Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

The Free Monkey Problem

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

 This is an entertaining take on the high cost of free:

The Free Monkey Problem: The High Cost of Free Things | Credit Karma Blog
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, unless your monkey steals it for you.

They mention one of Dan Ariely’s findings (from Predictably Irrational)  – when Amazon introduced FREE shipping, sales skyrocketed everywhere except France.  It turns out that the French division offered 1 Franc ($.20) shipping instead of FREE.  Apparently, skipping the Franc expense was worth buckets of money to consumers.

There is no question that things exact costs from us, even when they are FREE – we have to store them, insure them, clean and maintain them, perhaps even use them (so we won’t have wasted our money).  Try calculating the cost of the storage space in your home and compare it to the value of the stuff you have in it.

No one goes there any more, it’s too crowded

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Seth Godin says it’s the law of large groups at work, messing with the way we perceive the world.


It’s also true that most of your friends have more friends than you do.

The law of large groups is at work here. This explains why the people you see at the gym tend to be in better shape than you are.

People with lots of friends are more likely to be friends with you than people with no friends, right? And the people who are at the gym a lot (as in the people you see the most often) tend to be in better shape because they show up more often.

Discernment is the hardest part of marketing–seeing the world as it is, instead of how you experience it.

It’s also true that the other lane in the supermarket or freeway is faster than yours and your toast does land butter side down.

Best Illusion of the Year

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

 These illusions are amazing.  Many involve the effect of motion on perception –click through to check them out, and make sure you play with the settings as applicable.

Let me know what you think in the comments.


Update: check out the finalists from previous years too – links are on the left.

The top illusion for 2010 is amazing.

I can’t resist adding this update on the gorilla illusion (see the 2010 finalists page if it won’t load):

Personal Space … and Grapes

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

 I like this advertisement, mostly for the psychology.

I like this video because I’ve always liked the old “got any grapes” joke on which this is based.

Head vs. Gut

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

A ball and bat together cost $1.10.  The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.

How much does the ball cost?



Information Overload

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Another good post from Seth Godin: The inevitable decline due to clutter.

Seth’s posts are often so short that it’s difficult to extract a snippet or teaser without grabbing the whole thing, but here goes:

Once you overload the user, you train them not to pay attention. More clutter isn’t free. In fact, more clutter is a permanent shift, a desensitization to all the information, not just the last bit.

I think he makes a great point.  The more junk information we are forced to endure, the better we have to be a fending it off.  It’s not worth wading through the um, trough, to find the occasional gem any more.

Here’s my amusing and illustrative anecdote:

Last summer, my church was going to have a picnic.  I knew the details were supposed to be in the  bulletin one Sunday, but I couldn’t find it.  I looked through the whole thing multiple times.

After the service, I took it up to the pastor and asked why there was no announcement.  He gently pointed out that 1/3 of the second page was a full color announcement with all the details. You see, I don’t see advertising any more.  I subconsciously filter it out.  I have learned that Full Color bits in a black and white medium == advertisement, and advertisements are to be filtered out.

tregonsee.jpgThere is an old (1950’s) sci-fi series I’ve always enjoyed for the illustrations it gives me – The Lensmen, by E.E. Doc Smith.  One of the human characters (Kimball Kinnison?) has a device that allows him to communicate with his partner (Tregonsee?), who is of a race of blind but telepathic and clairvoyant aliens (Rigellians?).  As they are driving thorough an alien city, in a car with no windows, he is able to see his surroundings because of his telepathic link — except for some mysterious dark ovoids.  It turns out that these are the clairvoyant alien equivalent of our highway billboards — and they are simply filtered out by the experienced clairvoyant.

How do you see advertising?


What’s the hard part?

Friday, November 19th, 2010

I read a couple of posts today that dovetailed together for me.  (My italics below)

Seth’s Blog: Sure, but what’s the hard part?
Every project (product, play, event, company, venture, non profit) has a million tasks that need to be done, thousands of decisions, predictions, bits of effort, conversations and plans.

Got that.

But what’s the hard part?


Identifying which part of your project is hard is, paradoxically, not so easy, because we work to hide the hard parts. They frighten us.

Psychologically, we avoid seeing the scary bits, and we don’t realize we’re doing it.

Seth’s Blog: Watcha gonna do with that duck?
Watcha gonna do with that duck?

We’re surrounded by people who are busy getting their ducks in a row, waiting for just the right moment…

Getting your ducks in a row is a fine thing to do. But deciding what you are you going to do with that duck is a far more important issue.

