Who's Rambling Now?

Someone who met Bill Clinton told me, "I rambled. He probably thought I was an idiot." No. Bill Clinton wanted you to ramble. He wanted to make you the most important person in the room for two minutes. He listened for a nugget of information--a story--he could use in his next speech.

If you're running for office remember: the most important person in every room is the voter you're talking with. Let her ramble.

Take a Walk on the Hedonic Treadmill

Here's what happens when you raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, according to scientists: Nothing.

Well, not nothing. All kinds of bad things happen to the economy. But nothing happens for two groups of people central to the whole debate: workers who get a bump to $15 and employers who have to bump to $15 an hour.

Most cities and states that have raised their minimum wage laws to $15 will phase in the increase over five years. That pretty much means the market will have adjusted to the change long before it becomes effective. But that's a terrible scenario to test my theory, based on research by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert.

Let's do this instead: let's raise the minimum wage to $15 in 30 days.

But first, let's give a standard happiness survey to a thousand minimum-wage earners before we announce the increase. And let's give the same test to wager payers.

Then, let's give re-administer the test to both groups 30 days after the minimum wage hike goes into effect. And let's test them all again one year later.

To keep the experiment clean, the final analysis will include only those who a) kept their minimum wage job for the whole year, or b) kept their minimum-wage paying business open the whole year.

I can tell you the results. One year after the minimum wage goes to $15 an hour, workers making minimum wage will be just about as happy as they were before they learned the minimum wage was going up. Same for the businesspeople who pay them.

In between, just after the wage jumps to $15, worker will be euphoric and owners will be miserable.


It's called the hedonic treadmill. Even if we ignore the economic effect of a big jump in minimum wage (like business failures and higher unemployment for those who most need entry-level jobs), we know from science that people adjust quickly to changes in their circumstances.

When you get a new car, it's awesome, but a year later, it's nothing special.

When you buy a new pair of shoes, you love them. And even if they're still in great shape a year later, they're just a pair of shoes.

Dan Gilbert found that one year after winning the lottery and one year after becoming paralyzed, both groups of people were just about as happy as they were immediately before those life-changing events.

Dan Gilbert, (1) a Harvard psychologist has researched lottery winners and found that ‘the happiness effect’ starts to decline after just a few months. Once the initial elation of getting the big cheque has worn off , people seemed to return to their previous level of happiness or unhappiness.

Raising the minimum wage to $15 is a political ploy with economic downsides and no long-term benefit for the people who get the minimum wage.

On the other hand, helping a $7.25 an hour worker earn a 100 percent raise does wonders for that person's life, outlook, and self-esteem while providing economic benefits to his employer, his family, and his community.

So go ahead and double the minimum wage, Francis. It will do nothing but accelerate St. Louis's slide toward irrelevancy.

Why Do Messages Backfire?

In the 1970s, a magazine ad for Benson & Hedges cigarettes portrayed a hockey fight. Two players slug it out. Sticks and gloves litter the ice. The point of view is on-ice, in the midst of the scrum. The crowd is on its feet, banging the glass. You're right there with linesmen trying to break it up.

The hockey gloves are Coopers. Every hockey player knows the name. In the photo, one of the gloves has been doctored.

Hockey Benson & Hedges Ad

Where the word "Cooper" belongs is another word. A word you wouldn't expect a cigarette company to place on an ad for cigarettes. But the word is undeniable.

It's "cancer."



Because advertisers understand how messaging works. Government and politicians don't.

Here's an explanation of the ad from the Dark Side of Subliminal blog:

