December 16, 2009

Influence, by Robert Cialdini

Posted in Behaviour at 07:42 by graham

As an Amazon reviews says, “arguably the best book ever on what is increasingly becoming the science of persuasion.”

If you want to understand why you felt compelled to give money to a Hare Krishna devotee, how car salesman or realtor’s work, and much more, you should read this.

It’s also a very easy and enjoyable read. These are my notes. They cover all the content in the book, but don’t link to research. In the book, most of the statements have links to research papers to back them up.

Get Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion from your local library, this has sold so many copies they are bound to have some.


We can process incoming information cognitively in one of two ways:

  • Controlled responding, which is subjecting information to a thorough analysis. This is when we think a problem through, research it, etc. We only do this if we have the desire and the ability. It is intellectually taxing and time consuming.
  • Use judgmental heuristics such as:

    • Price as surrogate for value. Applies particularly to items which are hard to value: Wine, jewelry, art, employee salaries, etc.
    • Trust experts. This is why pseudo-science books always have ‘PhD’ or ‘MD’ after the author’s name.
    • Because – we want reasons to do something, even bogus ones.

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November 27, 2009

How we know what isn’t so, by Thomas Gilovich

Posted in Behaviour at 07:27 by graham

By Thomas Gilovich, social psychologist and CSI Fellow, this well written book explains some of the reasoning and deduction errors we make when trying to understand the world, and ways to avoid making those errors.

This is an easy and engaging read, and offers several straightforward techniques to avoid making common reasoning errors. I recommend you look up How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life in your local library, or get it second-hand from Amazon for less than a posh cup of coffee.

These are my notes / summary of the book.

I. Cognitive determinants of belief

2. Something out of nothing: The mis-perception and misinterpretation of random data

We are predisposed to see order, pattern, and meaning in the world, and we find randomness, chaos, and meaninglessness unsatisfying. As a consequence we tend to ‘see’ order where there is none, and we spot meaningful patterns where only the vagrancies of chance are operating.

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August 26, 2009

Social psychology in sales copy: Good copy writing

Posted in Behaviour at 19:03 by graham

I recently received an advert for an investment fund in which, as the amateur social psychologist that I am, I noticed illustrated a couple of psychological principles. The are both covered in the email title:

Last chance to invest in a firm favourite

They are covered again in more detail in this paragraph:

The x y z Fund only launched six months ago, but has already attracted considerable interest. To keep it small and flexible the number of units has been capped at 200 million. Last week they had reached two-thirds of that total and interest is intensifying. In the last two days alone they sold over 6 million units, so it is likely to close very soon.

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July 20, 2009

On cellphone use in cars

Posted in Behaviour, Society at 18:11 by graham

A very interesting article in the New-York Times on the research behind the risks of being distracted by a cellphone whilst driving:

Here’s some excerpts:

in a survey of 1,506 people last year by Nationwide Mutual Insurance, 81 percent of cellphone owners acknowledged that they talk on phones while driving, and 98 percent considered themselves safe drivers. But 45 percent said they had been hit or nearly hit by a driver talking on a phone.

That’s the Lake Wobegon effect, the tendency for overestimate their capabilities in relation to others.

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April 14, 2009

What is the point of LinkedIn?

Posted in Behaviour at 21:23 by graham

Update 23 Aug 2011: Finally closed my LinkedIn account. To their credit the ‘Close Account’ feature is straightforward.

Update 4 Feb 2011: Steve Pavlina, in his article about leaving Facebook writes:

I nuked my Linkedin account at the same time I left Facebook. Linkedin is supposed to be a business networking service, and I had about 350 contacts there, but I always found that service utterly useless, so it was a no-brainer to dump it.

End update

I’m on LinkedIn, I’m connected to 48 people. I go there, I declare to the world that I know these people. And then what?

If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. There’s:

If it takes a blog post, a book, and a community project, to find a point to your web application, I think there may not be one.

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January 19, 2009

This is me

Posted in Behaviour, Misc at 06:03 by graham

Have I told you that I have never owned a TV, and never watch it?

November 12, 2008

Dan Gardner on fear

Posted in Behaviour, Society at 06:35 by graham

In the prologue to The Science of Fear, by Daniel Gardner (published as ‘Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear’ in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada), which I have just started reading, as he talks about the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States:

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May 20, 2008

Host your own Internet

Posted in Behaviour, Software at 05:39 by graham

When I first got my own server (a virtual private server with Linode which I highly recommend), I ran every Internet service I needed on it, and several for my friends. Over time, I gradually started replacing what I had with online services – I stopped running my own e-mail server and started using GMail, I stopped running my own gallery and used Flickr. Now I really rely on those services, so I got to thinking what I would replace them with if one of them was no longer available, or appropriate. Here’s what I would use:

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May 2, 2008

Clay Shirky at Web 2.0 Expo – just watch it

Posted in Behaviour, History, Society at 20:23 by graham

If you really don’t want to watch it, read the transcript of Clay Shirky’s talk at Web2.0 Expo.

April 10, 2006

Timestream: Where does the time go ?

Posted in Behaviour, Software at 22:08 by graham

UPDATE As of February 2008 is closed. I have changed jobs and stopped using it, and no-one else was using it. Life has moved on. If you are interested in the code (free), or acquiring (not free), please contact me on the about page of this blog.

Cheers! Graham

Timestream is a fun, free, web based tool to analyse how your spend your time. You record in your Timestream what tasks you are working on throughout the day – it’s quick and painless. You can then look back and see where your time is going.

I’ve been working on it and using it for almost six months now, and I think it could be useful to other people. It is free software (licensed under the GPL). If you need to know how you’re spending your (work) day, give it a try:

It’s a really simple, easy, online tool. You can enter as little or as much information as you like about your activities – you can enter the information after the fact, or edit the information later. It makes some nice reports. It’s colorful ! It’s fun ! Isn’t it time you found out where your life is going ? :-)

Happy tracking !

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