When you know something is important, and you know you need to be working on it, but there’s a step you’re afraid of or that you just dislike (*), what do you do?  You line your ducks up.

I’m going to spend some time over the holiday eliminating some duck lining – especially Quicken duck lining.


Bear Market Killing Level of Fear

Friday, July 16th, 2010

That title is hard to parse.  He means a Bear-Market-Killing level of fear.  The amount of fear needed to kill a bear market.  As a rather contrary individual, I find it delightful that mass consensus of doom and gloom is a strong indication that the mass consensus is dead wrong.

The following excerpt is from my favorite investing blog (membership required, but lots of information is also available for free).  The added emphasis is mine.

SMI Weblog: Bear alert? Bah humbug.
The Hays methodology is to closely monitor three main market components — Psychology, Monetary, and Valuation. The “health” of these three components, measured by numerous indicators for each, is boiled down to a score of 1-6, with 1 being the best and 6 the worst. The interplay of these three scores gives them an idea of how attractive the market is at any given time, and by extension, how committed their clients’ assets should be to the stock market.

On Friday, Dodson wrote that their psychology composite had hit P1 last week, which is their most bullish reading. Here’s his comment:

“P1s are extremely rare. A P1 is bear market killing level of fear. Looking at our monthly tabulations of sentiment, a P1 has only occurred a couple of times since 1990: in October 2002 and October-December 2008. Both are on the who’s who list of market bottoms. For October 2002, it marked the ultimate low. In October 2008, it marked the market’s internal low and good entry point, but you really had to sweat it out until the ultimate market low in March 2009. That we have been able to hit P1 after a correction of 16% is astonishing. Investors sit on pins and needles.”

So, a “bear market killing level of fear” is a good thing!

The Dunning–Kruger Effect

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Jeff Atwood over at Coding Horror wrote an article that got me thinking.  Apparently there are hordes of people applying for programming jobs who can’t even pretend to write a program.

I wrote that article in 2007, and I am stunned, but not entirely surprised, to hear that three years later “the vast majority” of so-called programmers who apply for a programming job interview are unable to write the smallest of programs. To be clear, hard is a relative term — we’re not talking about complicated, Google-style graduate computer science interview problems. This is extremely simple stuff we’re asking candidates to do. And they can’t. It’s the equivalent of attempting to hire a truck driver and finding out that 90 percent of the job applicants can’t find the gas pedal or the gear shift.

One of the early commenters ascribes this to the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which “people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it”.[1] The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average, much higher than in actuality; by contrast the highly skilled underrate their abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority. This leads to a perverse result where less competent people will rate their own ability higher than more competent people. It also explains why actual competence may weaken self-confidence because competent individuals falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. “Thus, the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.”[1]

“ The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. ”

— Bertrand Russell[2]

The NY Times reported on this study in a 2000 article, Among the Inept, Researchers Discover, Ignorance Is Bliss.

One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured, the researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence.

The incompetent, therefore, suffer doubly, they suggested in a paper appearing in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

”Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it,” wrote Dr. Kruger, now an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, and Dr. Dunning.

Thanks to David Weiss and This Is True for pointing me to the NY Times article.

I’ve been talking about this study for years now, but didn’t know the effect had a name.  Now I can be extra-geeky when I throw this out in conversation (my preferred paraphrase):

The skills needed to evaluate competence are the same as those required to be competent.  Therefore, if you are incompetent, you don’t know it.

Frankly, that scares me to death.  Dr. Dunning admits the same fear, by the way.

I figure that as long as I am cognizant of this effect and aware of how much more there is to learn,  I’m probably OK.

Deliberately creating worry

Monday, January 11th, 2010

 I found a blog on Architecture.  It’s a really interesting colossal time-sink.  I bookmarked the site years ago because of an article about park benches designed primarily to keep vagrants from sleeping on them.  This is even creepier.

Design with Intent | Deliberately creating worry
One of the cafés in an international European airport was often full. The problem was that people sat nursing their coffees for a long time as they waited for their planes to depart. The café asked itself: How can we encourage our customers to vacate the tables more quickly?

Their first ideas were probably along the lines of uncomfortable chairs, a seat charge, clear the tables immediately and so forth. However, the idea they finally decided upon was this: to turn off the flight monitors in the café! This made people worry about missing their flights, which led to them looking for monitors that worked, thus leaving empty tables. When the café had enough empty tables, the flight monitors suddenly started working again to attract new customers.

I think turning the monitors back on is the icing on the creepy-cake.