Posts Tagged ‘Social Psychology’

Social Media Psychology: SM Is Worse For You Than You Thought

March 31, 2015 1 comment

For all the time we devote to social media, you would think that it would register some meaningful improvement to our lives. You would expect that social media would do something psychologically beneficial for us: elevate our mood, increase our energy, or help us get more out of the day.

But the more research that comes in, the more social media looks to be a wasteland of clickbait and sadness.

Social Media and Psychology: How to Kill Productivity and Happiness

According to a recent study in Computers in Human Behavior, personal social media use not only correlates inversely with productivity (we already knew this in our hearts), but correlates inversely with happiness as well. The correlation is true regardless of how good a multitasker you are, and regardless of how well you can focus your attention on a subject.

The study notes that to date, we have all kinds of research on how distraction can impede someone’s performance at a task. And though it seems obvious that personal social media use would be classified as a distraction, there is not a lot of present research on whether or not social media specifically impedes performance.

However, the psychology of social media is not just about efficiency. Maybe we are willing to give up some efficiency for something that makes us happy. We must, after all, be getting something out of all the time we spend on social media; if it’s not something tangible like efficiency, then it’s something intangible like happiness.

Except that’s wrong.

Social Media and Happiness: Less (of the Former) Is More (of the Latter)

The researchers also took happiness scale evaluations during their social media usage experiment. Social media lowers happiness, and it does so in two ways.

First, it lowers happiness directly. This largely has to do with self-comparison to one’s peers. As the report hypothesizes:

Many news stories published by popular media outlets are concerned with negative impacts on happiness from social media. One story in particular, entitled ‘‘Facebook: The Encyclopedia of Beauty?’’ discusses the rampant unhappiness that can be found in college-aged females living on campus. The story gives accounts of self-esteem issues and other negative effects from over-usage of social media.

Secondly, social media increases a sub-category of stressors that researchers our now labeling “technostress.” Technostress is defined by psychologists as “‘any negative impact on attitudes, thoughts, behaviors, or body physiology that is caused either directly or indirectly by technology.”

This is not something that’s only experienced by people who are uncomfortable with computers and devices. The article cites a University of Edinburgh study, which found that “the more Facebook friends a user has, the more likely you are to feel stressed out by the social media.” And there is already a very good foundation of research supporting the notion that increases in stress diminish happiness. So, if social media ads stress and stress diminishes happiness, then you can get the rest.

The study revealed that personal social media use lowered productivity by way of causing distraction. This finding is in line with what’s call Distraction-Conflict Theory, which says basically that distractions cause some of the information necessary for the primary task to fall out of short-term memory. This is no surprise to anyone who’s ever used social media.

What was a surprise was that the effect was just a dramatic among poor multitaskers as it was among people who rated themselves great multitaskers. As the report puts it, “This result lends support to the common rhetoric that people are not as good at multitasking as they think they are.”

In Summary

So, in three points, here’s what all this means for us:

1. Social media makes you less productive despite how good a multitasker you think you are.

2. Social media makes you unhappy in the long run, both directly and by adding stress.

3. We’re probably still going to spend all our time on Facebook and Twitter anyway…

That last point is not from the report, but we both know it’s true.



Testimonials: The Right Way and the Wrong Way

February 28, 2015 Leave a comment

Nothing supercharges lead generation and sales quite like social proof. One study published in the Wall Street Journal noted that social proof was more influential in changing behavior than the prospect of saving money.

Content Marketing Leaders Spill on Using Testimonials Effectively

Tim Paige of produces a fascinating podcast about digital marketing effectiveness called Conversion Cast. Earlier this month, he interviewed the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, Andy Crestodina. The subject of the episode was testimonials. Andy talked about a small business case study where the proper implementation of testimonials resulted in a 97% boost in leads.

