Sleight of mind

May 5, 2020

Three tips on how to persuade people to change their behavior

HBR: How to persuade people to change their behavior.

  1. Highlight a gap — point out where someone might have inconsistencies in “their thoughts and actions, or between what they might recommend for others versus do themselves”
  2. Pose questions — rather than statements (“junk food makes you fat”), pose a question: “do you think junk food is good for you?”
  3. Ask for less
  4. — gradual changes are easier to tolerate

March 5, 2020

January 12, 2020

September 10, 2019

September 9, 2019

August 20, 2019

  • Why washing machines are learning to play the harp. “Appliance makers believe more and better chimes, alerts, and jingles make for happier customers. Are they right?” While not the general gist of the article, I wanted to note two points. On the influence that sound can have on us:
    A wealth of studies in consumer psychology attests to the power of sound to affect our decision making. In one famous experiment from the ’90s, British wine shoppers bought five times as many French bottles as German bottles when French accordions played in the store; when an oompah band sounded, German wine outsold the French. Still other studies have suggested that slot-machine noises, often high-pitched and in major keys, can nudge gamblers to keep playing and can even encourage riskier bets.
    But then there’s the tragedy of commons of sound:
    Too many sounds, carefully designed though they may be, runs the risk of turning into an irritant, or worse. Dexter Garcia, a co-founder of Audio UX, pointed me to a 2010 article in The Boston Globe describing “alarm fatigue.” Nurses at Massachusetts General Hospital had become so bombarded by constant alerts, they ignored the critical beeps signaling a dying patient. The problem is pervasive: In a study at Johns Hopkins Hospital, nearly 60,000 alarms were recorded over 12 days—that’s 350 alarms per patient, per day, hammering staff ears.

June 1, 2019

  • The Johari window is a technique that helps people better understand their relationship with themselves and others.

March 14, 2019

June 23, 2018

Replication crisis in psychology

Vox: The Stanford Prison Experiment was massively influential. We just learned it was a fraud. “The most famous psychological studies are often wrong, fraudulent, or outdated. Textbooks need to catch up.”


April 5, 2018

  • New Yorker: Are we already living in virtual reality? A fascinating long read about how VR may prove to be a materially different medium: “virtual re-embodiment” could drastically affect how we perceive ourselves and the reality around us. We create and use mental models of the world around us, this is easy to comprehend; that our concept of ourselves is equally a mental model, just entirely transparent to us, is much more difficult to grasp.

October 19, 2017

  • Dyslexia may lie in the eyes.
    “In people with the condition, the cells were arranged in matching patterns in both eyes, which may be to blame for confusing the brain by producing ‘mirror’ images. […] In non-dyslexic people, the cells are arranged asymmetrically, allowing signals from the one eye to be overridden by the other to create a single image in the brain.”

September 2, 2017

  • There are seven primary odors: musky, minty, floral, ethereal, camphoraceous, pungent and putrid. Taking smelly things to a confined space, like a spaceship, could be dangerous, so NASA has a master sniffer.

July 20, 2017

June 11, 2017

  • Alex Honnold becomes the first climber to free solo Yosemite’s 3,000-foot El Capitan wall. This is called the most dangerous rope-free ascent ever. “Honnold’s tolerance for scary situations is so remarkable that neuroscientists have studied the parts of his brain related to fear to see how they might differ from the norm.”
    Honnold sees it in more pragmatic terms. “With free-soloing, obviously I know that I’m in danger, but feeling fearful while I’m up there is not helping me in any way,” he said. “It’s only hindering my performance, so I just set it aside and leave it be.”

April 26, 2017

Perceptual neuroscience — it’s all in the eye of beholder

I quite liked Beau Lotto’s article Look Here in May’s Wired UK. It’s not yet online, but googling it turned up a few other interesting tidbits on perception.

Beau Lotto has just published a book, Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently, though reviewer Jonathan Rée hates it.

Michael Shemer’s TED talk, The pattern behind self-deception, explains how “the human tendency to believe strange things—from alien abductions to dowsing rod—boils down to two of the brain’s most basic, hard-wired survival skills. He explains what they are, and how they get us into trouble.”

Buzzfeed: 16 optical illusions even freakier than that damn dress.

Six TED talks about illusion that will make you doubt your own brain.


March 2, 2017

February 27, 2017

October 19, 2016

Is willpower overrated?

