#22 Projection Bias: Why shopping whilst hungry is a terrible idea

We all know that empathy is in short supply, but we often don’t realise how hard it is to be empathetic towards our future selves. In this episode, Mel and Dan look at what happens when we try to make decisions for tomorrow based on how we feel today.


Mel: (00:20)
Hi. Welcome to Bad Decisions.

Dan: (00:22)
The podcast that helps us understand why we choose what we choose.

Mel: (00:24)
Why we think what we think.

Dan: (00:25)
And how to exploit this stuff for fun and commercial gain.

Mel: (00:28)
I'm Dr. Mel Weinberg. I'm a performance psychologist.

Dan: (00:30)
I'm Dan Monheit, co-founder of Hardhat.

Mel: (00:40)
So Dan.

Dan: (00:41)
Yes, Mel?

Mel: (00:41)
So a lot of the time I found in our episodes gone by, that we talk a lot about your heroes. And it's fine, because you have crushes And that's fine. Everybody has crushes.

Dan: (00:54)
They're all called Dan. Did you notice that?

Mel: (00:56)
Wow.

Dan: (00:56)
Dan Ariely, Dan Kahneman, Dan Gilbert.

Mel: (00:59)
Yup. Yeah, wow. It's like it was meant to be.

Dan: (01:02)
Yeah.

Mel: (01:03)
So today we're going to start by talking about one of my heroes.

Dan: (01:07)
Someone called Dan. Is it Dan Monheit?

Mel: (01:10)
No, it is not you.

Dan: (01:10)
Because it's going to be awkward, I can leave the room if you like.

Mel: (01:12)
It is not you. But he does have a lot to do with ego.

Dan: (01:16)
That's awkward. I don't see what the two have to do with each other, but let's roll with the punches.

Mel: (01:20)
So we're going to talk about Freud.

Dan: (01:22)
Freud, Dan Freud?

Mel: (01:23)
No, no. Sigmund Freud, good old Sigmund Freud, grandfather of psychology, really and-

Dan: (01:31)
Sorry, in 2019, he would just be a pervy old man, let's be honest.

Mel: (01:34)
Look, currently you might think of him like that. However, when you actually go deep, reading deep into Freud, I wasn't going to say go deep into Freud.

Mel: (01:45)
You read deep into Freud and when you read deep into psychology, what you figure is that Freud had something to say about absolutely every phenomenon in psychology before anybody else said it.

Dan: (01:55)
I think he had the same thing to say about every phenomenon, which is it's all sexuality. He's basically Charlie Sheen before his time.

Mel: (01:59)
That's what happens when you don't read deep into Freud.

Dan: (02:04)
Okay, all right, I'll go deeper ... anyway, shortcut me, tell me what I need to know.

Mel: (02:05)
So I'm going to tell you something else about Freud. Freud did some really good work, you know who did some even greater work?

Dan: (02:09)
Who?

Mel: (02:10)
Freud's daughter, Anna. Yeah, Freud's daughter Anna because men start off stuff and then it takes their daughters to really clarify their thoughts and write things down in ways that make sense. Shout out to my dad.

Dan: (02:23)
Definitely no unresolved childhood issues here. Let's keep rolling for the people at home. What's so good about Freud?

Mel: (02:28)
Freud, Sigmund and Anna talked a lot about defence mechanisms, things that we do to protect our ego, and one in particular is the concept of projection. The idea that sometimes we will have feelings or thoughts or motives that are so unacceptable to us that we can't actually handle them ourselves. And so we externalise them onto other people.

Reporter Clip: (02:50)
"Well, that's because he'd rather have a puppet as president of the United States."

D. Trump Clip: (02:53)
"No puppet, no puppet."

Reporter Clip: (02:55)
"It's pretty clear."

D. Trump Clip: (02:55)
"You're the puppet."

Mel: (02:56)
So a classic example of this would be a person who thinks that everybody is judging them. And thinks that there's something in the environment that is threatening to them. Everybody's judging them, they don't feel safe doing something. And actually nobody's really thinking about them at all. And we've talked about this with regard to another heuristic. That actually, nobody's thinking about them at all and it's rather a projection of their own internal lack of confidence.

Dan: (03:22)
They think they're shit so they think everybody else thinks they're shit.

Mel: (03:25)
That's right. And another way that we can think of projection is into ... if you look at an example from couples.

Mel: (03:40)
For example, you've got a couple and you've got the man, because it's always the man, who is considering being unfaithful. And has had some thoughts that perhaps they're going to be unfaithful. That makes them feel really guilty. They don't like it at all. So sometimes what happens is they'll project that onto their partner and what they'll do is they'll start acting in ways that suggest that they are suspicious or somehow distrusting of their partner. Their poor partner is left going, "Wait, I haven't done anything. I don't know what you're talking about." It causes a lot of conflict and it's all coming from the one member or the one partner who's actually feeling like they might do something bad.

Dan: (04:21)
"I'm not cheating. You're cheating."

Mel: (04:22)
Exactly. So we project things onto other people. It's part of our basic defence and it's an external projection.

Mel: (04:29)
Something that I thought might be relevant for discussion today is actually that we tend to project intrapersonally as well as interpersonally. Intrapersonal, within ourselves. And what I mean by that is that we actually project our current self onto our future self. And this is the idea that's referred to in the field of behavioural economics as the Projection Bias.

Mel: (04:57)
It took me a while to get there. But I got us there, didn't I?

Dan: (05:01)
Yeah, yeah, I'm here now. Projection Bias. So hang on. For those playing along at home, this is a thing that, classical psychology, we talk about projecting our feelings onto others and kind of maybe lacking the empathy that not everybody would think the way we think or feel the way we feel. I'd say one of the people we have a lot of trouble empathising with is actually our future selves. Like thinking that future Dan would actually have a different set of preferences than current Dan.

Mel: (05:24)
I guess one of the people who was really a pivotal in this space was Loewenstein. Loewenstein's done a lot of work in this space. And in 1996, he termed this, the 'intrapersonal empathy gap'.

Dan: (05:35)
All right, well, I'll tell you what, I just had some firsthand experience with the intrapersonal empathy gap, not knowing that's what it was called at the time. But I was back at my parent's place over the weekend and you know how you just kind of rummage through your old stuff. And yeah, really struck me in the face that at some point in my life, probably as 15 year old Dan, I just could not imagine a time my life where I would not think Green Day was the greatest band of all time. I had all of their music and I used to listen to them religiously and I spent all this extra money on these limited-edition things and T-shirts thinking that I'm always going to like these guys. It didn't take long for me to not like them so much anymore.

Mel: (06:14)
No. Past Dan who was current Dan at the time, couldn't actually project that future Dan might think differently. Sad when it comes to preferences for Green Day.

Dan: (06:25)
Are they still around, Green Day? If you're out listening to the show, hit us up.

Mel: (06:29)
Longtime fan.

Dan: (06:29)
Yeah, love you guys, love the work you do. Hope you had the time of your life and the early stuff, Dookie that.

Dan: (06:34)
Anyway, the thing that got me thinking though is back when I was a boy, you know, in the late nineties, yeah, late nineties still most of them-

Mel: (06:43)
Eighties? What sort of a boy?

Dan: (06:45)
We're talking about high school. When you're at an age where you actually can make terrible decisions that ignore what your future self is going to be like. I did absolutely make some terrible decisions. I listened to some shit music. I bought some terrible clothes, like I had yellow pants that I was really proud, like baggy yellow pants I thought were really cool and couldn't understand why I'd get knocked back from night clubs in them.

Dan: (07:03)
I had some really bad haircuts.

Mel: (07:04)
Yeah, I've seen pictures. It's true.

Dan: (07:06)
Yeah. I had some good haircuts. If we had show notes, we'd put them in there but we don't so we won't. And I got some piercings, that was the thing to do late nineties, early 2000s-

Mel: (07:14)
Dare I ask where?

Dan: (07:15)
Eyebrow, tongue ... we'll probably leave it at that. But the thing is all of these were basically temporary so that even though I didn't realise at the time that future Dan is not going to want to always wear yellow pants or have an eyebrow piercing, like it's fine. It was all pretty forgiving. And one of the things that got me wondering about is like the youth, youth of today-

Mel: (07:35)
Oh, young kids today.

Dan: (07:36)
Yeah. I mean, a lot of the decisions these guys are making are not that temporary. Your older self might not want their neck tattooed. And it's like if I had just permanently tattooed yellow pants on and was living with that now as a 38 year old going to client presentations, I think it'd be difficult. So anyway, I understand. I empathise.

Mel: (07:54)
And that feeds right into the Projection Bias, which is the tendency to project our current preferences into the future, as if our future tastes and preferences will match our current ones. So yes, of course we would want that neck tattoo in the future because future self is just me plus neck tattoo.

Dan: (08:07)
Exactly, and I'm already happy now, so imagine how much happier I'm going to be then!

Mel: (08:10)
Exactly. I guess the sort of key research in this space, because I love to talk about research.

Dan: (08:15)
Yep, love the research.

Mel: (08:22)
It's Loewenstein again, Loewenstein and his buddies in 2003, they were the ones who coined the term, Projection Bias. The paper is quite economical, but-

Dan: (08:31)
As in it's printed on very cheap paper?

Mel: (08:34)
No. They look at it from a perspective of ... from an economical perspective in the sense that they have formula to try to predict people's behaviour based on the Projection Bias. That's what I mean. They draw on a piece of research from Read and van Leeuwen in 1998 that had to do-

Dan: (08:51)
Big year for Green Day. That was, actually.

Mel: (08:52)
I'm sure it was. That had to do with predicting hunger. Because hunger's one of the things that is ... we're really vulnerable to the Projection Bias when it comes to hunger. They ask people to predict in one week whether you would like to receive some fruit or some junk food, healthy or unhealthy option.

Mel: (09:13)
Okay? And what they found was that people's preferences were entirely dependent on their current state. Which means if you are hungry now, you'd really love some junk food in a week's time, because you're projecting your current hunger onto your future self and saying, "Future self don't want fruit, future self is going to be starving. Give me some cake."

Dan: (09:31)
Yeah, because I'm starving now, can't imagine not being starving, what would that even feel like? Who knows?

Mel: (09:36)
Exactly. Exactly. So isn't it interesting though, how we make a lot of these decisions about what we want in our future based on how we feel right now? And we've talked about this in the context of some of the other heuristics that's come into play in temporal discounting, the planning fallacy, the focusing illusion, right? It's all part of that. But this is all about how we project our current state onto our future self and how we're so bad at predicting what future self wants and needs. Because current self totally dominates our awareness.

Dan: (10:06)
So wait, just to tie up that piece of research and make sure I understand it. So what we're saying is people have to decide, in a week you're going to get a snack. It's either going to be fruit or chocolate. If I'm hungry now, I want chocolate now, so I'm going to just assume I want chocolate in a week. If I'm not hungry now, I'm probably going to make the better health choice and pick fruit now and I can't imagine being starving in a week and actually preferring chocolate. So I'm going to pick the fruit.

Mel: (10:23)
Yeah. And this is all very much being related to the concept of affective forecasting, which our boy Kahneman had a lot to say about. And we really can't go an episode without mentioning one of your heroes that-

Dan: (10:32)
DK.

Mel: (10:35)
... this idea that we imagine when we project into the future, that our future self is just the same as our current self, but they have that extra thing that we desire. And what we do is we fail to account for the fact that our future self is actually different to our current self. Our future self might have different beliefs. Our future self has had different experiences that might lead them to have different attitudes, different values, different feelings about things.

Dan: (10:57)
Yeah, people change.

Mel: (10:58)
We don't take any of that into account. And there are some instances, I guess, in which we are more likely to totally ignore that. And it depends on the thing that we're, or I guess, the need that we're looking for at the moment. So if it's a more primal need like hunger, then our desire for food in the moment is going to completely outweigh anything else.

Dan: (11:17)
So you were talking about infidelity before. I guess it's kind of the same thing, right? It's like ... we're going to get into weird territory here. It's like I really want to indulge in that experience right now and I can't imagine a time that I wouldn't want risk my whole life and livelihood to indulge in that experience.

Mel: (11:33)
I think of it the other way, if we're going to talk about it in terms of relationships, I think about it in terms of what happens when people have a breakup, right? You know that instant feeling of disconnection and detachment and feeling completely alone and it's a miserable feeling to go through a breakup. A lot of people are familiar with that and in those times, it's so difficult for you to imagine a future self that could be happier.

Dan: (11:54)
"I will never love again!" It could be guys and girls saying that.

Mel: (11:58)
Yeah. But we get so caught up in that and because that need for connection and closeness with another person is so primal, it heavily dominates our perception of future self. So it's just too hard to think of a time in the future where this could not be a problem for us because it is such a big problem for us right now.

Dan: (12:13)
Yeah. I mean I know you looked at some research, which is great. I also looked at some research. I don't know if ... Kops do I have different research music?

Dan: (12:21)
And that is what I call research music. I can't imagine ever not loving that research music. Anyway.

Dan: (12:51)
It's interesting to look at purchase decisions that people make today, for things that they are going to have or use for a long period of time. And it's interesting you think that sales of convertible cars would tend to be more in summer than they would be in winter, but they also spike on days where it's kind of wintery but you get a short burst of hot weather. And the same thing happens with sales of houses with pools as well, where you get one beautiful, perfect day where it would be amazing to drive around in a convertible. Even though it's kind of in the middle of winter.

Mel: (13:22)
Yeah. And all of a sudden, everybody wants a convertible then.

Dan: (13:24)
Yeah. And even though your rational self knows it's not going to be like this every day, there's still clearly a part of a lot of people that just says, "Yeah, this is a great day to buy a convertible because I'm always going to want to do this, it is always going to be like this." I think same thing happens in the world of apparel where if you're selling seasonal goods, so if you're selling hats and scarves and things like that, a whole week of kind of chilly weather is not going to be as good for you as-

Mel: (13:48)
As one freezing cold day.

Dan: (13:49)
... one or two freezing cold days, where people are like, "Holy crap, I need gloves and mittens and scarves and hats and everything." Even though the forecast says it's not going to be like this in three days. "I just can't imagine it ever not. I can't ever imagine not feeling this cold again."

Mel: (14:02)
Yeah. I guess, from a brand perspective, how can you take advantage, not that we want to take advantage of people, but how can you leverage the Projection Bias in your marketing?