Tim Paige, Producer of Conversion Cast

First, the wrong way (and what everybody tends to screw up). Whatever you do, do not put your testimonials on a dedicated testimonials page. It’s tantamount to hiding your best credibility indicators in a section of the site where no one ever visits. Think about it: when was the last time you ever clicked on a testimonials page?

Testimonials belong on the main pages of your site (products, about us, etc.). They should be woven into the content. As Crestodina puts it, they should be “pixels away from the claims” they justify.

Think about testimonials as the sources that you’re citing to back up your claims, like footnotes. Except that you don’t want to put them at the bottom. Better to place them along the side of the page, as well as in-line (block quotes), and also at the bottom. Just so long as they are visually tied the the claims that they back up.

Andy Crestodina, co-founder of Orbit Media

Crestodina also makes a point that you want to use a variety of formats. He refers to video testimonials in particular as the “atomic bomb of marketing.” They convey passion and sincerity through body language and inflection. So don’t simply settle for a bland quotation or a logo array.

KissMetrics Schools Us On the Psychology of Social Proof

In a blog article on social proof, KissMetrics offers some fascinating wisdom on implementing testimonials and social proof.

First, and maybe most interesting, testimonials can backfire if they’re phrased in a way that suggests that many people are doing something incorrectly. We refer to this as negative social proof. They site the example of the signage used in the Arizona Petrified Forest to reduce theft. Here’s what happened, in their own words:

Their findings were shocking. The sign with the negative social proof was not only unable to reduce theft, it actually increased the likelihood that people would steal the petrified wood from the forest! In this case, the sign read:

“Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, destroying the natural state of the Petrified Forest.”

The researchers found that this sort of sign encouraged more stealing (it tripled the amount of theft) because it was evidence that many other people were already stealing from the forest. Instead of discouraging people, it made them more confident that stealing was “okay.”

In our case, an example of a testimonial that would case the same problem would read like this:

“Like so many others, I have been writing testimonials incorrectly for years until I read this article.” –John Q. Wrongness

Here are some KissMetrics pointers for getting the most out of your social proof (testimonials in our case):

1. Include pictures next to your quotations.

This is based on a recent study published in the Psychonometric Bulletin and Review stating that pictures next to examples of social proof tend to inflate the subjective measure of truth.

2. Include testimonials from people who demographically match your buyer personas.

More research, this time from Current Directions is Psychological Science, that shows people tend to gravitate to, and be influenced by, people similar to themselves (duh).

3. Go for status.

All things being equal, we will tend to value the opinions of the more notable and influential people. Titles matter. The words of recognized industry leaders matter. So concentrate your efforts on gathering some marquee testimonials.

The Five “People-triggers” Discoveries That Most Changed My Life

August 29, 2014 1 comment

Screenshot 2014-08-29 15.31.58I’ve been writing the People-triggers blog since 2010.  After all that time, I’m not sure I’m any closer to understanding why we do what we do, and why we get out of bed in the morning.

Psychology feels like it’s nipping around the edges of this question. Like the moment anyone gets close to an insight, they stop studying, write a book and start trying to teach everyone how to stay motivated and influence others. In the 70’s, we were sure that Transactional Analysis was a scientific approach to relationships. In the 80’s, we were sure that we needed to praise our children regardless of result because self-esteem correlates with success.

Think of what we’re sure about today. Working from home achieves higher productivity. No wait, it kills collaboration. Group brainstorming produces better outcomes than individual reflection. No wait, it shouts down the introverts and encourages rule-by-volume.

In psychology, today’s bestseller is tomorrow’s bullshit.

That all being said, I’ve looked back at the readings and writings I’ve done over the past four plus years and I’ve found five discoveries-five core principles-that I’m willing to bet will stand the test of time. More than that, they changed my life because I was able to 1) become more effective in producing output, and 2) stop wasting energy worrying about certain things. So, here they are: Read more…

Swarm Intelligence and Capitalism

July 31, 2014 1 comment

Recently I revisited an article that I posted once upon a time on Swarm Theory (Decentralized Problem-Solving). This is the notion that a self-governed network of entities operating on simple heuristics (e.g. bees in a hive, ants in a colony) can solve certain problems more effectively than central authority. I received a comment from the CEO of a software company in Finland that harnesses Swarm Theory within specially designed social networks to solve problems.

