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An Academic and Personal Analysis of Sunday's 'Star Wars Day'

May 2, 2014 BY danariely
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Dan Ariely as a Jedi for Jared Wolfe’s Graduation

This Sunday is “May the Fourth Be With You” Day or more commonly known as “Star Wars Day.” Our graduate student Troy Campbell combines his research and personal experience to analyze why this day and Star Wars itself means so much to many. 

In an epic South Park finale episode, Kyle Broflovski argued the importance of Star Wars, saying:

“It’s all real. Think about it. Haven’t Luke Skywalker and Santa Claus affected your lives more than most real people in this room? They’ve changed my life – changed the way I act on the earth. Doesn’t that make them kind of real? They might be imaginary but, but they’re more important than most of us here. And they’re all gonna be around here long after we’re dead. So, in a way, those things are more real than any of us.” (quote shortened)

Maybe this seems a little hyperbolic, but on May the Fourth, the official Star Wars Day, the idea doesn’t seem so far off. This day drives home the point every year — Star Wars matters a lot to a lot of people.

On “May the Fourth Be With You” Day, droves of Americans will dress up and celebrate, and I will be one of them. On no other day of the year will I don any cultural garb, but on this Sunday I’ll show up to Durham’s large Star Wars Day festival with a replica lightsaber at my side.

So many Americans have massive cultural festivals like Holi and Cinco de Mayo, or even Coachella. But I just have May the Fourth. It’s my day to dress up and be immersed in myths and narratives. The Greeks had the Gods of Olympus, my Texas friends have the army of the Alamo, and my Coachella friends have the mythical band Neutral Milk Hotel. But me, I have the Skywalker family. I am, of course, exaggerating — but only a little.

For many Americans, even if they are part of other cultural groups, Star Wars is still a big part of their cultural landscape, their lingo, and even their fantasies. In a recent Duke University research project on consumer culture, we found that most adults who love Star Wars have as adults also fantasized about being a Jedi. Star Wars is more than a fictional world we observe, it’s a world we are part of. People dress up as ghosts for Halloween, but on May the Fourth, they don’t just dress us as Jedi Knights, they pretend to be Jedi Knights — even if only privately in their minds.

Yet May the Fourth is not just about individual fantasy, it’s about connection. Star Wars remains the most popular way sci-fi and fantasy nerds of all kinds connect. Though Marvel, the works of Joss Wheadon, Tolkein, Doctor Who, and Star Trek contest in nerd culture, Star Wars reigns supreme. Star Wars is a cultural icon for many reasons, but a main reason is its simplicity and the fact that it’s easier to “master.”

Though Star Wars is full of prequels, video games, cartoons, and a recently nullified Expanded Universe, at the heart of Star Wars, there are just three movies that almost everyone has seen. And if you know those three movies well, then you can consider yourself a Star Wars master. Some nerds will disagree with that and say if you don’t know everything about Star Wars Legends Mara Jade or robotic Darth Maul then you aren’t a true Jedi Master. But for most of us, the original trilogy is all we need to feel like a master. And feeling like a master of Star Wars feels good.

When people feel a sense of “mastery” over objects, concepts, and stories, they tend to like, love, and identify with those stories and things. As the psychologist Lita Furby theorized, “That over which I exercise… control becomes a part of my sense of self.” Over the past decade, projects lead by researchers at Harvard University, the University of British Columbia, and here in our center at Duke University have begun to find empirical support for the emerging psychological concept of mastery and the positive effects it can have on ownership, identity and happiness.

Star Wars has become something we don’t just physically own on Blu-Ray; it’s something we own in concept. It’s part of our extended self. It’s a cultural touch point for us where we grow and exercise our mastery of its fiction and mythos. It’s how we connect with others in the present, it’s part of the memories we have of our past selves, and it’s part of the fantasies we have for our mythical future selves.