Dan: (14:13)
Yeah, like we're certainly not here to take advantage of people. We're just here to read the play and make the appropriate move. So I think there's a couple of things here. I mean, one as as a quick hitter is that conditions are not always perfect for selling whatever we sell. And so this is probably more of like a media recommendation, where it's like being able to be really agile and so that if you are selling scarves and it is a day where it is unseasonally cold, how hard can you go? How much of your marketing concentration can you focus on times when people are most likely to buy and people are most likely to buy when they're projecting that the future is going to be much like today and today's the perfect time to buy the thing that you're selling. So that's one thought.

Dan: (14:54)
The other thought is this idea of taking people's motivation, that is often a short-term, shortlived thing, knowing that they think they're going to be motivated like that for a long period of time and wrapping something around it. And where we see this quite prevalently is people turning product purchases or one-off purchases into subscription purchases. So you might imagine at some point in time, not that long ago, going to the gym was probably a thing that you would turn up and you would pay five bucks and you would go and have a workout-

Mel: (15:20)
Pay as you go.

Dan: (15:21)
Exactly and then leave. And what gyms very quickly realised was that hey, you're here and at six o'clock in the morning, you must be feeling pretty motivated and your Projection Bias is probably telling you you are always going to be this motivated.

Mel: (15:31)
You can't even imagine a time in the future when you're not this motivated.

Dan: (15:35)
Exactly. "Gym's great! Here I am." We're going to just leverage that into a 12-month membership. Because why wouldn't we? Because clearly you're always going to want to do this.

Dan: (15:44)
And so gyms are quite a common example. But I think what we've started to see through the explosion of e-commerce and especially direct-to-consumer businesses, lots of things that were just bought once as products are now bought as services. So you think, okay, it's a Wednesday, I've got a few people coming around this weekend, I'd like to buy a bottle ... some mixed wines, six bottles of wine. I can go and do that once, or, people are going to try and sell me on a subscription service where I get six bottles of wine delivered every month and because I'm in a hot state now and think that would be a great thing, I can't imagine who would not want a mysterious box of goodies, be it wine or chocolates or anything else to turn up every month?

Mel: (16:18)
Yeah, it'd be wonderful, isn't it? Because we are the same person, month to month to month.

Dan: (16:22)
I always want wine and chocolates.

Mel: (16:23)
Says Projection Bias.

Dan: (16:24)
Yeah. Here's my credit card. That's the one thing that doesn't change, my credit card details. You just keep running that until it don't work no more.

Mel: (16:30)
Yeah. And look, the Projection Bias, like all the other biases and heuristics that we discussed can lead people to make, well maybe decisions that are not in their best interests, but your job I guess, as a brand or as a marketer is to convince them that actually it is in their best interests.

Dan: (16:45)
Well, sometimes buying things on a longer-term basis is in people's best interest. One of the biggest issues in our industry, in the ad industry at the moment is how much work has moved onto project-by-project basis. And I think what, as an industry, we're not doing a very good job of is taking all of that excitement that a client has about engaging an agency and saying, "You are going to want this often." You do not just want this for six weeks while we deliver this one thing for you and then desperately wait for the phone to ring again. You want the benefits of this all the time and that is not just beneficial for agencies. It's actually beneficial for clients to have people in agencies thinking about them all the time, not just for that short window that they've been set on a project for.

Mel: (17:21)
Yup, that makes sense.

Dan: (17:22)
That's what I think.

Mel: (17:23)
Have you got any other examples?

Dan: (17:26)
No. That was not enough examples for you?

Mel: (17:27)
No, I'm hungry for more.

Dan: (17:29)
To be honest, when I wrote these examples down, I just thought my future self would only want two or three.

Mel: (17:34)
Well-played.

Dan: (17:34)
Here I am, enjoying them. Wishing that I packed some more.

Mel: (17:37)
Well-played, so what do we do about this? We know what brands do about it. What do people do about it?

Dan: (17:41)
Why are you asking me?

Mel: (17:44)
Well I'm not, I'm just sort of putting it out there as a rhetorical question. And here we go, I will answer it.

Dan: (17:47)
Because I'm going to struggle to answer. I don't know, Mel, what should we do about this?

Mel: (17:51)
Well, I mean, one thing is to maybe have a bit more empathy for future self, right? Because this is all based on us not having or having an empathy gap. And maybe taking into consideration that if we have this empathy gap, maybe making a decision in the long-term is not in our best interest, is it or isn't it? What's going to change, what's likely to change? What are some ... almost like we talked about in the planning fallacy, playing devil's advocate to our own future selves and going "future self wants this. Wait, does future self really want that? Is this tattoo really a good idea?" Just second guessing.

Dan: (18:26)
Tattoos are cool if you have one on your neck. That's great. I just hope you still like it when you're old.

Mel: (18:30)
Yup. So another time that we see this, another time that we can actually do something about it is the old trip to the supermarket. You know everybody says, "Don't go to the supermarket when you're hungry." Why not?

Dan: (18:40)
This is because Projection Bias.

Mel: (18:42)
Because current self is hungry. We go to the supermarket, we buy all sorts of things. We think we're going to make dinner for the next four nights in a row and turns out we have a couple of bites and yeah, we're not that hungry anymore. So if we understand that future self is actually not going to be as hungry as current self is right in this moment, once I've had a couple of bites, then we can sort of slow down, probably save a lot of money.

Dan: (19:05)
So you're advocating stealing grapes in the supermarket as you walk around. Just to take the edge off the hunger and make better decisions.

Mel: (19:11)
I've never done that.

Dan: (19:13)
Melissa Weinberg this is scandalous!

Mel: (19:16)
No, but it is. It can be a good idea. Have a snack as you go through the supermarket ... no, no, you pay for it! You know what you do? You go to the nuts section. And you fill the bag up with some of those nuts. You print it based on weight and you pay for it, but you eat them on the way.

Dan: (19:30)
Life advice, life advice, guys.

Mel: (19:30)
So by the time you've got to the register the bag's empty. But the price tag, you're still paying for it.

Dan: (19:36)
Of course you are.

Mel: (19:36)
It's not stealing. No. It's just having a snack as you go through to counteract the Projection Bias.

Dan: (19:40)
You know what? I feel like we were really wrapping up this episode, but we've just gone down a whole different rabbit hole.

Mel: (19:46)
So don't go to the supermarket when you're hungry. The other thing is when it comes to supersizing meals. You know how you're often asked, "Oh, would you like to up-size or would you like the regular or the large?" And me, because I'm somebody who loves to eat with my eyes. I'm like, "Oh my God, I'm starving. I want the large." I never need the large. Never, never need it.

Dan: (20:03)
So what's your advice? Don't order the large. That's profound.

Mel: (20:07)
Don't always get the large.

Dan: (20:08)
We've really gone deep on this episode.

Mel: (20:10)
I mean if it's, look, if it's a marginal ... if it's a dollar difference and you can afford it, go the large, but really you don't need it. Future self is not that hungry. Future self has actually eaten.

Dan: (20:22)
Future self can come back and buy dessert later, if you're still hungry. Get a medium and see how you go.

Mel: (20:25)
That's it.

Dan: (20:25)
All right.

Mel: (20:26)
But current self is not probably the best person to make decisions for future self, especially when it comes to food.

Dan: (20:31)
Let future self decide for future self?

Mel: (20:32)
Let future self be his or her own person. Let her evolve and let her be a person who has the right to make her own decisions about what she wants.

Mel: (20:41)
The last piece of advice. That when we're not, it doesn't have to be in the supermarket, but remembering that Projection Bias is going to occur in the current moment. Let's just slow down a moment. Sometimes we don't always have to make decisions right here and now. Sometimes there are decisions that we can wait a little while and so that's like what we were saying before that if future self is a little bit in the future, a little bit further in the future, let future self make that decision.

Dan: (21:02)
That's where future self tends to be.

Mel: (21:04)
Yeah, we have worries, and I talk about this with clients all the time in practice that sometimes there are worries for now, and sometimes there are worries that belong to you, and sometimes there are worries that belong to future you, and let future you have those worries because future you is actually going to be okay and future you can handle those worries.

Dan: (21:19)
Oh, that's an optimistic way to end. All right, so let's put a wrapper on all of this. So Projection Bias, inability to empathise with our future selves and therefore making decisions today on the assumption that we will always feel like we do right now.

Mel: (21:34)
It's a bias. Yeah. And it'll work out.

Dan: (21:36)
Things we can do if we're selling stuff are to go hard when the conditions are right or look for ways to convert a one-off purchase into an ongoing subscription-type service. Because people will think that they're always going to want that thing. And as individuals we need to slow down. Leave future decisions for future self.

Mel: (21:53)
Perfect.

Dan: (21:54)
And buy the nuts.

Mel: (21:55)
Don't go to the supermarket hungry.

Dan: (21:55)
Don't go to the supermarket hungry. Good. That's a wrap. All right. Thank you so much. Seeya.

#21 Effort Bias: Why you should let them see you sweat

Why do we teach kids that it's all about the effort, when as adults, we're far more concerned about the outcomes. In this episode, Mel and Dan look at why 'quicker and easier' could be the exact opposite of what we really want.


Mel: 00:18 Hi, and welcome to Bad Decisions.

Dan: 00:20 The podcast that helps us understand why we choose what we choose.

Mel: 00:23 Why we think what we think.

Dan: 00:24 And how to exploit this stuff for fun and commercial gain.

Mel: 00:27 Ethically.

Dan: 00:27 Always ethically.

Mel: 00:28 I'm Dr. Mel Weinberg, I'm a performance psychologist.

Dan: 00:31 And I'm Dan Monheit, co-founder of HardHat, a creative agency built for today. So, you wouldn't believe it, Mel.

Mel: 00:43 Tell me.

Dan: 00:44 Once again, Australia was going to the polls. This morning or yesterday or something. Who's our current Prime Minister?

Mel: 00:50 Who knows?

Dan: 00:51 It's Joe Moe? Momo. ScoMo. Anyway, someone's decided that everybody needs a free hotdog and we're going to go and vote. Are we voting for a new prime minister again?

Mel: 01:02 Apparently.

Dan: 01:02 This has got me thinking about this weird thing that we seem to do where voting for a new Prime Minister, you need to ask yourself what millions of people will be asking themselves, "Will this person be a good Prime Minister?"

Mel: 01:17 It's a tough question.

Dan: 01:18 It's a really hard question, and there's a lot of facets to what would make someone a good or a bad prime minister, and it made me realise, one of the things we seem to do is we substitute easy questions for hard questions almost without out brain knowing.

Dan: 01:31 So it's like, "Will this person be a good Prime Minister?" "I don't know. That's really hard, ask me an easier question." "Is this a nice person? Would you like to have a beer with this person?" "Yeah, okay, yeah. I probably would. Well, therefore they would probably be a good Prime Minister”.

Mel: 01:44 Much easier question, "Hey, who do I want to go to lunch with?"

Dan: 01:47 Yeah, and I was thinking how the same thing probably happens with investing in publicly listed companies as well. So, you say, "Should I buy shares in Tesla?" And you go, "Well, is the current Tesla share price the right price?" "I don't know. Like there's a lot of very hard maths that I would need to do to work out, a lot of things I don't understand." So, an easier question I can substitute for myself is, "Do I like the Tesla brand?" "Yes, then I should buy shares in it."

Mel: 02:12 Yeah, I mean this is basically why we have heuristics. Right? Heuristics are shortcuts. They substitute really hard questions for easier ones that we much prefer.

Dan: 02:22 Yeah, totally, and so I guess one of the places where we often are asking ourselves a hard question is, "Is the price for this thing correct?" Or "How much is this thing really worth?" And we found a lot of ways to give ourselves easier questions to answer. So, we look at tricks like, "What is the price of this item?" Or "What is the brand of this item?" Or "What is the shop that I am buying this item from?" And we try to use all of those things as easy answers, and it seems that one of the other interesting ways that we try and determine the value of something is, "How much effort went into making this?"

Mel: 02:59 Good, Dan. See, you're giving us the effort heuristic!

(music)

Mel: 03:11 The effort heuristic basically describes how we will ascertain the quality or the worth of an object by our perception of how much time and effort went into it. So, we substitute effort for quality. Effort's our shortcut for quality, and we've talked about shortcuts in a lot of different episodes, one of the ones that quickly comes to mind is the availability bias.

Dan: 03:36 Is it available for you? That episode?

Mel: 03:37 It's easily available to me, yes. In that episode we talk about how availability is a shortcut for the frequency of something, and just like that, in the effort heuristic, effort becomes a shortcut for quality.

Dan: 03:49 Yes, I mean it would be great for people to know that each of these shows take us like, what is it? 17-18 hours of research?

Mel: 03:55 So long. Yeah.

Dan: 03:56 30 hours of recording, which we lovingly edit down to 18-22 minutes. But there's no point telling people that, but if they knew, they would really rate these shows a lot more higher than they do.

Mel: 04:08 There are a couple of reasons why this effort heuristic exists and sort of why it's there to help us. You've got an example from an evolutionary perspective?

Dan: 04:15 I was just thinking that today things are pretty complicated. Trying to work out the value of a set of AirPods is pretty tricky, because there's a complex process for how they somehow get invented and then end up on a shelf in front of you, but at some point in our past there's probably a much tighter correlation between effort and quality, because you're probably buying things from the people who made them by hand.

Dan: 04:36 Everyone was kind of like a craft person or an artisan, and within reason, the more time somebody spent making a horseshoe or a sword, or a basket, probably the better and higher quality that item was.

Mel: 04:50 Yeah, so you're basically saying that there was a reason why effort would be a good substitute for quality. It makes sense, right? Back in the day, and if we take that to today's society, there's a concept called learned industriousness. Yeah, fancy word. To basically describe how effort gets rewarded, especially when you're younger. You put a lot of time into something, you put a lot of effort into something and you're told that will get you the outcome, because of that, effort itself gets rewarded and it's a weird thing, because if you think about effort, about what effort involves, if it involves physical exertion, you're putting in effort when you're fatigued by it, right? So, it's something that we would typically avoid, but according to learned industriousness what actually happens is because that effort gets reinforced we learn to love it.

Mel: 05:33 You've run marathons?

Dan: 05:36 I've ran a marathon. I ran most of the marathon and hobbled some part of it.

Mel: 05:38 Right, and you put yourself through a lot of hard work. You put yourself through a lot of physical exertion, you put in a lot of effort, but you loved that. The effort actually got rewarded.

Dan: 05:47 Yeah.

Mel: 05:48 So, instead of the effort being something aversive, something that you avoided, you trained week, after week, after week, and you pushed yourself. A lot of athletes do this, I'm putting you in the category of athletes.