As I was searching around for more information on Swarm Theory, I came across this quote on a blog: “SWARM OR HIVE INTELLIGENCE: Communism Without The Corruption! […] Individual Capitalism Vs. The Collective! One Thing Is Certain: Capitalism Cannot Be The End Result For Humanity Or We And Very Likely Earth Itself Are Doomed!”

Interesting perspective.

But at the same time, there’s an interesting point to be made: this quote has its logic exactly backwards. Sure, a leaderless structure like an ant colony brings to mind the visual idea of a commune. But Communism as we’ve experienced it (and Socialism for that matter) are associated with central planning, which is the opposite of Swarm Theory. If you want to look at the economic system that bears the closest resemblance to Swarm Theory, you’ll be looking at good old Capitalism.

The Invisible Hand = Early Crowdsourcing


Since Adam Smith described the “Invisible Hand” in 1776, arch-capitalists have ascribed a magic, almost religious quality to the economic distributions within a free market. As supply lowers, prices rise. How does the system know? How does wealth accumulate with those who are meeting a strong demand? How is investment capital finding its way to the most promising opportunities? Is it God’s will that it be so?

The “invisible hand” is an instance of Swarm Theory, nothing more. The motivation to provide value in exchange for monetary reward is a simple heuristic and economic participants (workers, owners, investors, etc) are the automatons who follow it. Therefore the strengths and weaknesses of the various Capitalist systems of the world can be understood by how effectively they replicate a basic swarm system.

In his book Business Stripped Bare, Richard Branson coins the term Gaia Capitalism to describe the more environmentally and globally aware form of Capitalism to which he subscribes. This promotes the idea that there are many manifestations of Capitalism that have varying degrees of concern for long-term thinking or preservation of common goods. Should a Capitalist system have rules? Should it be transparent? Should it reward individual actors? Do regulations always make it less efficient? We can understand these questions by understanding how they apply to swarm systems.

So let’s revisit the characteristics of an effective swarm system:

  1. It is self-organized
  2. Its actors follow simple heuristics, though different classes of actors may follow different instruction sets (foragers vs patrollers, etc.)
  3. Actors must act in a diverse fashion (i.e. bees don’t search for a new home be all flying in the same direction)
  4. There is a communication mechanism by which information is shared with all actors
  5. Actions must be self determined, without imitation, cohesion or fad-following

It also must be understood that the collective result will not be perfect, but it will be ever-improving. Just because bees agree on a location for a new hive doesn’t mean that the resulting location is perfect. The quality of the new location depends on the terrain that was explored (i.e. luck), and the system that has evolved to determine consensus. Notice that it does depend on the outsized reconnaissance skills of any one super-star bee.

Notice also that Swarm Theory works to solve the problems of the collective, e.g. how to propagate and defend an ant colony, or how to allocate wealth to the providers of value and quality investment. They do not exist for the purpose of enriching individual actors at the expense of others. To be sure, there are often status hierarchies within swarm systems, and individual actors are motivated to act by their own survival, but the nature and essence of the system is to propagate the entire community.

Answering Hard Questions on Capitalism


Now, assuming the analogy between a swarm system and a Capitalist one, and also that our goal is to make the most productive system that we can, lets draw some conclusions.

Should Capitalist systems have anti-trust laws, and how vehemently should those laws be enforced? Well, are swarms more effective when actors are acting diversely or in concert? Diversely. Acting in concert through collusion or anti-competitive measures weakens the system by limiting the diversity of opportunity. The dynamic becomes indistinguishable from central planning.

