Archive for category persuasion

Nice article from Cracked on biases

It’s not exactly known as an educational site, but often comes up with engaging and well-written articles on critical thinking and psychology, with pointers to the underlying scientific research. I was pleased to see this latest article on “5 logical fallacies that make you wrong more often than you think”.

The five “fallacies” they explain (really they mean biases rather than logical fallacies) are

  1. Confirmation bias
  2. Fundamental attribution error
  3. Neglect of probability
  4. The trust gap
  5. Argumentative theory of reasoning

The more I learn about critical thinking, the more I realise “logical fallacy” is a useless concept, and the concept of “bias” is the one that does the work, but more about that on another day.

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The Daily Mail’s critical thinking test

OnĀ  14th February this year, British newspaper the Daily Mail inadvertently published a critical thinking test in its paper and web site. Some of the people who failed the test have been loudly proclaiming it on blogs, opinion columns and comments in forums such as The Guardian‘s Comment is Free. Apparently they don’t know they failed.

The article reported an interview with climate scientist Prof Phil Jones. The headline tells us that Prof. Jones has admitted that “there has been no global warming since 1995.” This article has been used as a “citation” by global warming deniers to show that there’s no scientific consensus on the reality of global warming. To a critical thinker, this should be very suspect. Let’s go through the mistakes one by one. Read the rest of this entry »

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Science shows why business is stupid

Another excellent talk from about behavioural economics (to add to those already covered on this blog). Dan Pink, a former speech writer for Al Gore, explains how a lot of business practice still relies on extrinsic motivation which is known scientifically to be counter-productive (explained previously on this blog). He echoes Phil Rozenweig’s charge that the business world is lacking in scientific critical thinking, and offers Wikipedia versus Encarta as an example of how intrinsic motivation wins out. It’s not only an engaging talk, but another nail in the coffin of the concept of incentives which is core to rational-choice economics.


Bias and war: Why hawks win

An outstanding piece of writing on biases that came out last year was Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon’s “Why Hawks Win” in Foreign Policy. Rather than look at the evidence or effects for one particular bias, the authors consider the whole spectrum of biases and how they affect a particular decision: of whether or not to go to war.

Kahneman is especially well-placed to do this since with Amos Tversky and other colleagues he set off the whole “Heuristics and Biases research programme” that has spawned thousands of experiments and earned him a Nobel memorial prize in Economics.

Is there a general lesson from bias research about war? According to that authors, yes: “All the biases in our list favor hawks. […] biases have the effect of making wars more likely to begin and more difficult to end.” Read the rest of this entry »

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50 secrets from the science of persuasion

I recently read “Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion” by Goldstein, Martin and Cialdini (Profile books, 2007). Written by a USA/UK team, it summarises a wide range of published scientific experiments, some of which are very recent, and draws out lessons for managers and workers in marketing/sales. It’s similar in its themes to Cialdini’s previous books on persuasion, but definitely aimed at the business community rather than researchers or students.

If I say it’s been dumbed down for managers, I risk irritating any managers who read this… well, I’ve gone and said it anyway.

Below are my one-line summaries of the book’s evidence-based tips. They aren’t meant to substitute for the book itself (which is a recommended read, except for some annoyingly twee aphorisms) but if you already know about persuasion research, this may be a helpful guide.

  1. Convey that your product is popular, to benefit from social proof.
  2. Make social proof specific: use a comparison group that your target audience will relate to.
  3. Avoid inadvertently giving social proof in negative messages.
  4. Beware the “magnetic middle”: when reporting on average behaviour, be aware that above-average people may take it as an excuse to lower their performance.
  5. Don’t give customers too many similar options or they might not choose at all. Read the rest of this entry »