Category Archives: psychology

Increasing Attachment and Valuation Through Touch

The endow­ment effect is old news: the amount that we value an object increases once we take own­er­ship of it. The ‘exten­ded ver­sion’ shows that the impact of the endow­ment effect increases with time: our valu­ation of an object increases more and more as the amount of time that we own it also increases. This is known as the length-of-own­er­ship effect.

A recent study pub­lished in the journ­al Judge­ment and Decision Mak­ing1 has taken an even deep­er look at this effect: study­ing how touch­ing an object increases both our attach­ment to that object and how much we value it… even if we don’t own it (also in pdf). Here are the key find­ings of this ‘pre-own­er­ship expos­ure study’:

  • Touch­ing an object will increase our attach­ment to it and valu­ation of it, wheth­er we own it or not.
  • The longer we touch or handle an un-owned object, the great­er we will value it and feel attached to it.
  • Simply think­ing about an un-owned object increases our valu­ation of it and how much we feel attached to it.

Related find­ings, cited in this art­icle:

  • If an object is being sold at auc­tion, the amount that we value the object will increase as the length of the auc­tion increases.
  • Own­ing a coupon for an object increases our emo­tion­al attach­ment to that object.
  • Mak­ing an item the “focus of a com­par­is­on” increases its attract­ive­ness and the prob­ab­il­ity that it would later be selec­ted. We will also feel more attached to the item and will value it high­er.

via @stevesilberman and Life­hack­er (sug­gest­ing that this dur­a­tion-of-expos­ure effect’ is an explan­a­tion for why we have cluttered homes.)

1 What, you’re not read­ing Judge­ment and Decision Mak­ing? You should; it’s bimonthly and open access.

The Zeigarnik Effect and the Force of Incomplete Tasks

Why do unre­solved issues linger in our mind, mak­ing us pon­der them for days on end? Why are cliff­hangers so suc­cess­ful in get­ting view­ers to tune in to the next epis­ode? How can we over­come pro­cras­tin­a­tion? These ques­tions can be answered by learn­ing about the psy­cho­lo­gic­al concept/theory known as the Zeigarnik effect.

‘Dis­covered’ by Soviet psy­cho­lo­gist Bluma Zeigarnik back in the 1920s, the Zeigarnik effect states that we remem­ber incom­plete or inter­rup­ted tasks bet­ter than com­pleted tasks.

And so, to those ques­tions. It’s easy to see how the Zeigarnik effect could be respons­ible for the suc­cess of sus­pense as a dra­mat­ic device, but for over­com­ing pro­cras­tin­a­tion? Use the effect to your advant­age and start at the simplest, smal­lest part of your task. After that, the unfin­ished nature of the lar­ger task will push you toward action.

Beware, though: the effect has been shown to dimin­ish if we don’t expect to do well on the inter­rup­ted task (or are oth­er­wise com­pletely not motiv­ated).

via @jonahlehrer

Dark Patterns for Marketers, or: Practical Behavioural Economics

Tak­ing a sys­tem­at­ic approach to imple­ment­ing find­ings from beha­vi­our­al eco­nom­ics into a sales cycle can “unlock sig­ni­fic­ant value”, accord­ing to McKin­sey’s Ned Welch. To help busi­ness do exactly that, Welch–in what, at times, reads a bit like a ‘dark pat­terns guide for marketers’–has writ­ten an art­icle look­ing at four prac­tic­al tech­niques from beha­vi­our­al eco­nom­ics that mar­keters should use to per­suade pur­chasers. The tech­niques:

  1. Make a pro­duct’s cost less pain­ful.
  2. Har­ness the power of a default option.
  3. Don’t over­whelm con­sumers with choice.
  4. Pos­i­tion your pre­ferred option care­fully.

There’s not much new here, but the sum­mar­ies are nice and suc­cinct. From item four, I found this bit of gro­cery store choice archi­tec­ture inter­est­ing:

Anoth­er way to pos­i­tion choices relates not to the products a com­pany offers but to the way it dis­plays them. Our research sug­gests, for instance, that ice cream shop­pers in gro­cery stores look at the brand first, fla­vor second, and price last. Organ­iz­ing super­mar­ket aisles accord­ing to way con­sumers prefer to buy spe­cif­ic products makes cus­tom­ers both hap­pi­er and less likely to base their pur­chase decisions on price—allowing retail­ers to sell high­er-priced, high­er-mar­gin products. (This explains why aisles are rarely organ­ized by price.) For ther­mo­stats, by con­trast, people gen­er­ally start with price, then func­tion, and finally brand. The mer­chand­ise lay­out should there­fore be quite dif­fer­ent.

via Nudge

(If you don’t have a McKin­sey account, you can read the art­icle here or here (PDF).)