This print ad has been deliberately created, with a subliminal message, to tap into the subconscious anxiety and fear of the target audience, surrounding the threat of cancer.
With concern over the fear of cancer, stress management expert Sally Wilson states:
“All fear will create a degree of anxiety. Conscious fears can be relatively easy to dissolve through reasoning. Other fears can deeply affect our subconscious attitudes and affect our mental health with the power to disturb our peace of mind. We may not even be aware of them. But they will all contribute to any anxiety state we may suffer.”1
Read the whole article on Darkside of Subliminal Advertising. It's fascinating.
Still don't get it? Smoking cessation guru Eric Eraly explaines more:
As a smoker, you smoke a lot of cigarettes when you feel fear…So, when I tell you that smoking is bad, that you can get cancer from it…that you are killing yourself, most likely you’ll become afraid and you’ll want a cigarette.
Every smoker knows Eraly's right. Anxiety makes the monkey scratch. Fear makes him bite.
In Benson & Hedges ad, the advertiser increased the desire to smoke with an ad the Surgeon General would have applauded. Advertisers know what doctors do not. Perhaps because advertisers get paid to change behavior while doctors get paid to deal with consequences.
On Monday, I wrote about Senator Roy Blunt's bill to require a disclaimer on Obamacare ads that informs people they paid for the ad. I understand his sentiment. His prescription will backfire.
Here's another example of government messaging having and effect 180 degrees out from its intent.
Researchers studied the effects of messaging parents about the safety of childhood vaccines. The finding are amazing.
Parents who were initially skeptical of the MMR vaccine's safety, but were convinced by the messaging the the vaccine is safe, became less likely to have their children vaccinated. From LiveScience:
Surveying 1,759 parents, researchers found that while they were able to teach parents that the vaccine and autism were not linked, parents who were surveyed who had initial reservations about vaccines said they were actually less likely to vaccinate their children after hearing the researchers messages.
While the parents were cognitively converted to the pro-vaccine position, they became emotionally more anti-vaccine because of the messaging.
And the reverse hits just keep on coming. Again from The Dark Side of Subliminal Advertising:
Recently, the largest neuromarketing experiment in history was conducted using two of the most sophisticated brain-scanning instruments in the world, fMRI (Functional magnetic resonance imaging) and SST (steady-state topography-an advanced version of the electroencephalograph).
This study was funded by eight multinational companies and cost around $7 million.
Dr. Gemma Calvert, the leader of the research team for the large neuromarketing experiment, discovered the following:
1.     “Cigarette warnings—whether they informed smokers they were at risk of contracting emphysema, heart disease, or a host of other chronic conditions—had in fact stimulated an area of the smoker’s brain called the nucleus accumbens, otherwise known as “the craving spot."  This region is a chain-link of specialized neurons that lights up when the body desires something.” 12
2.     “In short, the fMRI results showed that cigarette warning labels not only failed to deter smoking, but by activating the nucleus accumbens, it appeared they actually encouraged smokers to light up.” 13
So what's the answer? Throw up our hands and give up?
No. Changing beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors is too important to surrender. Advertisers don't give up. You never heard Don Draper say, "Forget it, Roger. You can't get people to buy laxatives."
To change beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, look at the sciences. Don't craft messages that make you feel good about yourself. Don't try to convince people that you have the facts on your side. It doesn't work.
Instead, think about the person you're talking to. What do they believe? What's important to them? What do they want? You might have to talk to them to answer those questions.
Help people get what they want, and they might put some emotional stock in what you believe. And without emotional connections, behavior change won't happen. Facts don't matter until after the emotional decision's been made.
The FBI's behavior change model is one approach. It involves five building block:
  • Active listening
  • Empathy
  • Rapport
  • Influence
  • Behavior Change

(Read more on Barking Up The Wrong Tree.)

That's actually the model for getting anyone to do anything. It requires a willingness to communicate with people who don't agree with you yet. It means thinking in their context, not yours.

Yes, effective behavior change takes more effort than slapping a disclaimer on a radio commercial or printing a warning on a pack of cigarettes. But scientific persuasion actually works.

One Strong Leader Can Keep Congress In Line


Why do our members of Congress disappoint us?

Why do they seem to put their personal interests ahead of the mission we elected them to do?

More importantly, how we can we deter Republicans or bring them back to the fold?

Study Shows How Communities Keep Members In Line

New research by University of Oxford and the ETH Zurich could provide an answer: one strong leader.

When non-cheating members of a community empowered a strong member to challenge the anti-social cheater, the cheating stopped.

More importantly, when potential cheaters became aware of the presence of a “strong man” within the community, they were far less likely to cheat.

Here are some details on the experiment via ScienceDaily.com.

Researchers involved 120 volunteers, divided into groups of four, to play games with money tokens. Each player was given a bank of 140 money tokens with one of the four randomly assigned as the cheat. The cheat could decide whether to refrain from cheating and gain nothing, or risk cheating to potentially gain 70 tokens from each of the three players. The three players had to decide independently whether to challenge the cheat to reclaim the money for themselves, as well as the other players -- the snag being that the challenge would entail a monetary cost to the challenger while the free-riding players would retrieve the full 70 tokens. However, if none of the players challenged the cheat, the cheat would keep their tokens and get away with it.

Members of Congress are part of our community. If we don’t challenge them, they vote wrong get re-elected, and continue to cheat our mission. When we elect a conservative who runs on small-government, Constitutional conservatism, then votes for big spending, big government, it’s cheating. Call it that.

There are even more great lessons from the study:

  • Certainty of punishment was more important than the size of the punishment
  • Community strongmen recovered 83 percent of the cheaters’ gains
  • Knowing that the community backed a strongman was a huge deterrent

It’s important to empower strong leaders who can challenge the cheats. We empower our leaders by guaranteeing to protect them when they take a risk.