As human beings we long to become part of something bigger than ourselves. For many people Star Wars can in many ways serve as this bigger thing. When celebrating and consuming the massive culture phenomenon and community that is Star Wars it is hard not to feel as though you are truly caught up in the magical force. So this Sunday, no matter if you celebrate with full cosplay, a movie marathon, or just a tweet, I hope that this magical force may be with you.

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If you like Troy’s thoughts on Star Wars you may also like his academic perspective on nerd culture in articles such as The Magic Stars Wars Episode VII Needs to Recapture, How to Love Movies Kids Do, and his psychological analysis of the Fantasy Vessel Theory in movies.

5 Steps to Improving Your Understanding of Behavioral Economics

April 25, 2014 BY danariely

Imageby Troy Campbell

Today, many individuals, governments and businesses are eager to use behavioral economics to improve lives, happiness, and profits. So, how can one get a good beginning handle on behavioral economics? Reading up and taking a class can never substitute for years of education in the topic, but taking these five steps can help improve your general thinking, help you better communicate with behavioral experts, and help you develop an experimental mindset.

 

So what is behavioral economics? (A quick run down)

Behavioral economics, or behavioral sciences, applied psychology, business psychology, decision making, or whatever title you prefer, is the study of human irrationality, decision making, self-control, and emotions.

This past year has served as a symbolic victory for the field. Daniel Kahneman, widely considered the founder of the field, released the book Thinking, Fast and Slow and won the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in America, to go along with his International Nobel Prize. The United States government also opened a “Behavioral Insights” team with the goal of integrating behavioral research into government policy.

Behavioral science is becoming a staple in business and public policy. Energy companies use social comparison with neighbors to reduce energy consumption and businesses help people “save more tomorrow” by having them commit to automatic enrollment in the future. Rather than just assuming that people will save energy and manage their retirement with perfect rationality, behavioral economics accepts and defends the idea that people will not always be motivated by rationality or cash alone. Instead, it examines what actually motivates people.

Alright, so most likely you don’t have time to hire your own private behavioral insights team. So, what can you do? Here’s how to improve your understanding a little bit.

#1 Accept that humans are irrational.

ImageIn his book Critical Decisions, behavioral scientist Peter Ubel concludes that humans are neither completely rational nor completely irrational, but argues that people attempt to understand others logically far too often.

For instance, how many times have you tried to logically argue with a friend or co-worker? Did it go well? Probably not. Why? Because logic does not exclusively dictate human behavior. Emotions, self-control, and a person’s life history greatly influence behavior.

One big takeaway from behavioral science is that we must continually consider factors other than rationality that can influence people’s behavior. So step one: remember people are irrational and that logic alone will rarely win the day.

#2 Think about your own psychological quirks.

ImageOne of the best ways for us to recognize irrational behavior in others is to first recognize it in ourselves.

You may have noticed that you tend to be less rational when you’re tired. You may have noticed that you sometimes act with prejudice. For instance, just think of the last time you saw someone wearing a jersey from an opposing sports team. Did you automatically assume negative things of them? Understanding how you, (presumably) a good and sane person, can commit errors in judgment will allow you to see, understand, and empathize with others’ all too human behavior.

Starting to understand patterns of irrationality or imperfect decision-making can help you understand people’s “predictable irrationalities” – the ways in which people act predictably like humans rather than rational perfect machines.

#3 Watch science on TED.com.

ImageTED.com has a collection of behavioral economics talks, which are great for understanding the mindset of a behavioral scientist. The talks cover topics such as how to think about happiness, memory, honesty, or decision-making. Start with talks by Rory Sutherland, Daniel Kahneman, or the Center for Advanced Hindsight captain, Dan Ariely, and you will start to get into the mindset. From there, click the related videos. After a couple hours of those videos, you will be ready for some reading.

 

#4 Starting reading. And here’s what to start with.

ImageBooks – To begin, start with a hit from the behavioral sciences such as Thinking, Fast and Slow or Predictably Irrational. Books with fantastic prose from authors like Malcolm Gladwell are good to check out, but it is best to start with a book that intensely focuses on the research. This will help you build a solid foundation.