Is willpower overrated? Achieving goals requires willpower, but this study suggested that “the students who reported experiencing fewer temptations […] achieved more goal success.”

The researchers summed their results up, thusly: “Against popular and scientific wisdom, effortful self-control did not appear to play a role in goal-pursuit, suggesting that the immediate positive consequences of exerting willpower do not translate into long-term goal success.”


September 18, 2016

Evolutionary advantages of loneliness

WaPo: Loneliness can be depressing, but it may have helped humans survive.

The oxytocin receptor gene comes in several variants… For our ancestors, safety was in numbers, so evolution favored those who craved the bond with others �” and hence the GG genotype may have survived. On the other hand, the group also needed people less upset by being alone �” those who might venture far away, explore the environment �” such as the carriers of the AA genotype.


August 16, 2016

  • Beware of sob stories — they make suckers of us all. How stories require “a willing construction of disbelief,” meaning that “we are primed to believe them and have to make a concerted, conscious effort to do otherwise.”
    We will only verify what we hear if we are “motivated and able” to do so. What a well-told story does is circumvent the second stage of what Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert says is our default way of interpreting reality: first, we accept everything as true and only then do we reflect, question and, if necessary, correct our initial perception. If we are presented with a logical argument, we go through that precise process. If, however, we are faced with an emotional story, we get stuck at point one. We assume its truth. We are moved by it. We act on it. We don’t verify or question it. And in that presumption of faith lies narrative’s great strength — and the con artist’s great power.

August 8, 2016

August 1, 2016

  • The sweetness in water, a magic trick for the end of a day at the beach. Like I’m ever going to pull this off!

May 29, 2016

Kim Scott on how to be a better boss with radical candor

Kim Scott talks about radical candor at Cultivate. It’s 40 minutes long but oh so good. The four-by-four framework she presents is illuminating and could be the foundation of establishing and growing a feedback culture.

The axis are “care personally” and “challenge directly” and the quadrants are, from the bottom right in clockwise order, “obnoxious aggression”, “manipulative insincerity”, “ruinous empathy” and “radical candor”.

Here’s another 20 minute version of the talk and a longish write-up with the diagram as well.


May 12, 2016

May 10, 2016

May 7, 2016

April 25, 2016

  • Now I Know: A Weighty Issue. How physical attributes, like the weight of an object, can influence your thinking, based on the theory of embodied cognition. I wonder if this might be part of the reason I find reading ebooks and paper books such a different experience.

April 17, 2016

October 8, 2015

January 21, 2015

October 20, 2014

May 19, 2014

  • Thinking in a foreign language could sway your moral judgments. “Two years ago, researchers led by Keysar found that people thinking in a second language tended to be more even-headed about risk-taking. A certain lack of fluency seemed to encourage deliberation, dampening emotional reactions to the idea of loss.”

April 8, 2014

February 18, 2014

  • Capgras delusion. A disorder in which a person holds a delusion that a person close to them has been replaced by an identical-looking impostor.

December 16, 2013

November 21, 2013

November 13, 2013

October 7, 2013

September 27, 2013

Discovering something profound — almost

“An organization’s structure is reflected in its products,” I mused out loud to a colleague.

“Yes, Conway’s law,” he said.

The way I reflected on the shape of the thought is telling, indicating that I’ve heard it before. It is an odd sensation, however, formulating something without the sense of remembering it.


June 11, 2013

  • Humans read clues of physical strength from others’ voices. In a study, participants were asked to rate the person behind the voice in terms of physical strength, height and weight.
    Across the board, when men’s utterances were assessed, “average individual estimates of strength from the voice were accurate and highly significant,” Sell reports. “This accuracy is similar to the accuracy of strength assessment from static visual images of the face, but lower than estimation from images of the body.”

May 21, 2013

July 19, 2012

March 29, 2012

May 11, 2011

March 8, 2011

  • Patricia Kuhl’s TED talk, the linguistic genius of babies. Interesting takeaway: infants have a sweet spot at six to eights months old in which they’re primed to the sounds of their mother tongue. This also works with foreign languages, but only when spoken by a person who’s present, not when exposed via audio or video.

July 21, 2010

  • Newsweek: The Creativity Crisis. "[T]here is one crucial difference between IQ and CQ [creativity] scores. With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect—each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling."

May 26, 2010