Dan: 05:56 Whoa, yes.

Mel: 05:57 A lot of athletes do this.

Dan: 05:57 I'm an e-sports athlete now.

Mel: 05:59 That'll do. But you put in the effort, and you actually enjoy it. People say they loved the grind.

Dan: 06:04 Yeah, so you reckon that's a learned thing. Because that's not natural, right?

Mel: 06:07 Well, we've been conditioned to actually enjoy the effort.

Dan: 06:15 Yeah, I think you're right. If I think about school, there is this idea of romanticising effort, that hard work is good, which it probably is to a degree, but also sometimes people need to work harder just because they're less good to start with, right?

Mel: 06:26 Speaking of hard work and degrees takes me back to my academic days with loads of marking, and one of the worst things that you have to do in academia is marking, and one of the things that happens is the students will come back and complain about their grades. If I can tell you the number of times that students came to me and said, "I only got a credit? But I put so much time into it, but I put so much effort into it!" and I don't know, call me a hard ass, but it still wasn't any good.

Dan: 06:53 They were trying to punk you with the effort heuristic, right?

Mel: 06:56 I'm not falling for that. You're still getting a credit.

Dan: 06:59 So what we're saying is often times effort does not directly correlate to goodness.

Mel: 07:02 Right, and so we can make errors because of the effort heuristic. We sometimes overestimate the correlation between effort that gets put into and the outcome. Sometimes there are a whole bunch of reasons why the effort doesn't necessarily correlate so strongly with the outcome. Like if somebody's just not very talented for example, you could put in all the effort in the world, but the outcome's still going to be subpar.

Dan: 07:26 I guess this all feels pretty natural and we can all think about how we could convince ourselves to think that something that took more effort would be worth more, but surely somebody somewhere in the world has put in the effort, the highly valuable effort, of connecting some research on this.

Mel: 07:42 Well, would you believe they did?

Dan: 07:45 This is amazing.

Mel: 07:51 And it took four authors of the study back in 2004.

Dan: 07:54 Wow, this must be a pretty good paper. Four authors!

Mel: 07:56 Yeah, Kreuger et al. It's known as the Poem Study, and they split people into two groups, and they gave then a poem to read, and they asked them to rate the quality of the poem. They asked them, "Did you enjoy the poem? And if this poem were to be sold to a poetry magazine, how much do you think it would be worth?"

Dan: 08:21 A poetry magazine?

Mel: 08:21 Yes, that was the study.

Dan: 08:22 What year was this study done?

Mel: 08:23 2004. When poetry magazines were all the hype.

Mel: 08:26 But they gave both groups a whole bunch of information about the author of the poem, about where they came from, their name, etc. the only thing that was manipulated was how long they told participants that the author spent writing the poem. Group one were told that the poem took four hours to compose, and group two were told all the exact same information except that the poem took 18 hours to compose.

Mel: 08:55 Would you know it, at the end of the study what they found was that the group who were told that the poem took 18 hours to compose rated the quality of the poem as much higher, and it's worth much higher.

Dan: 09:06 Surely not. Surely not.

Mel: 09:07 Uh huh. Believe it.

Dan: 09:09 Surely these guys didn't stop at poetry, though.

Mel: 09:11 There were a couple of other studies.

Dan: 09:16 Yeah. Which we aren't going to talk about?

Mel: 09:16 Well, we could talk about one of them had to do with rating the quality of paintings for example. They had a group of non-experts and then a group of self-identified experts, and just to throw it out there, I'm critical and curious, and suspicious of anything that asks people to self-identify as experts.

Dan: 09:31 Well, I think what's great about this story, because what happened to the self-identified painting experts?

Mel: 09:36 Well, wouldn't you know it, they rated the quality of the paintings much higher, if they were told that the hours spent painting them were longer.

Dan: 09:45 Yeah, so basically everybody got punked, including the self-identified experts.

Mel: 09:48 Exactly.

Dan: 09:50 So, I mean this is really interesting, but also kind of troubling as somebody that has a business that is in the world of selling ideas. It's really hard to assign a value to an idea, and a weird thing that's happened in my industry, and in a lot of other industries like ours, is that clients want ideas. They don't know how to value them. So, what everybody just kind of agreed we're going to do, is we're just going to quote and pay based on time/effort. Even though everybody really knows that this is a horrific approximation for how much value is created.

Dan: 10:26 The idea of trying to break the paradigm that we pay people for hours is just far too big and far too confusing. So, the approximation we use in our industry for value is also effort.

Mel: 10:37 Yeah, so the people will have ideas like a light bulb, it will come to them.

Dan: 10:40 Yeah, I mean how long does it take to crack a campaign idea, like your whole life plus five seconds. So, you can charge a client for your whole life. Tried. Didn't work. You can't charge a client for five seconds, because that's going to come out like $1.30, on a good day, so you kind of have to find something in the middle and some businesses do manage to crack some model where you do value based pricing.

Dan: 11:00 Like "What is the value of this idea to your business, and how much can we improve sales, or other key metrics?" But the reality is, it's so complicated, if you come up with a new tagline for a brand, and then you see sales go up, it might have been because of the tagline, or it might have been because of better distribution, or it might have been because they're competitor ran out of stock and nobody could buy them, or it might have been because the weather was good or bad. It's so hard. So, it's like, "How about we just pay you for the hours that somebody spent thinking about this, or not thinking about this, but were meant to think about this?"

Mel: 11:27 Right. So, if we understand that effort is used as a substitute for quality, tell me please how can brands use this to their advantage?

Dan: 11:34 This is exactly the right starting point, because while it would be good to try and convince people that this is not always the best way to value something, that's really hard. So, if we just lean into the fact that this is what people think is happening, the long and the short of it is, what we need to do is find ways to, I want to say make our processes longer and more complicated, but really what I mean by that is, not to manufacture fake things. Most things that people do, do have long complicated processes, and I think the way we need to play this heuristic is to make those long complicated processes more visible to the people we're selling to, than they otherwise would be. And a lot of the time we don't even notice the complexity, because we're in it all the time.

Mel: 12:14 Yeah, so there's some examples of that, right?

Dan: 12:16 Yeah. Of course there are. So, we see this in a bunch of places. One of the things I like to think about is restaurants. If you designed and built a restaurant anytime up until, I don't know, call it 10 years ago, there was a pretty predictable format where you have all of the service areas out the front, and then kind of hidden away behind a wall you have all the kitchen staff.

Mel: 12:36 So nobody sees the mess.

Dan: 12:37 Nah, don't see the mess, don't see anything. The food just magically appears through these doors. If you look at the trending restaurants in the last 10 years, every hot restaurant, at least in Melbourne and Sydney, I'm sure other places in the world, the kitchen is smack bang in the middle of the restaurant.

Mel: 12:51 So much fun. It's so much more fun that way.

Dan: 12:53 It's so much more fun! And not only is it in the middle of the restaurant, but there are seats, and I think often the best seats in the house are sitting around the kitchen watching the people craft the food. So we are not only exposing, but we're probably celebrating and romanticising the effort that goes in, and it seems that people are more patient and happy to pay more when you can actually see what is taking the time and the effort going in.

Mel: 13:15 And if somebody were to do research on that, if there isn't some already that we just haven't looked up, I'm sure they would enjoy the quality of their food and rate the quality of their food much better.

Dan: 13:23 Yeah, without a doubt. When you've seen the chef cut the sashimi right in front of you, you can't help but think that it's fresher and more expertly prepared.

Dan: 13:34 Some other places we see this stuff happening: we often used to talked about comparison websites on the internet, and when I say we used to talk about this, nerds in my industry used to talk about this, and the idea that often historically, and maybe it's still the case, those comparison websites were slowed down. So, you go into one of these websites and you say "I want to find flights from Melbourne to LA," and it could find that for you in half a second, or faster, but the perception is, "Well, if it only took half a second, like did you really go out and have a look at all of the possible places you could find airfares?" So, the idea was that these websites were slowed down a little bit to give the perception that they were doing a better job, there was more effort going into it, and therefore a more valuable outcome that come out the back of it.

Mel: 14:17 Tricky, isn't it?

Dan: 14:19 Yeah, the last probably interesting example I see of this is, if you think about tracking packages that come from overseas, we've all become accustomed to the idea that you buy something on a website, then you get a tracking number, and you go and look it up, and while in one respect you're looking it up just because you want to know where it is and how far away it is, what companies like DHO and FedEx have done an amazing job of, is showing all of the little steps that have happened.

Mel: 14:43 Every time somebody's touched it.

Dan: 14:44 Yeah. It got moved from the left side to the right side of this warehouse in this city, and then it got put on a truck and moved 200 meters down the road to a different dispatch facility, and then somebody put a sticker on it with your name on it, and so all of these things add steps, and add complexity. Well, they don't add steps and complexity - they surface the steps and they surface the complexity that's inherent the process, and you can't help but marvel at how this one box of shoes has been touched by dozens of people in dozens of cities or facilities just to make its way to little ol' me in little ol' Melbourne.

Mel: 15:18 When you think about it, it seems so unnecessary, but we just accept that, "Oh, it's getting tracked, there are people along the way doing things, it's getting to me, it's being worked on." I'll accept it. I'll wait.

Dan: 15:24 Yeah, all that effort is making this a more valuable process.

Mel: 15:27 That's right.

Dan: 15:28 So I think for brands, the goal is to show people what is happening and celebrate it, and surface it, and make sure people understand all of the effort that's going in knowing that they can't help but assign that effort to value.

Mel: 15:41 Cool.

Dan: 15:42 What about peeps?

Mel: 15:43 Well, for just the little ol' people in the picture, one of the key things for this is to understand that people are going to judge your value based on the effort, and not necessarily based on the actual effort, but based on the perceived effort. So, it's really important that you make it look like you put effort into whatever it is that you're doing, which can't be overstated.

Dan: 16:03 Wear a clean t-shirt, right?

Mel: 16:07 Right. I'm going to touch on something that some people might think is a little pedantic, but we're going to talk about spelling mistakes. Spelling mistakes, and even grammatical mistakes, is a sure fire way to let people know that you haven't put in effort, and people say, "Oh, it's just a spelling mistake, it's just a typo." It's not, because people are actually judging your worth and your value based on your spelling mistakes. So, if you're writing something, if you're writing an email to somebody, perhaps to a client, and you're trying to get on good terms with them, and you want them to think that you can produce really high value work, the absolute worse thing you can do is put a spelling mistake in there.

Mel: 16:45 Because they are going to see that, and it's going to give them a very quick indication that you haven't proof read it, that you haven't put enough effort into it. They might even know that you can spell. So, it's not even about whether or not you can spell, but it gives a very quick indication that effort just hasn't been put in, and that means that maybe you're not very good at what you do.

Dan: 17:06 Yeah you lose count of how many times you see comment threads on the web. Somebody writing, really like a brilliant piece of prose that's rebutting an argument of something that somebody else has put forward, and the whole thing is incredible and intelligent and compelling, but they've used the wrong "your."

Mel: 17:24 Your and you're.

Mel: 17:26 Or there, their, and they're?

Dan: 17:27 Yeah, and all of a sudden the whole thing is discredited. Because you've used the wrong "there", and that means you haven't put the effort in, and means this is not valuable.

Mel: 17:35 That's right. So, even if you don't care about spelling, everybody else reading your work does.

Dan: 17:40 Yeah, all right, that's a tough, tough pill to swallow, but thems the breaks.

Mel: 17:46 It's just not that hard, just check your spelling.

Dan: 17:47 Yeah, I mean, you even get little squiggly lines underneath the things.

Mel: 17:49 Exactly. You're going to take me back to my marking days, which we've already touched on once this episode. I'm not interested in going back there.

Dan: 17:55 Yeah, you are starting to shake a little bit.

Mel: 17:57 Yeah, sorry.

Dan: 17:59 All right, probably a good time to wrap up.

Mel: 17:59 Let's wrap up.

Dan: 18:00 All right. So, the effort heuristic.

Mel: 18:07 Is a shortcut that we use when we're trying to estimate the quality of something that we don't really have much else to go on.

Dan: 18:12 Yeah, so you can try and change the world, and bust the paradigm and convince people they should be paying based on value, or you can just lean into it and say, "Yes, you are paying for effort, and look how much we put in."

Mel: 18:20 Yep, and remember, it's the perceived effort. More than even the actual effort.

Dan: 18:25 Awesome. Well, I think that concludes take 192 for this episode.

Mel: 18:29 We really put so much into this, guys.

Dan: 18:31 Yeah, I feel my dad jokes have really lifted over the course of the show as well.

Mel: 18:35 Yeah, well done.

Dan: 18:35 Cool. All right. We're out.

Mel: 18:37 We are out.

Dan: 18:37 We're done. Thanks. See you guys next time.

Mel: 18:39 See ya.

#20 Spotlight effect: Why nobody else notices the ketchup stain on your shorts

Ever wondered why making the smallest faux pas can ruin your entire day? In this episode, Mel and Dan discuss the spotlight effect, and how it influences our perception of how much attention people are actually paying towards us (and our ads).


Mel: 00:16 Hi, and welcome to Bad Decisions.

Dan: 00:18 The podcast that helps us understand why we choose what we choose.

Mel: 00:21 Why we think what we think.

Dan: 00:22 And how to exploit this stuff for fun and commercial gain.

Mel: 00:24 Always ethically. I have to say that. Speaking of, I'm Dr Mel Weinberg, I'm a performance psychologist.

Dan: 00:31 And I'm Dan Monheit, founder of Hardhat, a creative agency built for today.

Mel: 00:34 Let's play some music.

(music)

Dan: 00:43 Okay, so the first thing I feel I need to do is I just need to apologise.

Mel: 00:47 To who?

Dan: 00:47 Well to all of our loyal listeners out there because, as it turns out Mel, I've been pretty busy and we haven't done an episode for more weeks than I'd like to admit. And it's pained me as I've tried to fall asleep most nights, thinking about how angry people are going to be. You guys are going to your podcast apps and you're hitting refresh and you're wondering what's going on, why are there no new episodes of Bad Decisions?

Mel: 01:10 They must be so concerned...

Dan: 01:11 I know, people must be concerned. I just wanted to say, I for one as at least 50% of this setup here, am profoundly apologetic about this.

Mel: 01:20 That's really nice of you Dan. I, on behalf of the other 50% of this enterprise, don't apologise. It's fine that you feel that way Dan, but I got some news for you.

Dan: 01:34 What's that?

Mel: 01:34 Nobody cares.

Dan: 01:34 People care.