Online – Next follow a blog or twitter account from at least one of these behavioral experts: @Nudgeblog, @DanTGilbert, or @RorySutherland (there’s lots more but these are three random ones to give you a good start). By following the experts, you may also have access to occasional live twitter conversations between them — another entertaining way to learn. And, of course, follow the lab @advncdhindsight‎ and @DanAriely.

Local – Locate professors at your local university who conduct behavioral economics, social psychology, or decision-making research. Follow their blogs, check out their university talks, and even get some face time with them at local events. Academics are generally pretty open, so go spend time with them!

#5: How to read. – This one is important!

ImageDo not binge and forget. Instead, spread out your reading. Due to the availability bias in human reasoning, things that you learn and even know deep in your memory may not be “on top of the mind.” Just because you learned something once doesn’t mean you’ll be in the state of mind to always use that knowledge.

Reading a little but often keeps behavioral economics on the top of your mind. So, when you encounter a situation where someone is acting odd, the behavioral economist inside of you will always be primed and ready to interpret the situation.

 

A final reminder

However, we remind you that even a person with Ph.D in behavioral economics can’t always predict what exactly will happen. Science is about consist using hindsight to improve foresight. Not matter how much advanced hindsight you’ve paid attention to life, there can never be enough. That’s why it is also important to always put your hypotheses to a test. If your in a business try an experiment or use online survey polls (e.g. Mechanical Turk) to get some initial data or feedback. Thinking like a scientist means being comfortable with the fact you don’t know everything.

Those who realize how much they don’t know will end up knowing the most.

 

 

Duke Losing and the Joy of Underdogs

March 24, 2014 BY danariely

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I am a scientist and occasional season ticket holder at Duke. So on Friday, I was understandably sad with the Duke loss. But as I watched the rest of America celebrate on Twitter, I felt no anger toward everyone else’s joy. Because everyone else got to experience the same joy that I long to experience each time I watch a top seed (that isn’t Duke) playing a low seed. Like so many, I want to see the underdog win.

Because no matter whether you’re a punk or prep, a janitor or CEO, or work at Mercer or even Duke, at times you feel like an underdog. Maybe you’ve been given the lowest step on the economic ladder, maybe you’re a struggling artist, or maybe you’re a scientist battling to modernize research. At the end of the day, so many of us feel like underdogs and we want nothing more than to see another underdog succeed.

Luckily for us, we can count on the annual March Madness to provide a few underdog success stories. And then millions of us can flock to a momentary allegiance with a college we have to use Google Maps to locate. In the past it has been George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Butler, and this year we’ve momentarily been given quite a few more.

In America, especially compared to other countries, the underdog narrative is an honorable and relatable narrative. From the American patriots in 1776 to the George Mason Patriots in 2006, the story has always been part of this country’s culture.

From March Madness to Luke Skywalker, we Americans crave more and more stories about underdogs. We demand it in every fictional and nonfictional story. Even the more privileged characters in popular storylines, such as the elite James Bond or billionaire Tony Stark must at sometime become outcast underdogs. If they didn’t we wouldn’t relate to them. The narrative is so much a part of our culture that politicians are forced to conform to the underdog narrative, even if they really don’t fit it.

In fact, the narrative is so strong that Neeru Paharia of Georgetown University and colleagues named a psychological effect after it, simply naming it “The Underdog Effect.” They found that groups (e.g. companies or maybe even basketball teams) can gain goodwill from others when they present themselves as underdogs. This effect was stronger for people who personally related with the narrative and stronger in cultures where the narrative was more prevalent (e.g. America).

More than ever, today we need these stories. Many political pundits on both sides of the spectrum have argued that the hope of the American underdog dream is fading. For this reason we are desperate to keep this important hope alive. Believing that an underdog will win in Texas this year might be a good way to keep the flame of that hope burning.

If only for my sake, that hope didn’t require a Duke loss. Oh well. Time for me to start rooting for a school I know nothing about. I need to leave you all now. I’ve got some Google mapping to do.

