Communicating and Miscommunicating With Products

I was out of town this week, and on my way back to my hotel after dinner, I had to cross a busy street. There was a "Walk" sign button at the intersection. I pressed the button. It flashed when I pressed it, then it went out. I pressed it again. It did the same thing. After the third press and flash, I just waited and a minute later the Walk sign came on. Why did I press the button three times?

Worn out and tired are two different things

I am sure that you have all had this happen before. You have a particularly hard day. Maybe your boss said a few things you disagree with and you had to bite your tongue rather than respond. Or perhaps a friend insulted you, and you had to control yourself in a public place. After all that work controlling yourself, a driver has the nerve to cut you off as you're trying to make a turn. Suddenly, you are in a honking, yelling, bird-flipping rage.

I shouldn’t make you eat healthy food

Healthy foods have a serious image problem. There are lots of foods that we know are good for us, but it is hard to get people to eat them. Putting labels on foods like "low fat" or "good for you" immediately makes people want to run the other way.And now, there is even evidence that if you force people to eat healthy food it may backfire.

Even young kids figure out what you like from what you choose

We figure out a lot about the people around us from what they do rather than what they say. The actions people take say a lot about what they truly want, while the statements people make may not reflect what they truly believe.

What does advertising do?

We live in a world of advertising. It is a world of our making, of course. We don't like to pay the full price of things, so we allow other people to pay part of that price in exchange for letting them pass a message to us. So, we open up the pages of our favorite magazine, and there are glossy ads for clothes, shoes, cars, or beer. We turn on the television, and smiling faces on television try to sell us soup, toothpaste, candy, and politicians.

Do you really know why you hate the incumbent?

Election season is upon us. The news is filled with stories about primaries and the lineup of candidates for the November elections. If you live in a state with a contested race, then you hear lots of ads. Some of those ads pump up a particular candidate, but many of them also try to tear down the opponent. Politics is a vicious business.

Are there supertaskers? Please don’t try this at home

When I'm driving and someone is doing something strange on the road, it is virtually guaranteed that they are talking on the cell phone. I have seen people driving far too slowly on the highway, weaving across lanes, and braking quickly to avoid hitting a car in front of them. Earlier this summer, I had to lean on my horn as someone talking on the phone blissfully drove within a few feet of my car exiting a parking lot while talking animatedly to a friend.

What does thinking hard tell you about your ability to think?

It may be 100+ degrees in Texas right now, but you can feel a change in the atmosphere. Maybe it is the marching bands practicing on bubbling parking lots at the local high schools. Maybe it is just the tinge of sadness in the eyes of teens as they race to get their summer homework done. The unmistakable scent of school is in the air.

Who would believe that Obama is Muslim?

Politics is an ugly business. It would be difficult enough if politicians focused just on the difficult issues that are required to participate in government. It is made harder by the fact that politicians are routinely the target of personal attacks. Some of those attacks may be true (even if it isn't clear why the attack should matter). For example, in past years both Al Gore and George W. Bush were attacked for coming from wealthy families who already had political ties.Often, though, the claims are not true at all. For example, the internet is full of false claims about Barack Obama suggesting that he is a Muslim or that he was not born in the United States. Ultimately, people end up being influenced by these claims, and some even end up believing them.Why?

Why science is self-correcting

According to the August 10, 2010 Boston Globe, Harvard University psychologist Marc Hauser has decided to take a year-long leave of absence after evidence of scientific misconduct was found in his lab. On the basis of an investigation by Harvard University, at least one scientific paper (from the journal Cognition) has been retracted, and others may be as well. Hauser is a prominent member of the scientific community. Much of his research has looked at non-human primates and has examined complex mental abilities such as communication and reasoning.I find cases like this both frustrating and reassuring at the same time.

Take two Tylenol for heartache too

A few weeks ago, I was playing badminton with my kids, and I tore a calf muscle. It hurt. A lot. Language has lots of ways to express pain. In the case of my calf, the pain was intense. The pain shot through my entire leg. And when the muscle would spasm, I would feel a burning pain.It is interesting that people also use the language of pain to talk about social pain. We talk about the pain of a breakup. Musicians sing about their heart aching for someone they miss. When people recall being teased as a child, they invariably talk about how much it hurt.Is this just a metaphor?