Mel: 01:35 Nobody cares.

Dan: 01:36 Everybody cares, they're wondering where we've been.

Mel: 01:38 No, no.

Dan: 01:38 Mainly where I've been.

Mel: 01:39 Not as much. They haven't really been lying awake at night as much as you have. I guarantee you that and if you have, please look up my details and come and see me for a session in the clinic 'cause there is something wrong with you.

Dan: 01:49 And then look up my details and come and see me and we can hang out and be the best of best of friends.

Mel: 01:53 So the reason Dan that you are thinking this way and that you are feeling very apologetic, which is very kind and very nice to our listeners...

Dan: 02:01 I'm just that kind of guy.

Mel: 02:02 You are, but you are also somewhat narcissistic, for all of your empathy, and I feel like...

Dan: 02:11 It's faux empathy.

Mel: 02:12 I feel like you're falling victim to what's known as the spotlight effect.

Dan: 02:15 Spotlight effect, me?! Why do these things always affect me?

Mel: 02:27 See this one is quite specific from a psychological perspective and basically what it is, is the tendency to considerably overestimate how much attention other people are paying to us.

Dan: 02:39 I see why other people would overestimate how much attention people are giving them but, with me it's real.

Mel: 02:44 Let me give you an example. You're walking down the street and you're holding a whole bunch of stuff and you're struggling to manage everything and there's people walking past you, and all of a sudden you just absolutely stack it. Things fly everywhere, you spill your coffee, and you fall onto the floor, you hit your butt, and like you're just thinking "oh my god this is the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to me". In your mind, you're basically thinking this is social suicide. People are going to think I'm the most useless, incapable person...

Dan: 03:14 Uncoordinated...

Mel: 03:14 Yeah, I can't even walk down the street! So what kind of a person am I? You think about it for hours afterwards, you go "oh my god, that was so embarrassing." You can't stop thinking about it and replaying the incident in your head and you assume that everybody else who saw that is spending their day thinking "oh this idiot just completely stacked it, was carrying too much, just lost it, it was hilarious." When in reality what's happened is that they're not really thinking about it. They might've had a bit of a giggle at the time, if it was funny, and if you were okay of course and not seriously injured. But nobody else is thinking about it as much as you are.

Dan: 03:54 No I know, and that's probably because they're just thinking about something for themselves, right?

Mel: 03:59 Well yeah, because when something like that happens to us it dominates our attention. Because it's so critical to our survival in the world, and to our sense of self, our brain needs to focus on it right then and there, but others don't attend to it in the same way that we would. It's important to us, but us falling over isn't really that important to them. It doesn't really have any impact on their survival, or their continued existence or anything like that, other than maybe giving them something to chuckle over for a little moment.

Dan: 04:23 And they probably have things that are much more important to their life, or their survival, like they have a coffee stain on their shirt.

Mel: 04:29 Right, which you maybe didn't even notice.

Dan: 04:30 If you have a ketchup stain on your shorts, that is literally the only thing you're going to be worried about for the whole rest of the day. I'm like, "I'm such an idiot", people are going to be looking at me, and then some schmuck trips over and stacks themselves, and for half a second you're like "ha!". But "I have ketchup on my shorts, I'm such an idiot."

Mel: 04:46 This is the thing, as we go about our day being hyper alert to anything that might threaten our survival, things that happen which impact on other people's survival, unless it's extreme, you don't really care that much. We have so much going on in our environment, that we need to scour and we have effective data filtration strategies which basically mean that we filter out information which isn't immediately relevant to us, or isn't going to be an ongoing source of threat. So if you have a ketchup stain on your pants, that's super important to you, you think everybody's looking at it, especially if you're wearing white pants...

Dan: 05:20 I'm not wearing white pants, but if I was, people would think I'm a toddler, what sort of grown up can't get all the ketchup in their mouth or on their plate?

Mel: 05:27 Look and I think that this is something that we've developed in order to defend our sense of self. We have to believe it's important for our brain to believe that everybody is paying attention to us, because as far as we're concerned, we are the centre of our own universe.

Dan: 05:43 Yeah, you're right. I think western civilisation has a lot to answer for on this as well. Certainly today, we are encouraged to see our lives as a movie, and we play the lead role in this. Hollywood and general western values around individualism and "go your own path, and write your own journey", and all of those sorts of things, tell us there is a spotlight shining on you all the time, and everybody else is playing supporting roles in the movie that is your life. Even if we think about how we raise kids and everything is about being an individual and you have your own room, and someone's kids rooms are off limits to their parents because preserving the individualism is so important and even if we just went back a few hundred years, or looking at more traditional eastern cultures, the role of the individual is far smaller and is much more about how you fit in, how you conform with a tribe, or religion or a society or a group. As opposed to kids having their own rooms, everybody's just sleeping in dormitories and trying to blend in.

Mel: 06:43 It's interesting, for me I see this as a very childlike type of bias that we have. But I think this is an artefact of how our brain develops. You're talking about the individualistic nature of things and how it is very childish, but one of the ways this manifests is in terms of ego-centric thinking. We think we are the centre of our universe and actually when you're a child, you are. Your brain actually doesn't have the capacity to think from anybody else's perspective, so everything that is happening, you're seeing from your eyes and you're experiencing as yourself. No perspective whatsoever. And you see this play out- you've got small kids - you see this happen when you play hide and seek with a child. A two or three year old and it's their turn to hide, what do they do? Do they run off and they hide behind the curtain?

Dan: 07:25 No. That's a lot of effort.

Mel: 07:25 It's a good hiding spot, but no so what do they do?

Dan: 07:28 They put their hands over their eyes...

Mel: 07:30 Exactly, right... and they go you can't see me, I'm hiding.

Dan: 07:34 Yeah, if they can't see me then I can't see them.

Mel: 07:39 That's how they think because they're actually unable to see things from your perspective or from your eyes.

Dan: 07:44 This is why there are no three year old snipers. The worst snipers in the world. In a slightly less military example, on a daily basis, I have young kids and one of them will come up to me... I might be attempting to cook something, and there are literally things on fire in the kitchen and one of my children will come up and not understand why this is not a good time to wanna go and play with them. It's like, "can you see I'm literally, there is literally flames coming off the stove, not a great time to fix LEGO".

Mel: 08:15 Doesn't matter because I want to play LEGO...

Dan: 08:21 Yeah I love you guys still though, we'll play LEGO afterwards, as soon as daddy puts out the fire in the kitchen, it's LEGO for everyone! Especially if you don't tell mummy...

Mel: 08:28 This spotlight effect, I feel is a residual effect of having this ego-centric thinking that dominates our life as a child. We grow up and we have the ability to see things from other people's perspective but our inherent, more natural default way to look at things is from our eyes, and our eyes only.

Mel: 08:43 Before we go on, because there are two other ways this manifests that I want to talk about, but I know that everybody is really interested, as much as I am, in the ...

Dan: 08:52 Let me guess, the research!

Mel: 08:53 The research!

Dan: 09:00 I'll be back in a minute...

Mel: 09:02 While you take a break Dan, let me just take everybody very quickly through a little bit of research that was published in a very highly regarded journal, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, in 2000. It was by Gilovich Medvec and Savitsky, they were the ones who sort've coined this term, spotlight effect. What they did, was they created a situation where one person would feel embarrassed and what was the best way they could think of to make somebody feel embarrassed?

Dan: 09:28 This was before the Borat mankini epidemic?

Mel: 09:32 They decided that one way that they could potentially cause embarrassment, or cause a person to feel shame, would be to have them wear a bright yellow T-shirt that had the face of Barry Manilow printed on it.

Dan: 09:43 That's fine in some circles...

Mel: 09:44 It's creative... this is how academics think, right. Let's go with it. Basically what they were doing was they wearing that T-shirt into a room full of people. Before they did, they asked the person who was wearing this T-shirt, how many people do you think are going to notice? Afterwards they asked all the people who were in the room with them, did you guys notice what this guy was wearing? What they found was that...

Dan: 10:05 You're about to get a massive hip check from reality here buddy...

Mel: 10:09 What they found was that the subjects, the people wearing the bright yellow Barry Manilow T-shirt predicted about 50% of others in that room, would notice their embarrassing T-shirt and in reality, only about 25% of their classmates actually did. What that tells us is that we overestimate, we in fact double, how much attention we think people are paying to us.

Mel: 10:31 I'm done with the research now, we can go back to a couple of other ways that this manifests.

Dan: 10:35 Good.

Mel: 10:36 I'm sorry, I know that everybody else really, really needed to hear that, it's important to me so it must be important to them... I think I just fell victim to the spotlight effect.

Mel: 10:46 The next way that this manifests and the other thing that plays into the spotlight effect is the idea of naïve realism. Naïve realism is basically the idea that we assume that we are bringing a completely objective view to a situation. So we're seeing something with all of the facts, and we're naively thinking that is the way that this is happening in reality. We assume that everybody else is seeing it the same way that we are, which is not really what's happening, because essentially what's happening is whenever you encounter a situation, your brain's trying to process it, you're trying to understand it, and you're bringing into that situation your own history, your own experiences, your own memories, your own context with which to understand that information. Other people aren't necessarily looking at it through the same lens that you are. Other people are looking at it bringing in their own understanding, bringing in their own history, bringing in their own memory and experiences and emotions and all that.

Mel: 11:44 It reminds me of when we talked about Daniel Kahneman, I don't think we can go an episode without mentioning him, but in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, one of the acronyms that he continues to refer to is WYSIATI, which stands for What You See Is All There Is. This is essentially what naïve realism is all about. That we see things from our perspective, we think we have all of the information because we actually do have all of the information available to us, the problem is that we assume that everybody else has all of that as well, and they don't.

Dan: 12:11 This is going to be terrible, but this reminds me of an old joke, it sounds like something a Rabbi would tell at a sermon. There's this old couple, Morty and Esther. One morning Morty decides that he's going to go out to the shopping centre. So he goes off to the shopping centre, he's been gone for a couple of hours and it's a couple of hours later and he's driving home. It's about this time Esther's watching TV and she sees a special interruption to the news broadcast. They've got one of those helicopters in the sky, and they basically see somebody driving down the freeway in the wrong direction. The first thing Esther does, she calls Morty, she says "hey I know you're coming back from the shopping centre, please be careful there's some maniac driving down the freeway on the wrong side of the road." And Morty says, "not one, there's hundreds of them!"

Mel: 12:56 Alright, didn't want to laugh at that, and you've broken one of the fundamental rules of Bad Decisions, which is that we don't talk about religion here.

Dan: 13:05 No, that's not about... is that about religion?

Mel: 13:06 I don't know, didn't have to be a Rabbi, but anyway funny joke.

Dan: 13:08 He's not a Rabbi, I said it sounds like a joke you would hear in a rabbinical sermon.

Mel: 13:12 Oh, you're the Rabbi...

Dan: 13:13 Yeah, and I have a beard at the moment. Anyway that's a visual joke, which is excellent for podcast audiences.

Mel: 13:23 Anyway, a third phenomena that's associated with the spotlight effect is what's known as the self-as-target bias, which is a sense that actions or events are disproportionately directed toward the self.

Dan: 13:39 "Why do these things always happen to me?"

Mel: 13:41 Always, right. You're always going to bump into somebody that you don't want to bump into, and that's the thing that always happens to you. Or you're in class and you haven't prepared for a test and you're like, I know the teacher's going to ask me a question. I know they're going to pick on me...

Dan: 13:56 I never get a good parking spot...

Mel: 13:58 Basically it's all about me. It's not about you.

Dan: 14:01 As if the universe hasn't conspired for me not to get a parking spot. What other explanation could there possibly be?

Mel: 14:08 It's just funny because there's a confusion between the information that's available to you and the information that's available to everybody else and we just fail to account for this discrepancy as we go about our everyday life.

Dan: 14:20 I think as far as heuristics go, of mental quirks go, this is a pretty tight package, right? It's like nobody gives a shit, basically nobody gives a shit because everybody is dealing with the ketchup on their pants.

Mel: 14:31 Let's soften this a little bit. People care, people just don't care as much as you do.

Dan: 14:36 People care at least 50% less than you think they do.

Mel: 14:41 And from a psychological perspective it's fascinating. How does it affect people in the brand marketing space?

Dan: 14:47 The first thing is next time somebody says to you "do you how many shits I give?", you know the answer. It's like half as many as I initially thought, so now we've got that wrapped up.

Dan: 14:56 While this is a thing we talk about as individuals and nobody cares about your person as much as you do, or as much as you think they do, I absolutely see this manifest with brands, with clients, with marketers who spend all day, all night, years of their working lives thinking about a product or a brand that they happen to be working on, and sometimes I can find myself in a workshop that has been going on all day and we're debating how we talk about something and sometimes somebody just needs to put their hand up and say "I don't think anybody really cares whether we describe ourselves as healthy and natural, or natural and healthy". It's like we're obsessed with this, but nobody else gives a shit.

Mel: 15:39 One question could be, how do you then make people obsessed with it?

Dan: 15:42 So as far as how this can play out for brands, once you accept that honestly nobody gives a shit, 'cause they've all got ketchup on their shorts, there's a couple of directions you can go.

Dan: 15:52 The first is to acknowledge that it is far harder to get people's attention than you think. It is 100% harder to get people's attention than you think. There's a wonderful saying that most people ignore advertising because most advertising ignores people.

Mel: 16:05 I like it.

Dan: 16:06 And often as marketers, as agency people we think we're being risky and we think we're being bold, but unless we are 100% above where we think we need to be, chances are no one's going to notice, nobody's going to care. One thing is we've got to be realistic about what it takes to create memories, and create "cut through" and stop making boring shit all the time.

Mel: 16:34 Is it like go hard or go home?

Dan: 16:36 Absolutely and go twice as hard as you think, and a good starting point is to go and listen to the previous 16 episodes about all the ways to hack memory, and hack the way that people think because if we're not going hard then we shouldn't go at all. So that's one.

Dan: 16:50 The second interesting way we see this play out is, it sounds a bit sinister but cuts to the heart of a lot of advertising. If people believe that they are the centre of the universe and the centre of their own movie, they're playing the lead role, who am I to tell them they're not? Instead what I'm going to do is I'm going to actually play into that. You see this a lot with luxury goods, where they basically showing scenarios of people wearing the luxury goods, and just turning heads where they go.