We Can Devise a Strategy To Deter Bad Votes in Congress

Based on this research, we can formulate a strategy:

1. Let members of Congress know who we will back in opposing them.

2. Fight like hell with Congressmen push back.

3. Sacrifice what we can to support opposition leaders.

I think we can use the Heritage Action Scorecard as the measure of cheating in Congress. Erick Erickson of RedState explains

This is another reminder of why Heritage Action for America’s scorecard has become the gold standard for measures of conservatism in Congress. They, by the way, give McConnell a 75% rating.

As long as conservative groups continue to entangle themselves with the Republican Party and give Republican leaders undeserved passes, conservatives will keep yanking their own footballs away.

Vote wrong on key votes, and we’ll be on you. And “on you” means our strongman or strongwoman can attack without fear of backlash from the community.

Use This One Word Because It Makes You More Influential

Don't ask me to explain why the human brain works the way it does. And don't ask me how scientists get the idea for some experiments. Instead, take note of the most influential work in the English language, because I want you to be more influential.

What's that one word?

It's not "you" or "free" or "instantly" or "new."  They're very powerful words, as every copywriter knows. But they're not the most influential.

The most influential word comes from The Wizard of Oz.

wizard of oz because

Becuz becuz becuz becuz beCUZ!

Because Is the Most Influential Word, Because It Is

Researcher Ellen Langer wanted to see how to make requests more persuasive. She had her researchers approach lines to copiers in busy offices and asked if they could go next. Each time, researchers used a very specific request: "Excuse me, I have five pages. Could I use the copier next?"

When asked this way, sixty percent of the time the people already in line let the researchers butt in. Not bad.

When the researchers added "because I'm in a rush," the number soared from 60 percent to 94 percent!

But here's where the word "because" really earns its stripes.  Researchers realized "because I'm in a hurry" made sense.  What if the "because" clause was meaningless.

They ran the experiment one more time, this time asking, "May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies."  Well, of course, they had to make copies. Why else would they be asking to use the Xerox machine?

You'd think such a silly request would prompt the people in line to say "get lost."  But that didn't happen. What did happen was astonishing, and it made the word "because" easily the most influential word in English.

When asked "May I use the Xerox machine, because I have to make copies," 93 percent of the people in line said "sure."

Like I said, don't ask me to explain why the brain works this way, just remember that it does.

When you ask someone to go vote on April 2, add a because clause.  "Will you vote on April 2, because it's an election day," will be as effective as "will you vote on April 2, because your liberty depends on it."

Now, go find out:

Why the Sequester Was Worse Before It Happened

How Psychological Biases Hurt Government

And here's the book that'll make you more influential: Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive

Source:  The Xerox studies can be found in: Langer, E., Blank, A., and Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of ostensibly thoughtful action: The role of “placebic” information in interpersonal interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36: 639– 42. Retrieved from Goldstein, Noah J.; Martin, Steve J.; Robert B. Cialdini (2008-06-10). Yes! (Kindle Locations 2882-2884). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Don’t Miss The Brain Study That Tells You How to Influence Democrats

One of the most powerful tools of influence is fear. Decades of research shows that fear of loss is about three times as motivating as hope for gain. (This changes under certain situations, like conditions of certain loss, but that’s for another time.)

So political message writers often use negative messages to influence voters to take a chance on a cause or a candidate.

This tactic works well with Republican voters, and less well with Democrats. New neuroscience research tells us why—and what you can do about it.

Republicans and Democrats Assess Risk With Different Parts of Their Brains

When assessing risk, Republican voters use their amygdala, while Democrats use their left insula.


The amygdala are the brain’s primary danger triggers. They kick off the flight-fight-freeze response.

The left insula’s primary function involves consciousness of self and others. It processes social information.

This is critical to understand if you’re asking people to take a risk.

This Study Is a Remarkable Predictor of Party Affiliation

The study by Dr. Darren Schreiber of University of Exeter with colleagues from University of San Diego shows that fMRI imaging during risk tasks predicts party affiliation with 82.9% accuracy.

That’s stunning. In fact, few other methods of predicting political preference even come close.

Read more about the study on Science Daily, and you can see the whole paper on PLOS One.

How To Influence Republican Brains

Say you want people to stop freaking out over the sequester. If want to influence Republicans, talk about the dangers of freaking out. For example, if the House Republicans freak out about the political consequences of automatic spending cuts, they’re likely to accept a really bad demand from the White House.

In other words, double down on their highly activated amygdala by reminding them (truthfully) that freaking out will only make things worse. There’s more to lose in compromise (surrender) than in standing firm.

How To Influence Democrat Brains

The White House has done a fabulous job activating the left insula in Democrats by talking about how sequestration will hurt them personally and people they care about.