In healthy Capitalist systems, should all trades take place on transparent exchanges (i.e. removing the dark pools of investment banks). Well, are swarms more effective or less effective with transparent communication? They’re more effective. In fact, they depend on the systemic aggregation of collective information so all actors can make informed decisions. Keeping information secret for private advantage weakens the system by disallowing all the actors from making effective decisions.

Do central regulations always make a Capitalist system less efficient? This one is harder to demonstrate with analogy, and it also depends on the time frame that one is talking about. I interpret “regulations” as rules and safeguards. As part of its heuristic logic, a forager ant will not leave the colony to forage for food unless it come into contact with at least four patroller ants within the space of ten seconds. This lets the ant know that it’s safe to forage. It might be more efficient for the colony in the short term if the forager ant would search for food immediately, without this safety procedure. In the short term, the chances of running into food might be higher then the chances of running into an anteater. But the colony will pay a heavier cost (population count) every time this gamble doesn’t work out.

Yet, this procedure evolved organically. It was not enforced from a central authority. It’s hard to find analogies to central rule enforcement within natural swarm systems. These systems, by definition, have no central authorities. Instead, this might be a question for digital automatons in labs.

Still, we can see from this demonstration that the strongest, most effective Capitalist systems are not necessarily the ones that provide the greatest enrichment to individual members. They will more likely be the ones to harvest most effectively the wisdom of the swarm.

Consumer Choice as Self-expression

November 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Dr. Michail D. Kokkoris

This month we travel all the way to Bremen, Germany to look at a fascinating doctoral dissertation published in this month’s Psychology & Marketing. Michail Kokkoris, a newly-minted PhD in psychology, brings us insight into the nature of individual choice and how our choices and preferences are affected when we voice our opinions about those choices. I would also like to acknowledge his academic supervisor and co-author, Dr. Ulrich Kühnen.

About nine years ago, I went shopping for a new car and selected the Ford Mustang. I had never really talked much about Mustangs before, but was always interested in them. From the time I bought the car, I loved it. There were no features of the car that made it grossly superior to other cars out there, but I felt a sentimental connection with it. I had to give up that car recently, and it was surprisingly hard to do.

What is choice? recent research suggests what we already knew in our hearts: more than the mere selection of a preference, choice is a method of self-expression. We see this overtly in countries with the most individualistic cultures, like the U.S. However, this same research suggests that even within more collectivist cultures, choice is still self-expressive.

When I purchased my Mustang, something happened to me that happens to some degree with all choices: I rationalized it. I started to idealize the car. The fact that my choice was self-expressive made the car more than just a heap of steal and fuel that moves me down the road. It was something that was associated with me; an extension of my voice in this world.

English: A picture of a black 2011 Ford Mustan...

English: A picture of a black 2011 Ford Mustang v6 Coupe with the optional Performance package. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So what would happen if, right before I purchased the car, I was given the opportunity to express my opinion about it in some other way? Let’s say I wrote a Yelp review for it, or provided a testimonial. It turns out that expressing such opinions before making a purchase relieves the impulse for self expression. Since you got the expression impulse out of your system before the purchase, the purchase becomes less of an exercise in self-expression, and you will not feel as strong a connection to the product as you would have otherwise.

There is a fundamental truth lurking within this insight that marketers understand but rarely articulate: rationalization is part of the desired product experience.

This insight is a very big deal to marketers who work their entire careers trying to make consumers feel that special connection; that sense that you are a slightly different, slightly better, slightly more satisfied person now that you have made this purchase. Opinion expression in the smartphone age is inescapable. You don’t have to write a review. We express our opinions without even realizing it. You could be having a text message argument with someone about the merits of a Ford Mustang while you’re in the dealership, and that would be enough to mess with the subsequent decision rationalization experience and the resulting bond with the product. Digital marketers will have to re-examine their user experiences to make sure they are not unwittingly allowing their consumers to express themselves in any way other than making the purchase decision. Otherwise it might interfere with the pre-purchase state-of-mind, and therefore the whole product experience.