Dan: 17:15 There's actually quite a cool ad, it came out last year for a new car, I think it was called the Holden Arcadia, and the whole ad is built around the premise of, "Don't just turn up. Arrive". It's kind of elevating this moment of turning up somewhere, and everybody's just watching you get out of the car and there's doves flying in the background. It's this complete Hollywood version of the seed of an idea that everybody already has in their mind. I think another classic example, this is rampant in the cosmetics industry, if we look at Maybelline and their old line. Now the line is just "Maybe it's Maybelline", but historically it's "Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline", which suggests that if you wear this product, people will gossip about you.

Mel: 17:57 Which is what people are already thinking anyway.

Dan: 17:59 Yeah, so if you wear this product, more people will be talking about you 'cause they're going to be wondering if it's natural or if it's Maybelline. I think the same thing, there was a hair care brand that talked about looking like you've just stepped out of a salon, suggesting that people will talk about you, when really they won't.

Mel: 18:14 It's funny because the whole idea of the spotlight effect is that there isn't actually a spotlight on you even though you think there is, and what these ads that you're talking about are doing, are actually going "No, no, you're right, there is a spotlight effect on you!"

Dan: 18:23 "It's real! You are in a movie!"

Mel: 18:23 So maybe there's some confirmation bias that plays into it as well. That people already think that people are talking about them and they're being watched...

Dan: 18:29 "That's why that ad just talks to me, because that is what happens when I turn up somewhere. The music plays, everybody turns their head..."

Mel: 18:36 Maybe it's Maybelline...

Dan: 18:39 I'm gonna tell you, if you see me in the street, it's not Maybelline...

Mel: 18:42 Definitely not, not with that beard...

Dan: 18:44 I was born with it... not the beard...

Mel: 18:47 To wrap where we're at, I think there's an appropriate quote that I think people will be familiar with, and that is actually very hard to source back to a person... actually that's not true. It's easy to source back to a person, the problem is nobody knows who that person is or what they've done except write a couple of books, which I can't find the titles of, and say some things that sound really good as quotes. Let's go with one of that.

Dan: 19:10 I feel like Churchill gets quoted with a lot of miscellaneous quotes, and it's like I don't know who said this, it sounds smart...

Mel: 19:15 Well this one is Olin Miller.

Dan: 19:17 The big O.

Mel: 19:18 Yeah, apparently an American businessman, that's the best I can get. But he was a clever one, he said "You probably wouldn't worry about what other people think of you if could you know how seldom they do."

Dan: 19:28 That's such a thing that a great aunt would say, and it feels like the sort've wisdom that you get with age. Where when you're a kid you think there's only your way, and as you become an adolescent, you just think that everybody's looking at you all the time and then as you get older, you realise everyone's so busy worrying about their own...

Mel: 19:44 You're just a little speck in the big wide world.

Dan: 19:45 Yeah, everyone's so worried about their own ketchup stains that they don't care about yours. I think that's a wrap. What did we learn?

Mel: 19:54 We learned that nobody cares. We learned that we tend to place a lot more emphasis on how much we think other people are paying attention to us when they're not really paying much attention to us at all. It's not all about us, is really what we learned.

Dan: 20:08 And if we're brands, we should either play in to the fact that people think everybody's looking at them, and tell them that our product is really going to assist them with that, and/or at the same time realise that it's at least 100% harder to be noticed that we think it is. Go hard or go home. If you think your ad is a yellow Barry Manilow T-shirt, you've got to up it to a yellow Barry Manilow T-shirt with sequins and nipple clamps, and maybe make it backless.

Mel: 20:35 Yeah, and then just as a person, the ability to be able to step out of your own head, see things from another person's perspective sounds like something that we really should've figured out, but it's not really the way that we naturally go about things, so it might take a bit of effort. But you can do it.

Dan: 20:49 I feel like we just had a Dr. Phil moment.

Mel: 20:50 A Dr. Mel moment.

Dan: 20:53 Alright, I think that's a wrap, are we outta here?

Mel: 20:54 We're done.

Dan: 20:56 See ya next time.

Mel: 20:57 Later.

#19 Zeigarnik Effect: Why you want to know what happens in this episode

What happens when memories or tasks are unfinished, and why is it that they seem to stick in our heads? In this episode, Mel and Dan explore the Zeigarnik effect and how we can use it to create stronger memories, stop procrastinating, and keep customers thinking about us long after our ads have run.


Mel: 00:00 What do we know about negative emotions?

Dan: 00:03 They're bad?

Mel: 00:04 You haven't learnt anything. What we know is that when we feel negative we're highly motivated to relieve ourselves of that feeling.

Dan: 00:12 That's where we got the phrase, "Shitting myself."

(Music)

Mel: 00:32 Hi, and welcome to Bad Decisions.

Dan: 00:34 The podcast that helps us understand why we choose what we choose.

Mel: 00:36 Why we think what we think.

Dan: 00:37 And how to exploit this stuff for fun and commercial gain.

Mel: 00:40 Ethically.

Dan: 00:41 Of course, always ethically. I'm Dan Monheit, co-founder of Hardhat a creative agency built for today.

Mel: 00:46 I'm Dr. Mel Weinberg, I'm a performance psychologist.

Dan: 00:48 And this is Kops about to press play on the best audio ever.

(Music)

Dan: 00:58 We're going to do something different this episode.

Mel: 01:00 Oh, mix it up.

Dan: 01:01 We normally start with "Dan has a weird life anecdote." Then we stumble into a heuristics, and then we stumble into advertising.

Mel: 01:09 Either that or we go, "We're going to mix it up this time."

Dan: 01:11 Yeah. It's definitely either we do the normal thing or we do something different.

Mel: 01:14 Well, or yeah that.

Dan: 01:15 So, I want to start today talking about an ad. It's an ad-

Mel: 01:18 What a surprise.

Dan: 01:19 Well, I know, now I don't have to wait 15 minutes to do it for a change. So, I want to talk about an ad that I kind of ... The inner ad nerd in me loves. It's one of the greatest and most successful and most imitated ads of all time. In the 16, 17 episodes we've done up until now we've talked about a lot of heuristics that have hints of themselves in this ad, but nothing that really explains it properly.

Mel: 01:43 Okay.

Dan: 01:44 So the ad that I'm talking about, of course, if you're an ad nerd playing along at home is an ad from 1926. So almost 100 years ago. A guy by the name of John Kapel, so maybe it's Jon Kapel's I don't know, he died in 1990 so I'll never get to ask him.

Mel: 01:58 RIP.

Dan: 01:59 Right. So, he wrote an ad and the ad came out in the era of lots of print advertising, obviously, and lots of direct response print advertising. So, ads where you want somebody to send in a coupon or mail in to get something sent back.

Mel: 02:13 Okay.

Dan: 02:13 The ad was for piano lessons. Rather than doing ads about, "Learn to play piano in 30 minutes a day," or "The easiest way to learn how to play piano." He wrote this ad for which the headline was, "They laughed when I sat down at the piano. But when I started to play ... "

Mel: 02:29 What?

Dan: 02:30 Yeah. So that's the headline, then there's a few hundred words of copy underneath it. Like most ads from the 1920s there's this beautiful illustration that takes up probably the top third of the page, which looks like a very 1920s style dinner party with a whole bunch of people sitting around in suits doing what they do.

Mel: 02:46 Okay.

Dan: 02:47 So, this ad might sound familiar. The structure of it might sound familiar. It has kind of been imitated countless times, and is actually the blueprint for most of what we'd consider clickbait these days. “Something happened and you'll never believe what the outcome of that was.”

Mel: 03:05 Okay. Yeah. I see where you're going. So, tell me, how long have you been sitting on this? How long have you been sitting in this state of discomfort and just not understanding this ad that you love so much?

Dan: 03:14 Well, you know I feel in one respect I do understand it because it's suspense. It's getting people to buy into an idea and then not know how it's resolved and then they have to read something else to find out about it.

Mel: 03:25 Yeah.

Dan: 03:25 It's why a lot of TV shows work, and it's why a lot of movie trailers work. But why is suspense a thing? Why do we care? Why do I care about some illustrated guy from the 1920s sitting there on the piano?

Mel: 03:37 You know what? We should talk about this more.

Dan: 03:40 We should.

Mel: 03:40 We should solve this problem for you in this episode.

Dan: 03:41 Well, we have a whole podcast for that. Let's do it.

Mel: 03:43 All right. Well, I'm thinking that one of the ways, or something that might help you to understand, is a psychological phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik effect.

Dan: 03:54 The Zeigarnik effect.

Mel: 03:55 Right. And it sounds like a really cool word, but it was really just the name of a Russian researcher, or psychologist. I'm not actually sure. We should probably clarify.

Dan: 04:03 Yep.

Mel: 04:03 Anyway, it was in 1927, so whatever it is she's probably not that anymore.

Dan: 04:11 1927, and if we just were to wind back the tape, this ad that I'm talking about is from 1926.

Mel: 04:15 Whoa.

Dan: 04:16 Which is just further proof that ad guys are always one step ahead of psychologists. You guys just kind of turn up and put a fancy name on something that we've actually worked out.

Mel: 04:24 Are you finished now?

Dan: 04:24 Yeah. I'm finished now.

Mel: 04:25 Okay, good. So, back in 1927 Bluma Zeigarnik observed, while she was dining in a restaurant, that waiters were more likely to recall details of orders that were not yet paid for.

Dan: 04:41 Uh-huh (affirmative).

Mel: 04:41 So, basically you're taking orders, and for some of them they've finished the task and they've been paid for and complete. Those people have left, but orders that were not yet finished were being recalled more. The waiters were able to recall the details, they were able to tell exactly what you ordered, what dishes you ordered, what drinks you ordered with it. But once it was paid, see you later. Out of sight out of mind almost.

Dan: 05:02 And this happens today, almost 100 years later. You go into a good café to order brunch and there's like nine of you. Everybody makes their order. Not only do they make their order but everybody has weird variances of it. Menus are now just listed ingredients and people can just assemble whatever they want out of that apparently.

Dan: 05:17 So, you see waiters somehow not writing this stuff down, and often getting it exactly right. Then you wonder how long are they carrying this stuff around in their minds for?

Mel: 05:27 Yeah. So, this stuff was sort of happening before we had a good understanding of how memory works. We have working memory, and short-term memory, and long-term memory, right. So Zeigarnik was little bit ahead of her time. But basically what the Zeigarnik effect says is that we recall incomplete, or unresolved tasks, more frequently than we recall complete or finished tasks. So there's something in this idea of something being unfinished, or something being not yet complete that motivates us to actually remember it more.

Dan: 06:02 So, it's not so much the guy in the suit at the piano and what happened so much as it is just something that has started and my brain just wants to complete and finish?

Mel: 06:11 Yeah, your brains exploded because you've got some information and you're like, "I don't like having only some information. I need to have all the information. Finish this story for me, somebody please close this story and relieve the state of discomfort that I'm in by not knowing."

Dan: 06:23 Yeah. I guess my brain is running through all sorts of different possible ways that this thing could end, or that could explain this thing that I have incomplete information for.

Mel: 06:31 Exactly, and as you're doing that you're actually devoting a whole lot of mental energy to it, aren't you?

Dan: 06:35 Yeah.

Mel: 06:36 Right.

Dan: 06:36 Which it's not inherently positive. It's kind of, I feel uncomfortable. I feel like I have this itch. Like somebody has given me an itch. That sounds like a weird STD story. I feel like-

Mel: 06:46 Save that for another episode.

Dan: 06:46 I have a psychological itch that I'm expending energy trying to scratch.

Mel: 06:51 Right. So, Lumen said it maybe a little more eloquently than that.

Dan: 06:57 Than that-

Mel: 06:57 And what he said-

Dan: 06:58 No mention of sexually transmitted diseases or infections.

Mel: 06:59 What he said was, "The intention to carry out a task generates a state of psychological tension that keeps the issue alive until the task is complete and the tension is released."

Dan: 07:11 Basically there's an itch in my underpants and I don't know how it got there.

Mel: 07:13 Right.

Dan: 07:14 That's basically what it's saying.

Mel: 07:14 That's one way.

Dan: 07:15 Yeah.

Mel: 07:16 Now, the interesting thing about that is that the reference cited for this quote from Lumen is 1935, and then 1951, which tells me that Lumen was thinking about this for 16 years.

Mel: 07:27 So it was a big problem for him that needed to be resolved.

Dan: 07:29 Yeah. He definitely didn't have anything else going on in his life. He was just thinking about this.

Mel: 07:33 Certainly a long time, yeah. Not a lot happened in the world between 1935 and 1951. So it's not like anything else could have interrupted.

Dan: 07:38 Mainly people trying to resolve this issue.

Mel: 07:42 Okay, so this issue of the Zeigarnik effect was picked up a lot later on by Baddeley in 1963. Baddeley's name today is associated, you'd read it in like 50 psychology textbooks, with working memory. What Baddeley did to illustrate the Zeigarnik effect in a sort of round about way, or that phenomenon that Zeigarnik noticed in waiters, was that he devised a test that involved anagrams of five letter words.

Dan: 08:08 Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mel: 08:08 So, an anagram is-

Dan: 08:10 A jumbled up word.

Mel: 08:11 Yeah, like a word where the letters are all jumbled up and your task is to solve the anagram by putting the letters in the right order to create a word. So, he presented participants with 12 five letter words, right. Basically you've got a few seconds to solve each one. So let's play along at home.

Speaker 3: 08:24 “Tonight, on Australia's biggest bargain sale we're offering a-”

Mel: 08:27 The letters are-

Dan: 08:30 Oh, we're not doing this.

Mel: 08:30 Yeah we are, here we go.

Dan: 08:30 Come on.

Mel: 08:30 Come on. Put your thinking hat on, right.

Dan: 08:32 Let's see how smart-

Mel: 08:33 I'm giving you five letters, make a word.

Dan: 08:34 Only one of us is a doctor.

Mel: 08:35 All right.

Dan: 08:37 I'm an auditory learner, this is very difficult.

Mel: 08:38 You're already making excuses before we've even started, right.

Dan: 08:41 Okay.

Mel: 08:41 So, the letters are-

Dan: 08:43 You're giving me letters, I make them into a word.

Mel: 08:45 Correct.

Dan: 08:45 Any word I want?

Mel: 08:46 Well, a word that's part of the English language.

Dan: 08:48 Oh fuck - you and your technicalities. Okay, let's go.

Mel: 08:50 W-E-O-T-L.

Dan: 08:50 W-E-O-T-L. Towel.

Mel: 08:56 Correct. See, the fun part of this is you can play along at home and you can see if you can solve it before Dan!

Dan: 09:01 That's not what we're doing.

Mel: 09:02 Are you smarter than Dan Monheit.