How your personality shines through

Personality is a set of characteristics that tends to influence a person's behavior. If you have a friend who you think is aggressive, then you expect them to be confrontational or argumentative. Of course, he won't be argumentative in every situation. He may be rather passive when being given by a lecture by his boss, even though he is prone to argue with the umpire at a softball game.This observation that people's behavior depends both on their personality characteristics and the situation they are in has created a tension within research on personality. Are your actions determined mostly by your personality? Are situations more important?

Well, that wasn’t worth it: Effort discounting in the brain

Most of us have a complicated relationship with the effort required to get things done. On the one hand, we generally prefer to do things in the easiest possible way. On the other hand, there are times when the effort we put in to accomplish a goal becomes part of the reward itself.From a biological standpoint, though, for most situations we are probably best off finding the least effortful way to achieve a goal. That is, an animal that routinely puts in a lot of effort to get some reward (say, food) will be at a disadvantage relative to some other animal that puts in less effort to get the same reward. So, we might expect that humans would have mechanisms that allow the amount of effort we expend to achieve a reward to affect the value we give to that reward.

You only confront prejudice when you believe people can change

One of the more embarrassing social situations you can be in happens when someone you are in a conversation with someone you do not know well and they make a racist or sexist comment or joke. In that moment, there is a whole calculus you end up going through. On the one hand, if you do not say anything, you are implicitly endorsing the comment. On the other hand, if you step up and say something, you can create an awkward social situation.Obviously, there are many aspects of a situation that will affect whether you choose to confront prejudice. For example, if the person making the remark has power over you (like a boss or a customer), then it can be difficult to say something. It can also be more difficult to say something if you are in a group and feel that you are the only one who objects to the comment.

When are attitudes pliable?

All of us have core beliefs. Things that we accept as being important to us that we expect will drive our behavior. Yet, there are times in social situations where it is awkward to express those beliefs, and we may even find ourselves sympathizing with someone else's opinion, even though at some level we feel like we disagree with them.For example, I was once in a taxi on a long drive from an airport to a hotel where I was staying. The driver spent quite a bit of time relaying his political beliefs to me. Those beliefs were the opposite of my own on a number of dimensions. I did not feel like engaging with the driver, though, and so I kept silent. Afterwards, I wondered whether this driver's tirade could have any influence on my own beliefs.

Moving on up: The goal of advancement

We have lots of goals in life. Many of them involve some kind of advancement. If you are in school, you set the goal to advance to the next grade or to the next level of your degree. At work, you might aspire to a promotion or to a job with more responsibility. When learning to play a musical instrument, you might dream of learning a more difficult piece of music or to play in a band. Even video games often have a series of levels that you traverse to move through the game. These situations involve what are called hierarchical goals, because you have to move up the ladder to advance to the next goal.What makes you want to step up to the next level?

What you don’t know can hurt you: Violence, catharsis, and video games

Periodically in this blog, I have explored the positive and negative effects of video games. In a previous post, I discussed that playing violent video games can promote aggression. One reason why this may be a problem is that many people think that playing video games may lead to catharsis. That is, by playing a violent video game, they may release some of their aggression so that they don't take it out on anyone in the world.

Evaluating the actions of others

We make decisions about the characteristics of other people from their actions. We decide that someone is aggressive if they yell, make rude comments, and try to push people around. Often, though, a specific behavior is ambiguous. It is not entirely clear what it signals. For example, if someone goes skydiving, he might be adventurous or he might be reckless. How do you decide?

Seeing and Hearing Song Lyrics

When I was in high school, I spent the summer of 1983 fixing video games. I had some background in electronics, so a guy who owned video arcades around my home town hired me to sit in a workshop and repair broken games. That whole summer, my closest companion was a little radio in the shop, which played the songs of the summer repeatedly.

When something works, we think it works fast

There are lots of products that we use because we think they are going to affect our body in some way. When we're tired, we might drink coffee or Red Bull to make us more alert. When we're in pain, we might pop a few Advil to make the pain go away. For all of these products, it takes some time for them to have an effect.How do we judge how long it takes for them to work?

