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 Long Game: Civilization II and Sim City’s Magnasanti

After ten years of play­ing the same Civil­iz­a­tion II cam­paign (my favour­ite game ever), Red­dit user Lyceri­us has ended up cre­at­ing a dysto­pi­an semi-self-sus­tain­ing world, where the three remain­ing “super-nations” are in a con­stant state of espi­on­age and nuc­le­ar war.

The details of Lyceri­us’ “hellish night­mare” world are abso­lutely fas­cin­at­ing: the mil­it­ary stale­mate; the 1700-year war; and the glob­al warm­ing epi­dem­ic that led to melt­ing ice caps, fam­ine, and the end of cit­ies. This is the polit­ic­al situ­ation:

The only gov­ern­ments left are two theo­cra­cies and myself, a com­mun­ist state. I wanted to stay a demo­cracy, but the Sen­ate would always over-rule me when I wanted to declare war before the Vik­ings did. This would delay my attack and render my turn and often my plans use­less. And of course the Vik­ings would then break the cease fire like clock­work the very next turn. […] I was forced to do away with demo­cracy roughly a thou­sand years ago because it was endan­ger­ing my empire. But of course the people hate me now and every few years since then, there are massive guer­rilla […] upris­ings in the heart of my empire that I have to deal with which saps resources from the war effort.

This reminds me of Mag­nas­anti: the total­it­ari­an city cre­ated in Sim City 3000 that sus­tains the max­im­um pop­u­la­tion (six mil­lion) for 50,000 years. The inter­view with it’s ‘maker’, archi­tec­ture stu­dent Vin­cent Ocasla, is worth a read.

Keep these people away from town plan­ning depart­ments, please.

Mag­nas­anti via Kot­tke

Sagan’s Cosmos on the Scientific Method and Uncomfortable Ideas

I’m cur­rently watch­ing Carl Sagan’s excel­lent Cos­mos: A Per­son­al Voy­age. I feel com­pelled to post the fol­low­ing quote from epis­ode four, Heav­en and Hell, as it stood out for its eleg­ant argu­ment for the strength of sci­entif­ic ideas and for not reject­ing uncom­fort­able (if incor­rect) ideas:

There are many hypo­theses in sci­ence which are wrong. That’s all right. It’s the aper­ture to find­ing out what’s right. Sci­ence is a self-cor­rect­ing pro­cess. To be accep­ted, new ideas must sur­vive the most rig­or­ous stand­ards of evid­ence and scru­tiny.

The worst aspect of the Velikovsky affair is not that many of his ideas were wrong or silly or in gross con­tra­dic­tion to the facts. Rather, the worst aspect is that some sci­ent­ists attemp­ted to sup­press Velikovsky’s ideas.

The sup­pres­sion of uncom­fort­able ideas may be com­mon in reli­gion or in polit­ics, but it is not the path to know­ledge. And there is no place for it in the endeav­our of sci­ence.

We do not know before­hand where fun­da­ment­al insights will arise from about our mys­ter­i­ous and lovely sol­ar sys­tem. And the his­tory of our study of the sol­ar sys­tem shows clearly that accep­ted and con­ven­tion­al ideas are often wrong and that fun­da­ment­al insights can arise from the most unex­pec­ted sources.

And if you think this only applies to wacky astro­nom­ic­al ideas or insights about our sol­ar sys­tem… well, then you’re delud­ing your­self.

I can’t wait for the updated Cos­mos presen­ted by Neil deGrasse Tyson; it’ll be the best thing on TV since sliced bread.

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

Betteridge’s Law, or: Are Questions in Headlines a Good Idea?

Pick up any tabloid news­pa­per today and take note of how many art­icle head­lines are phrased as a ques­tion. I under­stand that these head­lines are an attempt to piqué our interest (or the res­ult of lazy copy editors/writers), but are they a good idea? What is the end res­ult of using a ques­tion as a head­line or art­icle title?

Now we know, thanks to Betteridge’s Law of Head­lines:

Any head­line which ends in a ques­tion mark can be answered by the word ‘no’.

Named for Ian Bet­ter­idge, this simple max­im was first expli­citly found in journ­al­ist Andrew Marr’s 2004 book, My Trade. This is why the law tends to be “uni­ver­sally true”:

Because of a simple prin­ciple of head­line writ­ing: if a story has enough sources to have a high chance of accur­acy, a head­line will be assert­ive (e.g. “Microsoft to release OS update on Fri­day”). If sources are weak, or only a single source is found, head­line writers will hedge their bets by pos­ing the head­line as a ques­tion (e.g. “Will Microsoft release an OS update on Fri­day?”).