Dan: 09:02 That's not what we're doing.

Mel: 09:04 R-A-P-T-Y.

Dan: 09:07 Party.

Mel: 09:08 Correct. Look at you.

Dan: 09:09 Also, Rapty.

Mel: 09:10 Right. But actually party.

Dan: 09:12 Yeah.

Mel: 09:12 All right, let's try a harder one. E-V-O-A-B.

Dan: 09:16 E-V-O-A-B.

Mel: 09:19 Times up. Okay?

Dan: 09:20 Above?

Mel: 09:21 This is how the experiment works. Yes. It's above.

Dan: 09:23 Yes.

Mel: 09:23 Okay. Right, but you were too late.

Dan: 09:24 Oh.

Mel: 09:25 So I'm going to tell you the solution, it was Above. Okay. But, unfortunately, you didn't get it in time.

Dan: 09:30 Aww.

Mel: 09:30 Okay. So this is what the experiment involved.

Dan: 09:34 Focus on the negatives-

Mel: 09:34 It wasn't like that-

Dan: 09:34 I got the first two.

Mel: 09:34 It wasn't something-

Dan: 09:34 The first two I did really well on.

Mel: 09:36 Very good, keep remembering that.

Dan: 09:37 Thanks.

Mel: 09:39 So basically in the experiment participants were given 12 of these and they were given a certain amount of time in which to solve it. If they failed to solve it in time they were told the answer. Okay? 12 times, all right. So then afterwards the participants were asked how many of the words they could recall. Obviously the solved words, the English words, that were not the jumbled up letters. But how many of them they could recall? What Baddeley found was that people were twice as likely to recall the words that they actually failed to solve than the ones that they did.

Dan: 10:10 Right, because they're unresolved.

Mel: 10:11 Yeah.

Dan: 10:12 Right.

Mel: 10:12 Well, they were unresolved. They've since been resolved. But at the time people were devoting a lot of mental energy to it.

Dan: 10:17 So, it stuck.

Mel: 10:17 It stuck.

Dan: 10:18 So, for an ad guy like this is very interesting. Because obviously when we're making ads and comms for people we want to be noticed, and we want to be remembered.

Mel: 10:25 Hmm.

Dan: 10:25 So, knowing that leaving people with a little something unresolved can help us be remembered for longer, is an interesting thing for us to play with. I guess when we think about that headline, "They laughed when I sat down at the piano. But when I started to play ... " it's totally doing that because I don't know what did happen when you sat down to play.

Mel: 10:42 It's giving you something unfinished, right. You sit there and you think, like you said before, all the things that possibly could happen. All that time you're putting a lot of attention to it, you're essentially rehearsing this.

Dan: 10:50 Yep.

Mel: 10:51 You're going to remember this for a long time. Once you actually do finish the story it's going to stick with you.

Dan: 10:54 Yeah, like 98 years people have been trying to work this out.

Mel: 10:57 You're one of them.

Dan: 10:57 96? Yeah.

Mel: 10:59 So, you're not alone.

Dan: 11:00 Thank you.

Mel: 11:01 You're not alone in your state of psychological tension.

Dan: 11:03 Thank you.

Mel: 11:04 So, if we think about why this happens, there are a couple of reasons. We'll talk them through. The first has to do with how we process memories. I often talk about this with clients in relation to trauma. But it doesn't necessarily, I mean this isn't a traumatic memory it's just a memory. We can use the same analogy.

Dan: 11:18 This episode is going to be a traumatic memory. When you lead me into trying to do a live piece of research.

Mel: 11:23 No, it's just gentle encouragement.

Dan: 11:25 You weren't very supportive of my efforts. Anyway-

Mel: 11:26 So anyway. The way that we process memories, I like to think of our brain having this section that’s sort of like a repository for all of the memories and experiences of our lives. It's like a library. Imagine you're the librarian, yeah?

Dan: 11:38 Okay.

Mel: 11:39 So, when something-

Dan: 11:40 Can I be a hot librarian and I take off my glasses and let my hair out?

Mel: 11:42 Whatever you want. If that helps you.

Dan: 11:44 I don't wear glasses and I don't have hair. This is going to be difficult. Anyway.

Mel: 11:46 Try to create that image.

Dan: 11:48 Yeah.

Mel: 11:48 Anyway ... So, you're the librarian and you are given a book and your job is to find the place in all of the shelves of your library that this book belongs.

Dan: 11:57 Yep.

Mel: 11:57 Right, what could you do? You could sort it by author. You could sort it by theme. You could sort it by-

Dan: 12:03 Colour.

Mel: 12:04 Alphabetical or title. You could sort it by colour.

Dan: 12:06 All the blue books go together.

Mel: 12:07 Yep.

Dan: 12:07 That's a very good way to find things.

Mel: 12:08 Hey, it'll keep things nice and ordered and neat.

Dan: 12:10 Yeah.

Mel: 12:11 That's what your brain wants to do. It wants to store things neatly.

So you've got all these different strategies that you can use to try and sort it. When you acquire a new piece of information your brain basically has to do the same thing. It has to figure out in which shelf of the library this piece of information belongs. Does it remind you, we're talking about the Zeigarnik effect, how do I store that? “Hmm, that reminds me of a heuristic, so let me put that with all the other heuristics in my brain and put it there, okay.”

Dan: 12:33 Reminds me of “this can go in the words that sound like the garlic” section.

Mel: 12:37 You come in and-

Dan: 12:38 It now has one book in it.

Mel: 12:39 Look, everyone has their own strategies for storing information. Okay, you could put it there.

Dan: 12:43 It's like how someone with English as a second language would say the garlic. “Ze garlic!”

Mel: 12:49 We're totally going off track. Can you please-

Dan: 12:51 You don't have that section?

Mel: 12:51 Stick with me here.

Dan: 12:52 This is weird.

Mel: 12:53 Stick with me. Right. So, once you've got a piece of information that's unresolved - "They laughed when I sat down at the piano. But when I started to play ... " That's sitting there like a book and your brain is going, "Where on earth do I put that?"

Dan: 13:05 Yeah.

Mel: 13:05 It doesn't even rhyme with anything.

Dan: 13:07 It's like, does this go with the happy books?

Mel: 13:09 I don't know where to put it.

Dan: 13:09 Or does it go with the sad books?

Mel: 13:10 I don't even know.

Dan: 13:12 Does it go with uplifting?

Mel: 13:13 So confusing, right.

Dan: 13:14 International drama?

Mel: 13:15 So what do you do with this book that comes in that you don't know where to store? What do you do with it? Putting it anywhere, it's not for somebody else to clean up later, that's not how your brain works.

Dan: 13:26 Yeah. You just leave it. Yeah. You just leave it out, right.

Mel: 13:28 What you do is you leave it on the desk.

Dan: 13:30 Yeah.

Mel: 13:30 Every now and then you'll sort of pick up the book and go, "Hmm. Do I know now where to store it? No. I'm just going to keep covering it up with other books." But it's not going to magically find its way to the shelf by itself. At some point you are going to have to finish this memory, or this book, and put it back and figure out where it belongs.

Dan: 13:47 Or my wife is just going to throw it in the bin.

Mel: 13:50 Either way, that would get rid of it at least.

Dan: 13:51 Yeah.

Mel: 13:52 But it's not going to help. That's not sort of how our brains work.

Dan: 13:54 Right.

Mel: 13:54 Okay, our brains aren't just going to discard it.

Dan: 13:56 Lucky she doesn't have access to that. I would literally remember nothing. Everything's an unresolved issue on the desk in my brain.

Mel: 14:01 So what's happening is the longer that this book sits there, the more you're thinking about it, the more you're rehearsing it, the more you're becoming familiar with the actual properties of the book. Once you eventually do solve it the easier you're going to be able to recall that when you need to, right?

Dan: 14:14 Yeah.

Mel: 14:15 You're going to be able to find it much easier because you know exactly where it went, and you've spent a lot of time thinking about it. So that's sort of strategy one. That's got to do with how the way that we process memories, and the way that we understand information and store it for easier retrieval later on.

The other element of this is that there's an emotional side of it. There's always an emotional side to everything, right.

Dan: 14:34 Always with you.

Mel: 14:34 That's what I'm here to talk about.

Dan: 14:34 Can't just be about the facts.

Mel: 14:34 Right, no it's all about the feelings. So, the idea that we are in this state of psychological tension when something is unresolved, we experience that as a negative. It has a negative emotional tone to it. We don't like it. What do we know about negative emotions?

Dan: 14:49 They're bad?

Mel: 14:49 Oh, God, you haven't learned anything. What we know about negative emotions is that we don't like them, yes. They're bad.

Dan: 14:54 See?

Mel: 14:55 So it motivates us to alleviate the situation.

Dan: 14:57 Yeah.

Mel: 14:57 But we're motivated to do something about it because we no longer want to feel this state of discomfort.

Dan: 15:01 We want to heal the world.

Mel: 15:03 Yes.

Dan: 15:03 Michael Jackson was on to something.

Mel: 15:06 He was. We want to make the situation better. Okay, we do not like feeling unpleasant.

Dan: 15:10 Yep.

Mel: 15:11 We feel unpleasant, we feel uncomfortable, and we have incomplete tasks so it actually motivates us. So this Zeigarnik effect actually has a very helpful aspect to it.

Dan: 15:19 Sure.

Mel: 15:19 It motivates behaviour.

Dan: 15:20 So, what I find kind of challenging about this … as an ad guy I'm trying to craft experiences for my clients, and my clients consumers, customers, humans, whatever we call them. Am I better off, then, trying to create for them a closed loop experience, which kind of feels positive but is then forgettable because we've just filed it. Or am I better off trying to create an open loop, like an unresolved theme, which I know is going to hang around in their attention for a bit longer but kind of feels inherently negative?

Mel: 15:52 Dan.

Dan: 15:53 Yes.

Mel: 15:53 What if I told you that through the magic of psychology you could do both.

Dan: 15:56 Oh, I would say sign me up right now!

Mel: 15:59 Let me just wave my magic wand and let me tell you how this works. You can create a positive experience. You can take a person from an emotionally neutral experience to a positive one, and they feel good and they like you and they like your product and they want to buy more. Cool. But, we've talked about with emotions, there is the emotional tone. With memories it's really important to create that emotional tone.

You can intensify the positive emotion by first taking a person down. All right. So first you create this state of psychological tension. You create this discomfort and then you solve the problem for them. You take them not from neutral to positive, but from negative to positive and that has a much more long lasting effect. Great memory created, problem solved, podcast over.

Dan: 16:43 So, upset people first and then make them happy.

Mel: 16:46 Now you're starting to understand. But no, no. No wait-

Dan: 16:48 I don't want to upset them by giving them something incomplete that's going to irritate them.

Mel: 16:53 Create a state of tension that bothers them, makes them think about it more.

Dan: 16:56 Yeah, okay.

Mel: 16:57 Yeah.

Dan: 16:57 I can do that.

Mel: 16:58 Then give them all the answers.

Dan: 16:58 Yeah. I guess one of the challenges here is probably as advertisers we often over state how much we think people are going to be invested in a challenge that we put out for them, or a story we start to tell them they then fade away from.

Mel: 17:09 Right.

Dan: 17:10 So I think it's pretty important to be real about how much we're asking people to solve, or how much we're asking people to give a shit.

Mel: 17:16 Right. I mean, none of this works if nobody cares.

Dan: 17:18 Yeah.

Mel: 17:18 If I give you a problem you don't care about and leave it unfinished, you're like, "All right, I'll see you later. Don't care."

Dan: 17:23 Yeah, whatevs.

Mel: 17:23 Yeah, you have to have some attachment to it.

Dan: 17:24 So, not to go completely off track but if we think about game shows like 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' we always find out the answer after the break of whether they got it right or wrong. They spend a lot of time trying to get you invested in the story, and the person, and they phoned a friend, and how are they going to spend the money. So you actually do care long enough to hang around to the other side of the ad break to find out how it all ends.

Mel: 17:43 Yep. To be continued, right.

Dan: 17:45 Cool.

Mel: 17:45 Three powerful words in advertising.

Dan: 17:46 Yep. Thanks, I'll write that down.

Mel: 17:49 Yeah. So how do we actually use this?

Dan: 17:52 Okay. Me first, you first?

Mel: 17:53 You first.

Dan: 17:54 Me first. Okay, what I think is really interesting about this, and it's very topical so this is probably going to date the show a little bit. But, one of the really hot issues in creative advertising at the moment is the six second format. So for those of you outside the industry 30 seconds used to be the default time length for a piece of creative. You could tell a reasonably nice story in 30 seconds. Then it got down to 15, and now really through social media and digital channels, six seconds is kind of what we get.

Mel: 18:19 Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dan: 18:20 So there's a lot of conversation about how do you tell a story in six seconds? Can you get somebody to feel happy or sad or motivated or inspired or challenged within six seconds, which is an insanely short period of time.

Dan: 18:32 What I think about off the back of today's episode is that maybe we don't have to tell the whole story in six seconds. Maybe what we have to do is just elicit enough curiosity in that six second window that we get. Because I could make someone curious in six seconds. I can do that.

Mel: 18:45 Can you? Because that's still hard.

Dan: 18:46 I'm sure I can. Do you want to hear how? … Aha!

Mel: 18:48 You got me.

Dan: 18:48 Right. So I can do that in six seconds.

Mel: 18:52 You just did it in two.

Dan: 18:55 Exactly. I could do it three times in six seconds. Then pick up the story somewhere else. So I think from a brand that's an interesting way to think about using our short form media, whether that's a print ad or a billboard or a short video. Not trying to tell the whole story, just enough to hook people and then you can close the loop for them later.

Mel: 19:12 You've also repackaged the whole idea. The whole idea is not to tell a story in six seconds.

Dan: 19:16 Yeah.

Mel: 19:16 The whole idea is to garner emotional investment in six seconds.

Dan: 19:22 It's to write a headline.

Mel: 19:22 Right.

Dan: 19:22 Six seconds is a long time to write a headline.

Mel: 19:23 That's what you’ve got.

Dan: 19:24 And we're back to 1926. All right, and what about as just people? Trying to get by in this world?

Mel: 19:30 So as just ordinary people trying to navigate our emotions in a distressing world. I'm going to give you, I guess, a bit of a hack to use this to your advantage.

Dan: 19:38 Good. That’s uplifting.

Mel: 19:38 How do you use this to help you? Yeah. I'm going to talk to the procrastinators out there.

Dan: 19:43 Never met one. Never been one.