To get Democrats to stop freaking out about the risk of the sequester, remind them that the more money the government takes, the less money people have to spend on important things like the environment, caring for the poor, and taking care of their families. Remind them that, someday, Congress and the White House will be in conservatives’ hands, along with all the spending power. Remember Bush?

You Are Not Your Voter

This is just more evidence that you are not the voter you’re trying to influence. And it’s only one aspect of brain science that needs to be considered when developing a marketing strategy.

What’s clear, though, is that messaging that mobilizes people who think like you might turn off people who don’t.  But carefully designing your campaign with multiple messages that trigger different parts of the brain will increase the number of people who at least consider your side.

Ambition Comes In Good and Bad Flavors

When I was in high school I wanted to be a US Senator. Wait, that wasn’t the punch line.

That ambition changed, and I'm glad it did. It was a bad ambition.

Steve Jobs wanted to build an enduring company that made insanely great products that people loved. Thank God he pursued and achieved his ambition, because it was good and noble.

What’s the difference? It’s not that one ambition was personal and one involved others. Nor is the difference between public and private sector.

What makes ambition good or bad is neither the object nor the subject, but the verb.

I wanted to be something great. Jobs wanted to do  something great. Wanting to be corrupts and limits, while wanting to do strengthens and expands.

Getting Better Beats Being Good

Research shows that people perform better when pursuing getting-better goals than when pursing being-good goals. It’s wonderfully organized by Heidi Grant Halverson, PhD, in her useful and readable ebook Nine Things Successful People Do Differently.

in one study I conducted a few years ago at Lehigh University with Laura Gelety, we found that people in pursuit of be-good goals (i.e., trying to show how smart they already were) performed very poorly on a test of problem solving when we made the test more difficult (either by interrupting them frequently, or by throwing in a few additional unsolvable problems).

But getting-better crowd wasn’t deterred.

The amazing thing was that the people who were pursuing get-better goals (i.e., who saw the test as an opportunity to learn a new problem-solving skill) were completely unaffected by any of our dirty tricks. No matter how hard we made it, these participants stayed motivated and did well.

The Unbearable State Of Being

The common factor to both ambition and goal-pursuit seems to be . . . being. being

When we decide that we want to be something—rich, thin, happy, Speaker of the House, Emperor of the North—we set off on a terminal path. God forbid we should achieve that goal young. Orson Welles wrote, directed, produced, and starred in his masterpiece, Citizen Kane, at 26. He wanted to be a great director.

When a person wants to be a Senator, he might accomplish the goal at the expense of everything he might have done. And at the expense of everything he once believed.

A person who enters politics to fight corruption and promote liberty wiil behave differently from one who runs to be governor. The trade-offs of campaign contributions for a vote in the legislature won’t tempt the person wants to do great things, but will easily sway the one who wants to be great.

Pay Attention To Their Verbs

Listen closely to a person’s ambitions. When they tell you want they want to be, ask them what they want to do. If they can’t answer that question with the same enthusiasm they showed in being, watch out.


Halvorson, Heidi Grant (2011-10-24). Nine Things Successful People Do Differently (Kindle Locations 234-238). Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.

Why The Sequester Is Worse Now Than It Will Be After It Happens

Welcome Dr. Gina Show Listeners! Republicans should announce “the sequester won’t be so bad” and shut up, and science tells us why.

Obama, the Dems, liberal pundits, the press, and even John Boehner are running around yelling about how horrible the sequester will be.

In some deep recesses of our minds, we agree.  “Oh, my God! We’re all going to do die!”

Fear-mongering only works in the future because, in short, nothing is as bad (or as good) as we think it will be when we think about it.

Meet Affective Forecasting and Your Impact Bias

That’s a shorthand explanation of affective forecasting—or predicting how happy or sad something will make us. Marketers and politicians want us to predict our future feelings Dan-Gilbertabout some event and to apply impact bias to that prediction.

Impact bias is the tendency to overestimate how good we’ll feel if we get what we hope for or how bad we’ll feel if we don’t. Here’s a great, short video by Dan Gilbert explaining the importance of affective forecasting.

Obama uses the science of psychology better than anyone, and the Republicans refuse to even consider it a science. This is one of the reasons why Obama beats the GOP at almost every turn.

The Sequester Won’t Be As Bad As Any Alternative

If the Republicans try to strike a deal with Obama, they will do so under the duress of extreme impact bias. In other words, their imaginations will make monsters of the sequester, and their minds will agree to a deal that mostly benefits Obama.

Obama and his advisers study the science of human behavior. Republicans don’t. In every negotiation, Obama has knowledge that Republicans lack – knowledge he uses to take advantage of the GOP.

The losers in these negotiations are the public in general and the young in particular as the GOP trades their future wealth and choices to the President.

So think about something else and let the sequester happen. It won’t be nearly as bad as you think it will when you think about it.