~Troy Campbell~

 

The Starbucks Effect

March 18, 2014 BY danariely

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The Effect
When we order a fancy drink at Starbucks (or some fancier coffee house) with funny language, we believe we are sophisticated connoisseurs. But when others do the exact same thing, we just see them as annoying poseurs.

The Problem
But we don’t just believe we are hot stuff when we order at Starbucks, we also believe that other people will think we are hot stuff. This “self-serving” bias can be dangerous.

Across domains, people believe their dates will be won over by their charm, entrepreneurs believe investors will be won over by their ideas, and “connoisseurs” believe everyone will be won over by their “sophistication.”

It’s one thing to believe you are great, but it’s another thing to project your grand self-perceptions on the others’ perceptions of you. This is when biases can start to multiply and problems can go so awry. While this may not lead to tragic results in a Starbucks line, it can in love, politics, business, and academia.

~By M.R. Trower and Troy Campbell~

~Illustration by M.R. Trower~

4 Ways Freud Is Still Relevant

February 3, 2014 BY danariely
Illustration courtesy M.R. Trower.
Illustration by M.R. Trower, inspired by those classic 80s and 90s TV commercials

For better or worse, the man Sigmund Freud remains the image of psychology. Though over one hundred years have passed since Sigmund Freud started to unveil his ideas, YouTube’s insanely popular Crash Course YouTube series made Freud the near entire focus and image of their first psychology video to promote their new online psychology “crash course.”

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Should modern psychologists be angry about this?

Well maybe. Many modern psychologists have complained, and rightly so, that some of Freud’s ideas (even some of the obviously bad ideas he took back or eased up on) have remained popular amongst many people, academic departments (e.g. many humanities departments), and even therapists. However, we want to take a moment and comment that a lot of the best modern psychology is still rooted in a lot of Freudian ideas. And so maybe Freud as a mascot isn’t the best, but not completely terrible either. Because regardless of the flaws and floweriness of much Freudian psychology, there are many basic ideas that he “invented” and/or popularized that positively shape the current exploration of the human mind.

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Here are 4 positive ways Freud’s ideas live on in modern research.

Goals and Goal Conflict

Much of modern psychological research is about goals. In fact, in the eyes of many current psychological theorists a person can be best understood as a creature that pursues and manages goals.

Freud’s id-ego-superego theory was all about different goals and managing such goals. In Freudian theory, the id is our basic desires (food, sex, and video games), the super-ego is “anti-id” and focused on high desires (propriety, education, honor), and the ego is the man in the middle that is both separate from and part of the other parts. Current research on goal hierarchies, multiple goal pursuits, and the information signal model (the latter of which shows people more or less people lying to different parts of themselves) are very Freudian at their core.

Psychic Energies

Though it seems archaic to call the forces in the mind energies, it may not be far from the truth. Roy Baumeister and many other psychologists have discovered that one’s self-control is more or less a type of energy.

That is, one’s self-control can be depleted with too much use over too short of a period. It can be replenished (e.g. through relaxation, food, or positive moods). Furthermore, one’s self-control can expand. If one works at it, one’s self-control machine can gain, in a manner of speaking, a larger energy capacity. Roy Baumesiter even chose to call his theory of self-control depletion “ego-depletion” as a nod to Freud and the “energy” nature of it. One’s ego can get tired when it gets pulled in so many different ways (see title image).

Dual Attitudes

Research finds people have multiple attitudes toward the same thing and this often happens at the same time. Additionally, people can often hold conscious attitudes that differ from their automatic non-conscious attitudes. For instance people can have explicitly positive feelings toward an out-group (e.g. African Americans) but can hold unconscious biases against them. It all is very id versus superego like. And it is very important to recognize how unconscious tendencies influence behavior, especially when a majority of psychology and economics examine the human as always engaged in rational and conscious processing.