Mel: 19:46 Right. Well, I am one. There's a whole lot of work that I'm not doing right now while I'm sitting in here podcasting with you.

Dan: 19:52 This is important.

Mel: 19:52 Very important. But, it can also be serving as a procrastination tool. Anyway. So what's actually happening when we procrastinate, for some reason we're failing to initiate a task for some reason, or complete a task. Something’s going on and for some reason we feel like we're actually safe in not doing anything at all than actually moving forward.

Which might work in some instances, but when you actually have contracts to fulfil and things to complete you actually need to get these things started. So, the most effective way to use the Zeigarnik effect to actually motivate you to get work done is to start that task. No matter what. Even if it's as simple as opening a document and writing the title and your name on it.

Dan: 20:31 Yeah.

Mel: 20:32 Right. Bad Decisions, a podcast by Dan Monheit and Melissa Weinberg. If we were to write a book, hey there's an idea. If we were to write a book that would be how we would start it.

Dan: 20:39 Oh, now we've started it. That's annoying.

Mel: 20:41 Once we've started it we have created this state of tension that motivates us to relieve it.

Dan: 20:46 Yeah. So when I make a to-do list the first thing I should do is write, "Make to-do list." Yeah?

Mel: 20:53 Yeah, actually initiate that task. I guess you could do that.

Dan: 20:56 I can tick that off and I'm already on my way.

Mel: 20:57 Yeah. But you were telling me some way that you even do this with PowerPoint presentations.

Dan: 21:01 Oh, yeah.

Mel: 21:01 Even before you write the title.

Dan: 21:03 Yeah. Sometimes I would just take the previous presentation that I did, duplicate it and save it as the name of the new presentation that I need to do. Now it's started. For some reason, now my motivation instead of telling me to avoid doing that thing, it now just wants to dive in and do it.

Mel: 21:19 Yeah. You've opened a new box and you need to solve that box before you can do anything else.

Dan: 21:22 Oh, I'm so smart and such an idiot.

Mel: 21:24 So, you know people say you just have to start. You really do. You just have to start. It doesn't matter if it's the smallest start but you need to sort of click go. You need to initiate that task. It will create a state of discomfort that you do not like, and that will motivate you to actually get the work done.

Dan: 21:38 I think, off the back of that, a really great advertising line for somebody might be, like, "Just do It." So I might try and pitch that to somebody. I think it could really work.

Mel: 21:46 Yeah. That could be big. I can imagine that, I can see that. Yeah. Cool.

Dan: 21:51 All right. I think, is that everything for today?

Mel: 21:52 You know what would be good?

Dan: 21:53 Whoa, sorry.

Mel: 21:53 I was just going to say if you added to that by adding some sort of a tick to say that you've completed the task.

Dan: 21:58 Oh, yeah, yeah. I like it. We should start like a sports company or something.

Mel: 22:01 Yeah. Interesting.

Dan: 22:02 All right, maybe next time.

Mel: 22:04 All right, so Dan I'm just wondering how you feel now? Because we started this episode with you having a problem that was unresolved.

Dan: 22:09 Well, first of all I feel good that you care about my feelings.

Mel: 22:12 What you might have noticed, I mean I obviously do. But what you might have noticed throughout the episode was that I took you on an emotional journey, didn't I?

Dan: 22:18 Yep. Is that what just happened?

Mel: 22:20 You just got totally Zeigarnik'd here.

Dan: 22:21 If I had emotions that is definitely the journey I would have been on.

Mel: 22:25 I made you feel a little bit bad about it. I helped to escalate and emphasize those feelings of discomfort so that now that we've solved the problem, don't you feel amazing?

Dan: 22:34 Amazing. Do you bulk bill?

Mel: 22:35 No.

Dan: 22:36 No, okay. Cool. Well, I think we're good?

Mel: 22:40 Yeah.

Dan: 22:41 Well done.

Mel: 22:41 Yep. We've solved the problem.

Dan: 22:42 The Zeigarnik effect.

Mel: 22:43 Yeah.

Dan: 22:43 Solved it.

Mel: 22:44 Completed. Finished. Feel good. Wonderful.

Dan: 22:46 There actually is one other bit that we didn't tell people about, which is really the key for how this whole thing works.

Mel: 22:50 Which is what?

Dan: 22:51 Oh, they'll have to find out next episode.

Mel: 22:52 Oh.

Dan: 22:52 See what I did there?

Mel: 22:55 Did it. Did that take six seconds.

Dan: 22:57 Maybe. Peace out.

(Music)

#18 Focusing Illusion: Why we don’t really need a pay-rise

If you won the lottery, would you be happier? Although the answer may seem obvious, our perceptions of what’s important to us don’t always match the reality. In this episode, Mel and Dan consider how we can use the magic of the focusing illusion to capture consumers’ attention.


Dan: 00:01 What has happened to you?

Mel: 00:04 I just don't care anymore. I Google things for research (laughs), and Kops don't cut that at the end.

Dan: 00:09 And that was the day Mel lost her accreditation. Okay.

Dan: 00:32 Hey, and welcome to Bad Decisions. The show that helps us understand why we choose what we choose-

Mel: 00:36 Why we think what we think.

Dan: 00:38 And how to exploit this stuff for fun and commercial gain.

Mel: 00:40 I'm Doctor Mel Weinberg. I'm a Performance Psychologist.

Dan: 00:43 You know, you always used to say "ethically of course" at the end, which you've stopped saying-

Mel: 00:47 I've given up, what does that say?

Dan: 00:47 Hey, I'm Dan Monheit, co-founder of Hardhat, a creative agency built for today.

Dan: 00:58 Funny story on the weekend.

Mel: 01:00 Tell me all about it.

Dan: 01:00 You love hearing my parenting stories.

Mel: 01:02 Always.

Dan: 01:02 All right, so my daughter is two and half now, very cute, daddy's girl, love her. It's great. Love my son too. Anyway, she’s got a lot of toys, as kids today do, like a whole room full of toys. Used to be a study, now it's a toy room. And she's got a cousin, so my nephew who's a boy, and he's maybe three months younger than her-

Mel: 01:19 Hoping he's a boy if he's your nephew.

Dan: 01:20 Yeah, that's how it works. So he was over on the weekend, and these two adore each other. They love each other, they've literally grown up all over each other. And they love each other, but they fight like crazy. And what usually happens is my nephew comes over, and he walks into the toy room, and there's a hundred toys in there, and he just picks a thing, so this week it was this stroller. Some random stroller that he wanted to play with.

And my daughter, who really has not touched this toy stroller for weeks, maybe even months, decides for a moment that this toy stroller is now the single key to her happiness. It is the sole reason for her being on this planet, and she needs this toy stroller in her hands and in her life, right now.

So as you can imagine, they start having a grab off with each other. They're screaming. They’re crying. There's very rational me trying to explain to my daughter that there are so many other toys in here, many of which are also strollers, some of which are substitutes for strollers, some of which are nothing to do with strollers at all, but could also be a source of happiness. She didn't want a bar of it. She just wanted the damn stroller.

Mel: 02:25 Her two and half year old brain was focused on getting that stroller, and that stroller only.

Dan: 02:30 Yeah, and it didn't matter how much I wanted to tell her about all the other great toys in the room, she couldn't give a shit. She wants the one thing that her cousin has picked up and he wants to play with as well.

Mel: 02:38 We're also going to need to work on your parenting strategies, because trying to rationalise with a two and half year old is probably not gonna get you very far.

Dan: 02:43 No, it's going to be fine. At some point she's going to be old enough to understand, by which point I will be so well practiced at rationalising with her, I will kick her ass.

Mel: 02:50 Just watch out.

Dan: 02:50 Yeah.

Mel: 02:51 All right, so how did this whole situation resolve? What did you do, as Dad, to get through this?

Dan: 02:56 Well, I decided that the stroller was the only thing that would add happiness to my life, so I confiscated it, took it for myself, and left the two of them to play with something else.

Mel: 03:05 And it worked?

Dan: 03:06 Yeah, well, define worked? No, don't define worked. It worked. But you know, kids … come on guys.

Mel: 03:12 Kids, right? Kids brains, right? How silly that they can only focus on one thing at a time, and that becomes the object that completely dominates their attention, that they just refuse to look at anything else.

Dan: 03:23 Idiots.

Mel: 03:23 Yeah, see the funny thing is, adult brains sort of work the same way.

Dan: 03:28 Oh, come on.

Mel: 03:28 Sorry to tell you, but that's one of the things that we just don't outgrow. In adults, we refer to it as the Focusing Illusion.

Dan: 03:39 Ah, sounds far more grown up, “the Focusing Illusion”, than “having a tantrum.”

Mel: 03:46 Yeah, so the Focusing Illusion is basically the idea that we have a limited attention span. Or we have a limited tank of attention, so only one thing can really dominate our attention at any particular point in time. And we convince ourselves that that is the most important thing, at the time, because we're thinking about it, so obviously it has to be important, or we have to at least tell ourselves it's super important.

But at the time that we're thinking about it, it is actually the most important thing. We actually don't have the capacity to think about too many things at one time, so multi-tasking is a terrible idea. We have one thing that we can really focus on, and we think that it's way more important than it is.

Dan: 04:22 This sounds like something that's going to get us into trouble.

Mel: 04:24 Well, like every illusion that we talk about, it does. And the fact that it's called an illusion makes it sound even more-

Dan: 04:31 It's mystical.

Mel: 04:31 Yeah, mystical, so let me tell you a little bit about some research.

Dan: 04:37 No you do not have, you do not have research about this!

Mel: 04:38 Oh yeah. Oh I do.

Speaker 3: 04:39 “Merlin’s beard, you must be Harry Potter!”

Mel: 04:48 You know what, cause I love research so much I'm actually going to give you two research articles about this.

Dan: 04:52 Whoa!

Mel: 04:54 They sort of lend into one another. So the first we're gonna talk about is one of the most well known research articles in the field of understanding happiness. Which is pretty much what dominates most of my research career. It's a study by Brickman, Coates and Janoff-Bulman back in 1978.

Dan: 05:10 The Brickman, Coates and Janoff-Bulman.

Mel: 05:13 Often known as the Brickman et al study, right? So the Brickman et al study was looking at the happiness of lottery winners and comparing them to the happiness of paraplegics. So you have people who either have the best thing that you could imagine happening to them, as in winning the lottery, or one of the worst things that people could imagine which would be to become a paraplegic. And what they did was they assessed the happiness of these groups of people and-

Dan: 05:38 These have to be a binary grouping? There are no paraplegics that win the lotteries?

Mel: 05:41 Well there was a control group. (laughs) That would be an interesting group then.

Dan: 05:45 Yeah you guys are neutral! We've worked it out.

Mel: 05:47 We've balanced you out. What they found was that after a not particularly extensive period of time the happiness of both lottery winners and paraplegics returned back to their pre-event state. So even though you would think that, and I guess this is what made the study so remarkable, is that ordinary people looking at this would go "Wait, surely lottery winners are gonna be way happier than paraplegics right?"

Dan: 06:11 One would think.

Mel: 06:11 The best thing that could happen to you and one of the worst things that could happen to you, you would think that over time that would stay the same. But actually the research found sort of counterintuitively that both of their happiness states returned to what we call their normal or baseline levels not that long after the actual event.

Dan: 06:27 So basically what's the point of doing anything?

Mel: 06:29 Well this changed the way that we think about happiness, because it speaks to the fact that we adapt to things. We don't think that we adapt to things so when we think about events happening, we think about winning the lottery “wow that would be amazing”, we fail to recognise that we adapt to situations very quickly. We are way more resilient than we give ourselves credit for, and resilience is about adapting to both happy and sad events. So it works both ways. But we don't actually imagine how resilient we're going to be in response to situations. We focus instead on the actual event.

Dan: 07:01 Yeah and I guess a straight away, shoot from the hip example that springs to mind as soon as you talk about this, as a guy who runs an agency, is pay rises. You give out a pay rise to somebody and the first time you do this you think this is going to be amazing, this is really going to give the person the bump that they need and they're going to come into work so excited and motivated. And what you learn very quickly is that people just return to the normal baseline of where they were in almost no time. And I actually went and had a look at some research from this because you know pay rise is a thing you can't really get away from as an employer, and best case scenario maybe you can get a bump for six weeks out of a pay rise. You go and cut somebody a check for five grand, ten grand, fifteen grand whatever, best case scenario you're going to get six weeks out of it and then they’re-

Mel: 07:47 And then they're gonna want more.

Dan: 07:47 Yeah and then they go back to that where it's always been.

Mel: 07:48 So no pay rises for your employees?

Dan: 07:52 So no pay- well lots of very very small pay rises.

Mel: 07:52 Well that's a better way to hack it.

Dan: 07:53 Every six months, yeah.

Mel: 07:54 I'm glad I don't work for you.

Dan: 07:56 Aw come on.

Mel: 07:57 The next study which came out about twenty years later, so taking us to 1998, was by Schkade and Kahneman, do you know that name?

Dan: 08:04 That guy?

Mel: 08:05 Yeah, Kahneman again. So this study was basically looking at what was called the Focusing Illusion. They looked at the Brickman at el study and said, "Well we know what's going on here and we're gonna test why it's happening."

And so they had one of those great titled articles, you know that's the key getting a good research paper. You gotta give it a good title.

Dan: 08:24 Clickbait.

Mel: 08:24 So the title was “Does Living in California Make People Happy?” And what they were doing was prompting people to think about what it would be like if somebody just like them, with their values, their interests at their stage in life, were to move to California what their happiness would be like. And also if somebody just like them with their values and interests and at their stage in life were to move to the mid-west, how happy would they be?

Dan: 08:52 Why would you set up those two? There's nothing wrong with the mid-west. You set 'em up like they're at opposite ends of the spectrum!

Mel: 08:56 Right the thing is-

Dan: 08:58 A lot of good things happen in the mid-west.

Mel: 08:58 I'm sure they do, the thing is that when most people think of California they think about the weather and how beautiful it is especially when you've been prompted that you're involved in a study that's looking at the impact of climate on happiness.

Dan: 09:09 Ah, that was a thing.

Mel: 09:09 Yeah so that makes a bit of a difference as well.

Dan: 09:11 Yeah.

Mel: 09:12 And then what they did was they compared the results to the happiness ratings of people who actually live in California and who actually live in the mid-west and what you find is that when people self rate their own happiness the overall happiness of people who lived in California and lived in the mid-west were the same, there was no difference. The reason is people don't typically think of the climate when they're thinking about how happy they are-

Dan: 09:36 It's like one of many things.