Talking about products and preference for products

For a little over a week, I have been in Europe. Last week, I was in Italy, and this week I'm teaching a class at the New Bulgarian University in Sofia, Bulgaria. I have been to both countries before, and my past experience was that the food in Italy is spectacular, while the food in Bulgaria is not.Last week in Pescara eating a particularly delicious ravioli, it might make sense to say, "Wow, the food in Italy is fantastic." But, if I had eaten a disappointing slice of pizza (which never happened), I might have said, "This slice of pizza is disappointing." On the other hand, last night's dinner in Bulgaria was passable, leading me to conclude that the food in Bulgaria is disappointing. Lunch today was quite good, though, and so I might be tempted to comment that this particular meal was enjoyable.

Can living abroad make you more creative?

These days, the word multicultural has both positive and negative connotations. On the one hand, the world is becoming a smaller place. The internet allows us to talk to people from all over the world with no delays. Airplanes allow you to be somewhere else in a matter of hours. Success in the modern world requires understanding something about people from other cultures. 

Sometimes self-control is belief-control

One of the hardest things for people to do is to resolve the tradeoff between short-term and long-term goals. For example, if you are trying to stick to a diet, it can be difficult to avoid a tempting piece of cake or a fresh gooey cookie straight from the oven.

Agreeing to disagree: The difference between talking at and talking with someone else.

Public discourse is no longer about conversation. That is a real shame. We have gotten used to speeches and sound bites. Even when individuals with opposing views appear on TV or the radio, they tend not to talk with each other. They simply talk near each other.This absence of conversation among people who disagree has pervaded our own lives as well. Difficult topics like politics, race, and sexual orientation are broached carefully in public. Often, people tentatively express views and only elaborate if they come to believe that the other people in the conversation agree with them.Why does this matter?

The upside and downside of testing

Multiple-choice tests are everywhere. Teachers use them, because they are easy to grade and there is an objectively correct answer. Aptitude tests also use them for similar reasons. The internet is full of trivia quizzes with odd questions followed by a series of potential answers.When people are preparing to take a test, they often study by taking practice tests. How do these practice tests affect performance on later tests?

I Like You and Everything About You

When you look back over your relationships with people there is a common pattern. You meet them and you feel an overall sense that you like them. If something goes wrong with the relationship you look back and realize that there were all sorts of other attributes that you didn't notice, and then you blame yourself for not seeing the negatives from the beginning.

When will this streak end?

People have two very different responses to streaks. For example, when watching a basketball game, we see a player hit two three-point shots in successive trips down the court, and we expect him to make a shot on the next trip down the court. The idea that a streak is highly likely to continue is a belief in a hot hand.However, if you are playing roulette at a casino, and the lands on a red number 4 times in a row, you expect that there is a good chance that it will land on black the next time. The idea that the odds that a streak will end go up as the streak gets longer is called the gambler's fallacy.Just looking at these two reactions, it is clear that sometimes we expect streaks to continue and other times we expect streaks to end. What determines which of these reactions we are going to have?  

Anniversaries, milestones, categories, and round numbers

This is the 171st entry I have written for Ulterior Motives. That seems like a strange announcement to make. When reading entries by my fellow bloggers, I have seen people introduce themselves by saying this is their first entry. I have seen bloggers highlight their 50th post. But, 171?What's wrong with 171 anyhow?  

The value of being a multicultural warrior: Improved negotiation skill

I had a ham radio license as a kid. I would spend hours with a pair of headphones on listening for weak signals from around the world. It was exciting to have the chance to have a brief conversation with someone in Europe or Asia or the Middle East. Picking out the faint signals from among the static made the world feel like a big and mysterious place.The world seems smaller now.  

People reestablish trust only when they believe in change

Trust is crucial in any close relationship. When you make plans with a friend, you have to trust that he will show up at the appointed place at the appointed time. When you make a business deal with someone, you have to trust that she will follow through with her end of the bargain. Not everyone lives up to their end of every bargain, though. What factors determine whether you will trust someone again? 

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