Unconscious desires

Let’s be honest, Freud went in some exaggerated and frankly wrong directions with the unconscious—especially when it comes to repression and repressed memories. However, Freud presented us with an important concept: our behavior may be guided by factors outside of conscious thought. Time and time again research has found that we are motivated by unconscious “thoughts” and we even pursue goals and experience emotions without awareness. And simply on a temporal level, neuroscience research shows that actions and decisions often occur before our awareness. The unconscious might not do everything Freud said it did. It might not be as full of repressions and daddy-mother issues, but it is just as powerful and important. And if it weren’t for Freud it would have been much longer before we realized that.

~Troy Campbell~

The Environment

December 2, 2013 BY danariely

Cookies

Let me set the scene: It’s midway through the annual Society for Judgment and Decision Making conference in Toronto. Inside a conference room, behavioral and health scientists passionately discuss how to help people make healthier decisions while the event staff set up a snack table with coffee and huge cookies outside.

The session ends and the scientists start to exit, and I wonder what will happen next—will these scientists who are so interested in promoting health eat the cookies?

The answer is a resounding “Yes!” Every cookie is gone within minutes (even the raisin ones).

How should we make sense of these scientists’ apparent hypocrisy? It may be hard to imagine, but scientists can have difficulty following their own goals, just like everyone else. Behavioral scientists don’t just study irrationality, but live with it, too. Despite our own efforts to live rational lives, we find ourselves choosing irrationally and failing like everyone else—and this can become a large inspiration for our research.

As researchers, we understand that we have troubles with email addiction, procrastination, and blind optimism.  We look at our own lives and say, “What could have helped me be more rational or what could have helped me exert more self-control?” At others times we ask ourselves, “What could have helped me relax more?”

Behavioral scientists should arguably be the most motivated to make healthy and rational choices, because we know the consequences of our actions all too well and are aware of the mistakes we make in pursuing our goals. Yet, we still do things like reach for the cookies we know we shouldn’t eat and constantly check our email, even though we know that such cognitive switching can greatly impair our work performance.

If all this education is not enough, then we need more than just lessons. That’s why we need research to develop technologies that aid us in self-control such as choice architecture, decision aids, better public policies, and general environmental design that enables better decisions.

Lab relaxes
So much of our work is done on couches.

At the Center for Advanced Hindsight, we make efforts to create a healthy and productive environment that can protect ourselves from ourselves. We try to keep the cupboards full of easily accessible health foods to protect us from our junk food temptations. We make public social pacts to protect us from our lazy temptations. We make the lab fun and even have the peace and simplicity of the Thinking & Dreaming room to keep us protected from our inefficient overworking temptations.

Today, there are way too many cookies outside of conference rooms. We must eliminate and reduce these cookies from our environments. Rather than act as individuals and fight with our current environments, we must work to create environments that help us be great individuals together.

~Troy Campbell~

Relevant Topical Readings.

Self-Control
Depletion
Cognitive Load
Public Policy and Behavioral Economics

7 ideas for a smarter Black Friday

November 27, 2013 BY danariely

Every day of the year, American shoppers act irrationally. On Black Friday, however, shoppers’ irrationality and wildness climb to dangerously high levels. Why does Black Friday lead shoppers to grab and fight, especially when the stakes are often as low as fifty percent off toasters?

Over the last few decades, social scientists have cataloged the many different factors that lead to irrational consumer behavior, and Black Friday touches on nearly that entire list.

Luckily though, if shoppers stay aware of how Black Friday is designed to make them irrational—and if they take breaks, eat snacks, plan ahead, and keep a clear mind—then they can avoid falling victim to the “holiday.”

Here are seven reasons shoppers become so irrational and committed to deals on Black Friday, as well as a few ways you can protect yourself.

#1
Black Friday is like a hazing ritual

Black Friday shoppers are dedicated—they sacrifice sleep, football games, and significant others’ approval to make the early bird sales.

When people go through pain and effort to reach a goal, then the goal actually looks more attractive in an attempt to justify the unpleasant struggle. Effects like this are common—think of brutal college hazing rituals, where new members commit more intensely to the group rather than turn away.

A shopper’s first sleepless Black Friday is like a hazing ritual that makes the deals seem that much more attractive—they must be worth it after all that effort.