Mel: 09:37 But when you put that as the point of contrast between two groups and you ask others to report how people will feel in those situations, they over exaggerate the importance of climate in their estimation so they think, "Oh well a person living in California would be way happier than a person living in the mid-west."

Dan: 09:56 Right so let me get this straight, so they asked a bunch of people in California and a bunch of people living in the mid-west how happy they were. And then they asked a bunch of people who lived in neither how happy they think they would be if they lived in California or the mid-west?

Mel: 10:05 Or someone like them, yeah.

Dan: 10:06 And so what people thought was if they moved to California they would be way happier than if they moved to the mid-west.

Mel: 10:12 Yeah.

Dan: 10:13 Because the weather is so much better in California? That's an easy jump to make isn't it?

Mel: 10:19 Yeah.

Dan: 10:19 But I guess what you're saying is it's completely incorrect.

Mel: 10:21 It's due to the fact that they're focusing on a particular aspect, i.e the climate, which actually isn't as important as they think it is.

Dan: 10:27 Right and why is that?

Mel: 10:29 Because when people are estimating their overall happiness they think of a number of different things and climate is not something that takes priority. It's like how people also think that money will make them happy. There are a whole bunch of things that go into contributing to your happiness and how you rate your happiness and overall money is not at the top of the list.

Dan: 10:46 So I guess what we're suggesting here is that we sort of do this gross simplification and when we're trying to forward project what will make us happy, we look at one thing and think “yeah that's the lever.” So if I just had more money or if I just had a six pack or if I just had that particular car, I would be so much happier than I am now. And maybe what we fail to understand is that in the future it's a very multifaceted world with lots of variables that contribute to our happiness and those things are probably nowhere near as important as we think they are.

Mel: 11:16 Yeah, I mean it goes a long way to explain why people make bad spending decisions. Like “I need to have those pair of shoes, if I had those pair of shoes in my life then everything would be better. I would be happier, I'd be walking around in those shoes. God it would feel so good to be in those shoes!” But three hours after you bought the shoes the effect fades, it wears off and all of the sudden you're not as happy as... They don't have the power to make you as happy as they did from the start.

Dan: 11:39 Right, small potentially side note but I just remember hearing this idea that when you really lust after something for a long time and then you go and buy it and in that tiny little window where it's come into your possession, the joy that you feel is not actually the joy of owning that thing, it's the joy of not lusting for something.

Mel: 11:55 It's relief. (laughs) You don't need to lust after it anymore.

Dan: 11:59 It's just the joy of actually not wanting for anything and then after half an hour or two hours, a sort of fire gets stocked again and you start lusting for things. Anyway kind of a weird idea.

Mel: 12:10 It takes us to an interesting discussion around attention and about our capacity to attend to things. We've mentioned multitasking, but this idea that we have a certain amount of brain fuel? There's only a limited amount that we can spend at any moment so we actually can't focus on multiple things at any one time. We're using our brain most effectively if we're just focusing on one particular thing at any given time.

Mel: 12:33 And this is the reason why magic happens.

Dan: 12:37 Right. I was right with you and-

Mel: 12:42 And then we went to magic, cause in my next career I'm going to be a magician. I'm going to take everything I know about how people's attention works and then I'm gonna become the next David Copperfield.

Dan: 12:52 But you already are a magician, you're a magician of the mind.

Mel: 12:53 That's a nice way to put it but I can entertain people with it. At the moment I don't use it for entertainment purposes.

Dan: 12:59 Yeah, what do you call this show?

Mel: 12:59 (laughs) Yeah, you got me.

Dan: 13:03 Edutainment?

Mel: 13:04 Something like that, infotainment. But the whole thing with magic, look I'm not going to go into a discussion on whether or not you believe in magic and I like to believe in some magical things, but a lot of magicians work by manipulating your attention.

Dan: 13:19 Yeah when we talk about magic you're not talking about fairies and tooth fairies and pixies and that.

Mel: 13:24 Not in this context, but I do believe in fairies.

Dan: 13:26 We're not doing that now. But you're talking about Vegas, magic shows, magicians-

Mel: 13:30 I'm talking about card tricks, yeah that sort of stuff-

Dan: 13:33 Card tricks yeah, and I guess things that rely on that idea of misdirection. Where a magician is doing something with their left hand that is very interesting and distracting so you don't notice what you're doing with their right hand. Or they have beautiful girls doing stuff with hula-hoops so that you're kind of watching that and you've just neglected to see the guy put something in his pocket or pull something out of his pocket.

Mel: 13:50 Yeah, see that's the trick whenever they bring beautiful girls out, and if you're like me and you don't get distracted by the beautiful girls you're like "Oh what is the magician doing right now?"

Cause I wanna watch exactly what he's doing at every moment in time, I don't wanna miss a thing.

Dan: 13:59 Yeah and maybe it's actually the beautiful girls who are doing the trick.

Mel: 14:02 Oh wow.

Dan: 14:03 Yeah see double misdirection. So I guess this focusing illusion or focusing bias makes a lot of sense right, if we just talk about being humans trying to cope in this world. Because if you said to me, "Hey think about what would make you happy in five years from now or ten years from now." And I really thought about that as a legitimate question that is like really hard. It's multifaceted, there's so many things that I have to weigh up it makes sense that my brain would just wanna pick some cheats or substitutions and go “well, more money would be good so I'll just pick that.”

Mel: 14:34 Yeah like too hard basket just give me something simple.

Dan: 14:36 Yeah just throw me a frickin bone here.

Mel: 14:38 So I mentioned with your marketing hat on that this could come into play-

Dan: 14:42 It's the only hat that I own let's be honest.

Mel: 14:45 Well given it's a big hat then, you've got something in there I'm sure this would apply to finding your point of difference in the field, something like that with a new product?

Dan: 14:57 I love this bias because this is what great brand positioning and great advertising is all about. So it's saying somebody's gonna have to make a decision and most decisions are actually, if you think about them, quite complex. So just think about something that's completely run of the mill like going to the supermarket to buy cottage cheese. What is your decision making criteria for buying cottage cheese? If the brands don't give you one, you've just got a whole bunch of cottage cheese lined up it's hard. Are you looking at price? Are you looking at packaging size? Are you trying to guess what they taste like based on the packaging?

Mel: 15:27 Which one looks the nicest.

Dan: 15:29 Yeah, or you looking at salt content, or fat, or who knows. As brands and advertisers what we get to do is to give people a thing to focus on and say, "Don't worry about all that, this one has protein in it."

Mel: 15:41 Right.

Dan: 15:41 Or “this one has no sugar, or this one has low salt.” And it says to people that's the thing to focus on, don't worry about trying to weigh up everything else. So this is why you see things with no sugar but they're loaded with fat. Or things with no fat but they're loaded with sugar because marketing brands know people can't do all the calcs so we just give them a thing to hook onto.

Mel: 16:01 So what you're talking about is using that smartly in the sense that you can understand that when people are in this situation they're gonna have to think of something that's gonna make their decision easier, right? And they might automatically go you know what. Price. I'm just gonna go with the cheapest. Which I imagine is what a lot of people will do-

Dan: 16:15 If nothing else yeah.

Mel: 16:17 What you're saying is that what you can do is actually you can prime them to have a specific thing that they focus on. They're going to focus on something and rather than letting them do it off their own bat, which could take me anywhere and I may not win in that sense, I'm gonna be like this is what you're focusing on. This is what is important to you right now.

Dan: 16:32 Probably one of my favourite sayings about advertising or thought bubbles about advertising is the idea that there is no such thing as a low interest category, only low interest brands. For those of you outside of advertising, a low interest category is a thing people wouldn't spend much mental energy thinking about. So you might say that buying cottage cheese is a low interest category. Who's gonna think too much about that?

Mel: 16:54 Yeah who cares?

Dan: 16:55 But that only exists when there's low interest brands because no brand has turned up and said "Ah we'll give you something to think about!" And you see this all over the supermarket. You see the creation of whole categories like sugar free cola. All the colas were the same and then there's one that's sugar free and it's like “oh god is that a thing I'm meant to think about?”

Dan: 17:12 Free range eggs which is a great thing, don't get me wrong, but was not a thing that people think about as a decision criteria. Now we're starting to see meat and poultry with things like antibiotic free. That's a thing? Is that a thing I need to think about? Well I guess if it is I need to pick the one that's antibiotic free and not worry the other 15 attributes that I might make this decision based on.

Mel: 17:31 Yeah and it doesn't even have to be interesting. Like something being antibiotic free I don't actually care it's just something different. And anytime you're presented with something different your brain has to dedicate attention to understanding it, to processing it.

Dan: 17:43 Yeah, and it's a really great way... A product calling itself something free, antibiotic free, completely throws shade on the rest of the category. The rest of the category might also be antibiotic free, they just never thought to say it so by one brand saying that's the thing that we're going to focus on and we're gonna direct your attention mister or misses consumer at focusing on as well, it makes you question what everyone else is doing and hopefully pick that product off the shelf.

Mel: 18:08 Yeah, have you got any other examples in the marketing field?

Dan: 18:10 So examples of this are basically any time that a brand gives you a new way to shop a category, a new way to think about a purchase decision. So in supermarkets are this is everywhere but if you think about things like even the world of workouts. At the moment we are in the middle of this F45 explosion. F45 decided that of all the different ways you could evaluate a workout, portion of aerobic to anaerobic activity or where it happens. Or how it happens, or how much fun it is or how mindful it is.

Mel: 18:38 Or how much weight you can lose and how quickly.

Dan: 18:39 How much weight you can lose yeah. Their thing is 45 minutes. F45 they're like focus on 45 the F might even be for focus I don't know. Maybe it's for fitness, maybe it's for fun … I don't know. Anyway the thing that is not ambiguous is that it's 45. So they're saying, " Hey people out there looking to buy into some sort of a fitness routine slash cult, if 45 minutes is important for you that's a thing important for us. Focus here."

Dan: 19:02 And then it makes you wonder yeah well how long does Zumba take? How long does crossfit take? I don't know.

Mel: 19:06 And maybe I don't have time for it but I have 45 minutes.

Dan: 19:09 Definitely have 45 minutes because that's less than an hour.

Mel: 19:11 Yeah.

Dan: 19:12 So that's what us ad guys do but what can the poor consumer do to defend?

Mel: 19:16 Yeah, well I see this in my line or work as well right. You know how you talk about F45 being like a thing of the moment? Another big thing literally of the moment is the whole mindfulness craze or phase or whatever you want to call it? And the whole idea of mindfulness could be said to be based around the Focusing Illusion. The idea that mindfulness for example is a cure for anxiety. Right when people are anxious most of the time they're anxious about something that may or may not happen in the future. Mindfulness works by directing peoples attention to the present with the understanding that you have a limited capacity to only attend to really one thing at a time. If you're attending to the present it's actually impossible to be anxious right then because anxiety is about projecting into the future and if you're focusing on what's happening here and now, then that is all that you can be.

Mel: 20:03 And that is all that your brain has the capacity to think about. So mindfulness is a therapeutic method you know. We've got the Focusing Illusion coming into market, coming into psychology … it's everywhere.

Dan: 20:13 Yeah feels like we've kind of gone the long way around but actually what we're saying is in this whole crazy, complicated landscape of things that you could spend your time and attention focusing on, sometimes a thing will just wave its hand and say, "Hey look at me! Look at me! Look at me!" And that's really all our brain is capable of doing.

Mel: 20:27 Yeah and the flip side of that for you to sort of counteract it is to realise that you can actually control the object of your attention. You can choose what you want to focus on at any given moment and that is going to be the most important thing to you at that time.

Dan: 20:39 Right, well that sounds kind of profound.

Mel: 20:41 Do you like it?

Dan: 20:42 I like it.

Mel: 20:42 Cool. So there's something more profound.

Dan: 20:44 Yeah?

Mel: 20:45 That was the Dr. Mel way of saying it but Danny Kahneman said it differently.

Dan: 20:49 Danny?

Mel: 20:50 We're friends now. (laughs)

Dan: 20:52 D.K? Yeah what did he say?

Mel: 20:55 His quote when he was asked pretty much what's like the most important information that you could give, the most useful information that you could to a lay person, he said, "Nothing is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it."

Dan: 21:08 Nothing is as ... wait.

Mel: 21:10 (laughs) That's not what he said. He said, "Nothing is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it."

Dan: 21:16 Yeah so the thing you're thinking about right now is the most important thing that you think it is but it's really not it only is because you're thinking about it.

Mel: 21:23 Yeah!

Dan: 21:24 Yeah? (laughs)

Mel: 21:25 It sounded more profound when he said it.

Dan: 21:27 Yeah well I've remixed it for a new generation.

Mel: 21:30 And I think that's a really good way to sort of sum it up. When you're thinking about something it is the most important thing, it's dominating your focus. And you know when people say don't respond in the moment, take 24 hours and respond after? It's because you've got perspective and you've got a different context in which to see it afterwards. And it doesn't seem as important 24 hours later as it does at the time that it happened.

Dan: 21:50 Always save your rage emails as drafts first and it you still think it's a good idea to send it the next morning go right ahead.

Mel: 21:55 There you go. (laughs)

Dan: 21:56 Yeah that's my profound wisdom.

Mel: 21:58 Yep so that's where we're at, I think we've covered the Focusing Illusion.

Dan: 22:02 Yep!

Mel: 22:02 We've focused on it for long enough and we know it has been the most important thing for the last 20 odd minutes of your lives as it has for ours.

Dan: 22:09 Yeah I think we've also just explained how all magic works as well so that's a pretty good episode.

Mel: 22:13 Yeah tune in for more magic next time.

Dan: 22:15 Yeah alright where do people find us?

Mel: 22:17 They'll find us on the internet @DrMelW

Dan: 22:20 Oh that's you and they'll find me at also on the internet @DanMonheit

Mel: 22:23 Search the internet.

Dan: 22:24 Yeah.

Mel: 22:24 Google things.

Dan: 22:25 Can we say, I mean it's going to timestamp but, can we say that you're also going to find us at South by Southwest next year?

Mel: 22:29 Oh my god.

Dan: 22:29 Yeah!

Mel: 22:30 Dan is so excited guys.

Dan: 22:31 Yeah Mel and I are going to be presenting at South by Southwest, Austin Texas, March 2019. Come and see us in the flesh.

Mel: 22:40 So much magic, it's going to be so much magic.

Dan: 22:42 Yeah, I've got my cowboy boots ready.

Mel: 22:44 Can't wait.

Dan: 22:44 Peace out.