A “Felt Need” Is What Makes Us Buy

A “felt need” is what dif­fer­en­ti­ates a vit­am­in from an aspir­in: when we crave some­thing (relief from pain), a product that sat­is­fies that desire becomes a must-have rather than a nice-to-have. Real­ising this and re-fram­ing a product in terms of this crav­ing is an import­ant step in ensur­ing a pro­duct’s suc­cess, say Dan and Chip Heath, authors of the excel­lent Switch and Made to Stick.

Becom­ing aware of this idea is what led to the suc­cess of Net­flix and NetApp… as well as the demise of count­less oth­er com­pan­ies. In a brief art­icle describ­ing how re-fram­ing a nice-to-have product as a must-have is all about dis­cov­er­ing and exploit­ing a spe­cif­ic “felt need”, the Heaths look at Ray Bards failed attempt at get­ting his “vit­am­in” book pub­lished and how real­iz­ing this idea of a felt need led him to become a suc­cess­ful pub­lish­er.

If entre­pren­eurs want to suc­ceed […] they’d bet­ter be selling aspir­in rather than vit­am­ins. Vit­am­ins are nice; they’re healthy. But aspir­in cures your pain; it’s not a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have. […]

That aspir­in qual­ity is what Bard now looks for in a book. He says that suc­cess­ful books address a deep “felt need” – that is, read­ers hun­ger for the answers the book provides. Clas­sic examples would be diet books, per­son­al-fin­ance books, and books that prom­ise you mega suc­cess if you’ll just radi­ate pos­it­ive energy to the uni­verse, indic­at­ing your receptiv­ity to mega suc­cess. Bard has become a tal­en­ted diviner of felt need. Fully half of the books that he pub­lishes become best sellers. […]

You’ve heard the old say­ing “If you invent a bet­ter mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.” Don’t bet on it. The world’s felt need isn’t for a bet­ter mousetrap. It’s for a dead mouse. […]

When engin­eers or mar­keters or entre­pren­eurs get too close to their products, it’s easy to mis­take a vit­am­in for an aspir­in. If your team is flirt­ing with delu­sion, a little love might point you in the right dir­ec­tion.

How Trends Actually Spread; or, Six Degrees but No Connectors

The small sample size of Stan­ley Mil­gram’s small world exper­i­ment means that the the­ory of ‘six degrees of sep­ar­a­tion’ and the con­clu­sion drawn from it–primarily, the Influ­en­tial’s the­ory pop­ular­ised by Mal­colm Glad­well in The Tip­ping Point–could be deeply flawed. That was the start­ing point for Duncan Watts’ research that led him to say “the Tip­ping Point is toast”.

So to research how ideas and trends spread vir­ally, Watts (who is author of Everything is Obvi­ous, prin­cip­al research sci­ent­ist at Yahoo! Research (he dir­ects their Human Social Dynam­ics group), and found­ing dir­ect­or of Columbia Uni­versity’s Col­lect­ive Dynam­ics Group) ran large-scale repro­duc­tions of the small world exper­i­ment and hun­dreds of com­puter sim­u­la­tions that brought for­ward two con­clu­sions: the six degrees of sep­ar­a­tion the­ory is cor­rect, but there is no evid­ence for super-con­nec­ted ‘trend gate­keep­ers’ (such as Glad­well­’s ‘Con­nect­ors’):

But Watts, for one, did­n’t think the gate­keep­er mod­el was true. It cer­tainly did­n’t match what he’d found study­ing net­works. So he decided to test it in the real world by remount­ing the Mil­gram exper­i­ment on a massive scale. In 2001, Watts used a Web site to recruit about 61,000 people, then asked them to ferry mes­sages to 18 tar­gets world­wide. Sure enough, he found that Mil­gram was right: The aver­age length of the chain was roughly six links. But when he examined these path­ways, he found that “hubs”–highly con­nec­ted people–weren’t cru­cial. Sure, they exis­ted. But only 5% of the email mes­sages passed through one of these super­con­nect­ors. The rest of the mes­sages moved through soci­ety in much more demo­crat­ic paths, zip­ping from one weakly con­nec­ted indi­vidu­al to anoth­er, until they arrived at the tar­get. […]

[His com­puter sim­u­la­tion] res­ults were deeply coun­ter­in­tu­it­ive. The exper­i­ment did pro­duce sev­er­al hun­dred soci­ety­wide infec­tions. But in the large major­ity of cases, the cas­cade began with an aver­age Joe (although in cases where an Influ­en­tial touched off the trend, it spread much fur­ther). To stack the deck in favor of Influ­en­tials, Watts changed the sim­u­la­tion, mak­ing them 10 times more con­nec­ted. Now they could infect 40 times more people than the aver­age cit­izen (and again, when they kicked off a cas­cade, it was sub­stan­tially lar­ger). But the rank-and-file cit­izen was still far more likely to start a con­ta­gion.

I can­’t help but find it some­what iron­ic that, writ­ten almost four years ago, this argu­ment has­n’t really gained much trac­tion and Glad­well­’s ideas are still dis­cussed ad nauseam.