#2
Shoppers are too “depleted” to be rational

People are vulnerable to irrational tendencies all the time, but they are at their most vulnerable when they’re tired and overwhelmed. Behavioral scientists call this state “depletion.”

In a state of depletion, people just don’t have enough willpower to resist temptation or the cognitive faculties to make complex decisions. Even math whizzes and businesses majors will falter when depleted.

Black Friday shoppers arrive sleep-deprived and stressed from the holidays. For companies, Black Friday can seem like taking candy from a baby. Only here the baby resists even less.

#3
What’s another $10 after the first $500?

It hurts to spend money. There’s pain in parting with $10 for a flash stick. However, after spending $899 on a TV, the pain one feels parting with a Hamilton for a flash stick is practically gone.

Restraint on Black Friday is even more unlikely because many shoppers tend to begin with the purchase of a large ticket item, like a TV or computer. After the big purchase, every $10 flash stick, $11 dollar t-shirt, or $13 kitchen knife, will not lead to the “pain of paying” that keeps people from buying every random thing on aisle during the other 364 days of the year.

Nobel Prize winners Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky explain that people are initially “loss averse”: initially people really do not like losing money. However, once people start losing money, their aversion to losing money starts to go away. Accordingly, cautious spenders can quickly become big spenders.

#4
The shopping momentum phenomenon

Ever thought your friends turn into entirely different people when they go shopping? Well, scientific research suggests that indeed shopping does change people.

Yale consumer researcher Ravi Dhar and colleagues find we are in a careful “deliberative” mind-set before purchasing an item—carefully weighing the pros and cons. Yet after the first purchase, a floodgate of “shopping momentum” opens up, and we make purchases more readily after.

Fortunately, the phenomenon of “shopping momentum” can be interrupted by a break in shopping. However, on frantic Black Friday breaks rarely occur, so shopping momentum is likely to persist for hours, if not the entire day.

#5
The Halo Effect — Amazing By Association

One problem for shopper rationality is that the amazing door buster deals on Black Friday may create a “Halo Effect” such that even the bad deals seem amazing by association.

Black Friday shoppers are better off thinking of Black Friday as a day that has both good and some bad deals. Not every sale is a bargain.

#6
Black Friday requires math skills many consumers don’t have

To distinguish the good from the bad deals, it takes a little bit of math. But research shows many adult Americans lack the basic math skills necessary to evaluate the merits of a deal. For instance, many Americans don’t know that 10 percent of 1,000 is 100 or that 1/4 is larger than 3/20.

Many Americans have what is known as “low numeracy” which means missing questions that national standards say elementary children should know. Are shoppers smarter than a 5th grader? Most often, the answer is no.

If shoppers don’t have the math skills, they are likely to get swept up in Black Friday. Shoppers without strong math skills  should feel encouraged to bring along  a friend who does, or even utilize smart phone applications that allow for better product evaluation.

#7
There’s no guilt when everybody’s doing it

Businesses want Black Friday to be crowded. Not just because they want lots of wallets, but because crowds change people. In the case of Black Friday, crowds can remove all sense of guilt.

Few shoppers feel guilty buying another half-off toaster when the customers next to them have flat screens in their carts. When everybody’s peers are doing it and some peers are “doing it worse,” the painful experience of parting with money becomes a joyous spending spree.

Indeed, research on “social influence” finds that the examples of others can drive people to irrational and even unethical behavior.

Final Reminders

Don’t get too tired. Use a calculator. Decide what you want ahead of time. And don’t get brainwashed. Yes, Black Friday is fun. Yes, Black Friday is a day of great deals. But Black Friday is also a trap that’s very easy to fall into. Happy and responsible shopping everyone!

~Troy Campbell~

Categorical Thinking: Why Close Things Seem So Far Away

April 15, 2013 BY danariely
This week Troy visits the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and examines how thinking in categories can lead people to have less fun and make potentially dangerous mistakes.
To read more on this topic of research see the original “Border Bias” paper and  categorical research by Norbet Schwarz and colleagues.
(See the original post on the People Science Blog)

Why we need underdogs in March Madness

March 21, 2013 BY danariely

george mason images

Every year, March Madness gives us an underdog story and millions flock to a momentary allegiance with a college they could not locate on a map. In the past it has been George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth University and Butler, and this year we eagerly await a new momentary hero.