Congratulations on your degree and your publication, Dr. Kokkoris. We look forward to reading your future research!

A Happy Life or a Meaningful Life?

October 31, 2013 1 comment

HappinessA majority of people generally say they want a happy life. A majority of people also say they want to become parents at some point. The trouble is, according to nearly every study ever performed on the matter, becoming a parent reduces happiness and marital satisfaction. So why do people become parents? Sociologists call this the “parenthood paradox.”

The best answer so far comes from Roy Baumeister, a pioneering and prolific sociologist from Florida State University. His research suggests that people do not just pursue happiness. People have a separate instinct to pursue meaning – a sense of coherent life narrative that gives one a sense that they’ve significantly contributed to others’ experience. What’s more, people will tend to delay or defer happiness to make choices that bring meaning.

Now, thank God these two ideas are not mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, they generally correlate. People who report having a meaningful life generally also report being happy, and vice versa. And certain characteristics, like stong social connections, positively influence both happiness and meaning. But it’s important to note that there are important differences between these two concepts, with starkly different implications, and it is absolutely possible have one without the other. Not infrequently, people live at the extremes: having a happy, shallow life (hedonism) or a miserable but self-satisfactorily meaningful one (martyrdom).

In a recently published article in the Journal of Positive Psychology, Baumeister reveals the results of a large survey that detail the important psychological distinctions between happiness and meaning. Read more…

Too Much Choice: The Jam Experiment

August 31, 2013 7 comments

Sheena Iyengar

A grocery store in Melno Park, California sets up a special display to sell jam. At certain times, the display had six flavors to choose from. At other times, the display had 24 choices. Each person who came by the sample booth was given a $1 coupon to purchase. The displays were up for a total of 10 hours. Here are the results:

The display with 24 choices

Number of people who stopped by: 145

Number of people who bought from the display (based on coupon redemption): 4

Percentage redemption: 4%

The display with six choices

Number of people who stopped by: 104

Number of people who bought from the display (based on coupon redemption): 31

Percentage redemption: 31%

What appeared to customer as a typical promotion was actually a sociological experiment. The attendants handing out samples were research assistants of one Dr. Sheena Iyengar, the S.T. Lee Professor of Business at Columbia Business School. She was studying the effect that the number of purchase choices has on the propensity to actually make a purchase.

This experiment seemingly proves that customers presented with fewer choices are 10 times more likely to purchase compared with those who are shown many choices. It has been help up as a crucial example of choice overload, the idea that presenting customers with too many choices actually inhibits customer purchases. The idea of choice overload is counterintuitive; classical economic thought maintains that more choices are always better for the customer.

Cover of

Cover of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less

Many economic polemicists have latched on to these results. Barry Schwartz, in his book The Paradox of Choice, uses this as an example of the harm caused by the abundance of choice in a free market.

Interestingly, despite a seemingly tenfold improvement in purchasing propensity, you don’t see a lot of maodern stores limiting their selections. The trouble with all this is that the results from Iyengar’s experiment have never been satisfactorily replicated. At the same time, others have pointed out legitimate flaws in her methodology. While guest posting on the blog Retailing with Confidence, Guru Raj points out:

“The crucial issue for this experiment is that, in combination with this background variation, the two groups of jam buyers were not assigned randomly. Because the experiment was done for a total of ten hours in only one store, and shoppers were grouped in hourly chunks, there could be all kinds of reasons that those people who happened to show up during the five hours of limited assortment could have different propensity to respond to $1 off a specific line of jams than those who arrived in the other five hour period.”

It could be that the variety or complexity of choices does effect people’s willingness to buy. However, we do not currently have conclusive proof of what causes are significant, and why they work. More research is needed in this area before anyone can say with precision what is the best product choice array to show to customers.