people like these physicians? Do a persuasion analysis. Think about in particular the Attribution and Dissonance forces at work here. Physicians have to do some serious head work over the ethics of firing patients and that means Dissonance. As part of that Dissonance reduction they will engage in making hard Attributions about themselves and the Other Guys, probably following the classic person-situation biases: the Other Guys are Idiots and I do what science tells me. You cannot directly confront with direct reason and Argument through the Central Route. You’ve got to move them with new Dissonance and Attribution plays.

There Are No Laws of Persuasion with Kony

Invisible Children is back with second video warning about the Ugandan warlord, Kony. As I write this on Thursday, April 5, 2012, the Google New aggregator notes about 500 news sources, a considerably lower number than with that historic first video. Among the persuasion lessons to consider with this effort, focus just on the Reception difference between the two videos. A few weeks ago, literally every news source in the world carried a feature on the video, Invisible Children, and Kony. Now, the second act attracts about as much attention as the new IPCC report on Global Warming or on the Jeff Bezos undersea mission to recover the Apollo 11 engine. Merely a boutique hit.

Presumably those mavens at Invisible Children knew the Laws of Persuasion because they caught lighting in a bottle, so why no lighting strike the second time around? This is no mockery of the group, but rather an earnest consideration of practical persuasion. If you’re so smart once, why not twice? Shouldn’t a maven of that magnitude show some consistency of performance?

As I argued at the height of Invisible Children’s fame the first time, they simply got dumb lucky. Who knows why everyone in the world chose that video for the buzz cycle. And, anyone who claims to know why is at best a maven wolf in sheep’s clothing, trying to selling persuasion to persuaders. I’d guess that Invisible Children followed pretty much the same recipe as before – jeepers, why mess with that kind of success! Yet, the response is barely a ripple and more along the lines of this post, a perspective piece on the piece and not a reaction to the content of the piece. In other words, everyone is voting on the skill of the attempt, treating it as an entry in a contest rather than responding to it as a practical persuasion play.

There Are No Laws of Persuasion and If There Were Why Would Anyone Tell You?

Cue-ing Green with Brown

When consumers see brown they think green, say companies that sell products like paper towels, napkins and diapers.

Except with toilet paper.

Cascades Tissue Group is trying what marketers long considered the unthinkable: brown toilet paper. It is pitching beige rolls, dubbing the product “Moka.” . . . When Cascades pitched its Moka toilet paper to distributors at a recent trade show, “faces showed disgust” at first, says Ms. Faivre. “Then they would feel the product and it was, ‘Oh, wow, that would be perfect,’ ” for customers who want softness, but also want green credentials, she says.

The color associations obviously drive preferences here. People have learned to associate white with purity and cleanliness, but also with chemical treatments to bleach paper white. So, white is pure, but not Green. Make it brown and Green is happy. Except for toilet paper.

I suspect that Cascades did product testing that included high speed hidden camera recording of facial reactions to their products. Even without the recordings, an alert observer would easily note the disgust as the Other Guys considered the horrible brown toilet paper.

Then they touched it. It felt like their beloved TP and they began to overcome their disgust. That’s good, if predictable news. Direct experience tends to change people. But, it’s also bad news. Until people actually touch the new brown Cascades TP, they will look upon it with disgust. How can you sell a product that will be wrapped in plastic and thus unavailable to experience with touch?

The joke here is that paper color can have absolutely no relationship to material Green. Sure, brown paper napkins can come from recycled materials and processed in more energy efficient and environmentally friendly ways. Or not. But merely Cue-ing up the Other Guys with color is sufficient in many cases to trigger a, “Gee, I’m Green with my Brown paper!” attribution in people, thus providing an extremely low cost act for a high benefit feeling.

We see in operation here a nice application of Classical Conditioning. Long established connections between products and people have created attitudes and beliefs that can be easily manipulated with mere color. Simply change the color and you Ding-Dong a different association. And, if you are a manufacturer selling these colors you can easily highlight some proven energy or environmental action you’re taking to make the product as the Argument for the Brown as opposed to the True Cue it is. There’s no widely accepted standard for Green paper, so it’s yours to define.

Whatever the science or politics of Green, the persuasion of it lies on the profit side.

P.S. Personally I prefer Cue-ing with Brown rather than with Green. Recall Campbell’s putting a special Green label on their beloved tomato soup cans.

When Did Zero + 0.00000001 Become Real?

Psst. Come over here. You that persuasion guy? We need to change air pollution laws. See, pollutants are giving folks heart attacks even with just a couple of days exposure. Heart attacks, I tell you. Myocardial Infarctions! Look. Read these numbers.

Data Synthesis After a detailed screening of 117 studies, 34 studies were identified. All the main air pollutants, with the exception of ozone, were significantly associated with an increase in MI risk.

carbon monoxide: 1.048; 95% CI, 1.026-1.070;
nitrogen dioxide: 1.011; 95% CI, 1.006-1.016;
sulfur dioxide: 1.010; 95% CI, 1.003-1.017;
ozone: 1.003; 95% CI, 0.997-1.010; P = .36.

Wake up, Steve. It’s just like with Bobby in the shower on Dallas. Only a dream.

Except, if you read JAMA you know this is not a dream. It’s published as significant findings. Significant! SIGNIFICANT!!!

The largest effect size is 1.048. A Small Windowpane effect is 1.500. The biggest in this meta is .05, rounded up! Thus, a Small effect is 10 times larger than the largest effect reported in this meta on air pollution and heart attacks.

Look. I’m not going to question why a keyword search found 117 studies, but only 34 got included in the meta. It would be interesting to run another meta with the discards and see what’s the difference, wouldn’t it? Maybe code for study quality and other niceties and just see where the particulates fall. But, I digress with questions I wasn’t going to ask.

And, hey. I’m not going to nag about observational designs with convenience sampling. Let’s pretend like each included study is science and not a fairy tale.

1.05 is meaningful? Practical? Changeable?

You want me to design a persuasion campaign to ban pollutants or impose pollutant-exchanges or pollutant taxes? And believe that then 1.05 will go to 1.000000000000000001? Or maybe even

1.00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001.

Sure, If You Can’t Count It, You Can’t Change It, but simply because You Can Count It, Doesn’t Mean You Can Change It.