So why do we love underdogs?

Well, no matter whether you are Republican or Democratic, work for Microsoft or Apple, or are a janitor or CEO, you most likely see yourself as somewhat of an underdog.

In America, especially compared to other countries, the underdog narrative is an honorable and respectable narrative. From the American patriots in 1776 to the George Mason Patriots in 2006, the Cinderella story, as it is specifically called in the NCAA tournament, has always been an attractive one.

So with underdogs you have 1) a narrative people like and 2) a narrative people see themselves in. Is it any wonder people want to cheer for underdogs? It’s like cheering for yourself.

These serve to energize us with the hope that people like ourselves can do anything. People like to believe that those above us aren’t that great after all, and that people like us are just as good, if not better than the people in power.

In fact, the narrative is so strong that Neeru Paharia, of the Harvard Business School, and colleagues named a psychological effect after it, simply “the underdog effect.” They found that companies gain goodwill from consumers when companies present themselves as a group that has overcame disadvantages through sheer determination. This effect was stronger for people who personally related with the narrative and stronger in cultures (e.g., America) where the narrative was more prevalent.

This narrative dominates American culture not only in sports but in all other popular media. From Luke Skywalker to Cinderella, Americans crave stories about underdogs. Even the more privileged characters in storylines, such as the elite James Bond or billionaire Tony Stark, end up in situations where they must overcome disadvantages through sheer determination.

Even politicians are forced to conform to the narrative, regardless of reality. This is a challenge that proved difficult for Mitt Romney and may have greatly have hurt his campaign.

The underdog narrative doesn’t only sell fiction, politics and sports, it also sells nonfiction books in my field of social science. The nearly unparalleled success of Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” owes a lot of that success to the intuitive appeal of his “10,000 hours doctrine.” Gladwell concludes that if someone spends 10,000 hours at something they can become an expert, implying to readers (who don’t carefully read Gladwell’s other more nuanced chapters) that they can make it just by trying hard.

Hip Hop artist Macklemore of the “Thrift Shop” fame even opens his chart-topping first album with a song called “Ten Thousand Hours.” He directly references Gladwell’s name in the song, chants “Ten thousand hours, felt like thousands hands, they carry me,” and then raps “Take that system!”

Oddly enough, many political pundits on both sides of the spectrum have argued (mostly for political reasons) that such a dream is fading in America. But psychological research shows that when beliefs we value are threatened, we try to find ways to defend such beliefs and keep the belief alive. Believing that an underdog will win in Atlanta this year might be a good way to keep alive that wonderful American underdog dream.

This article was originally published in the Providence Journal and can be read here.

~Troy Campbell~

Are Wii U Prices Manipulating Shoppers' Psychology?

December 3, 2012 BY danariely

The pricing structure of Nintendo’s Wii U could manipulate shopper psychology via the decoy effect (see here and here for more on the effect).

The Wii U is mainly available in two forms: a $350 Deluxe version and a $300 Basic, and without a doubt the $350 deluxe is a much better deal for most shoppers..

The decoy effect is a psychological bias in which the valuation of an option in a choice set increases with the introduction of an option that is directly inferior to a specific option in the choice set.

In the case where the choice set is a video game console, and the Basic version is a directly inferior option to the Wii U Deluxe, the Deluxe option shines in comparison. This may lead consumers to overvalue the Wii U Deluxe, both in general and as compared to other console options (e.g. an X-Box Bundle).

Might Nintendo be purposefully using the decoy effect to boost holiday sales? Maybe. However, regardless of the intention, the Wii U pricing structure may lead shoppers to buy the Wii U Deluxe this holiday season – a decision they may not have made if the Wii U Basic did not exist.

~Troy Campbell~