What Mentalism, Blue Apron, and The Ikea Effect have in common...

I am a lover of all kinds of magic, from big illusions where David Copperfield makes a sports car appear on stage to close-up sleight-of-hand where David Blaine makes a coin disappear right under your nose.  But mentalism has always held me in a strong attraction, there's just something about the psychological illusion of mind-reading someone's most intimate stories that holds me spellbound, especially when they're stories that require a little bit of effort from the audience to recall -> they often end up being a tremendously worthwhile journey for both them and me, when I'm able to tell them what stories they've chosen to remember.

 

Blue Apron.jpg

Leave your thoughts of mentalism for a minute, and indulge me while I share a personal anecdote with you.  A few months ago, I signed up for Blue Apron.  For those of you who don't know about it, Blue Apron is a meal subscription service where they send you all the ingredients of a recipe, and very good instructions for you to cook the dish from scratch.  For someone with a busy travel schedule like me, this is very helpful.  It saves me from having to decide what dishes to make, as well as saves me the time of grocery-shopping for ingredients.  I enjoy the immediacy of the experience, getting to learn different things in the process of cooking a new dish, from beginning to end.  The dishes often end up tasting very delicious, to both me, and Apollo, who's my faithful helper in the kitchen.  We end up feeling quite amazed not only at Blue Apron's ability to choose tasty recipes, but also our ability to cook such yummy meals.  For a while, I even started to think, "was I becoming a better cook, because I was cooking so many delicious things lately..."

It wasn't until the start of summer, when I began going to Ikea for some new outdoor furniture, and began helping Apollo assemble these furniture together, and again, admiring our work in the end -> that I remembered a little experiment on "The Ikea Effect", conducted by Michael Norton from Harvard Business School, Daniel Mochon from Tulane University, and Dan Ariely from Duke University (you can read their conclusions here).  

In the experiment, participants were asked to assemble Ikea furniture, fold origami, and build Lego sets.  They were asked to rate their products in comparison to experts' created products.  The resulted was that the participants often rated their products as high-quality as the experts, and expected others to do so.  The term, "Ikea Effect" describes a bias that many of us feel when we overvalue things that we help to partially create, (stemming from the psychological phenomenon of when Ikea buyers fall in love with furniture they've assembled).  

Daniel Mochon said in an interview with NPR: "Imagine that, you know, you built a table, maybe it came out a little bit crooked. Probably your wife or your neighbor would see it for what it is, you know? A shoddy piece of workmanship. But to you that table might seem really great, because you're the one who created it. It's the fruit of your labor. And that is really the idea behind the Ikea Effect."

"The fruit of my labor" = the key idea behind my delicious Blue Apron meals and the amazing mind-reading effects of mentalism where the audience has to put in a little bit of their own personal work.  

How about you?  Is there anything you may over-value because you help to co-create it?  


Do Your Choices Belong to You?

Thanks for visiting the blog.  In my performance, I use psychological illusions to read thoughts, influence actions and predict behaviors for entertainment purposes.  But these things happen frequently to all of us in our everyday life.  I wanted this blog to explore the means that shape our perception and behavior.  I thank you for reading and encourage you to share your thoughts and/or subscribe below.

In mentalism, predictions are a favorite among classic effects: the mentalist seems to be able to accurately guess what you’ll choose before you do so.  This can be presented in a couple of manners: classic mentalism presents it as a supernatural power to predict the future (although this presentation is getting less and less popular).  My favorite way to present this is to tell the audience what it really is: a combination of trickery and psychological nudges - guiding your decision making in a manner unbeknownst to you -> which brings us to an interesting question: “Do Your Choices Belong to You?”

Decisions: 

My partner-in-crime, Apollo Robbins, whose popular TV series Brain Games explored this concept in an entertaining clip:

I really like this clip because it concisely explains how the illusion of choice can happen swiftly under our radar.  However, as interesting as it may be to experience this “psychological nudge” in the entertainment arena, our ability to influence you to pick a color (in Apollo’s clip) or a random object (in my show) has little consequence in your daily life.  How about choices that really affect you?  Such as whether you’d like to donate your organs or the newspaper subscription on which you’d like to spend your money.

Default Popularity: 

You may have heard of the popularity of the default choice in decision making.  The theory is that when given a decision to make, our brains will prefer the path of least resistance, thus choosing the default choice.  This default popularity is so popular that Google has been known to pay Firefox an estimated $100 million a year to be the default search engine (read more about Google’s similar arrangements from Steve Lohr’s NY Times’s article here).  And Google is not the only fan of the default: in 2013 Apple launched iOS7 for its mobile phones and tablets.  With it came automatic app updates; the default position was that apps would now automatically update themselves unless the user actively asked them not to.

To Donate or Not to Donate:

Organ Donation Influence Ava Do Choice Architecture

If you're like me and think that default choosing is simplistic in principle and are still skeptical, let's explore more about how many of our decisions are really based on our preferences and how many depend on how our options are constructed.  In his successful TED talk, behavioral economist Dan Ariely gives the example of organ donation.  See the chart below:

Why do some countries rank so high on organ donation and others not?  Is it cultural?  What makes the difference then? It’s the wording of the question. In the willing countries, the question is worded so as to require one to check the box if one does NOT want to donate.

In the less generous countries, it’s the opposite. The question is worded so as to require one to check the box if one does want to donate.

 

From this example, it seems that we do really prefer to avoid the work of decision-making when possible, thus making the default option the ever reigning king of decisions.  

Choice Architecture - Designing Choices to Influence Consumer Behavior

As much as our decisions can be influenced to become prosocial behaviors, such as in the organ donation scenario, they can also be influenced by marketers to increase product purchases for companies.  While default options may be the most simple and popular approach of choice architecture, there are also other approaches.  One of my favorites is from Dan's book "Predictably Irrational" about the inclusion of an irrelevant choice can influence the customer to spend more. See this clever ad from The Economist Magazine for subscriptions.

The ad offered three subscription options:

Electronic Only: $59
Print Only: $125
Electronic and Print: $125

Which of these 3 choices do you think was most popular?  It's very unlikely that people would choose the “Print Only” option rather than opting for the additional “FREE!” electronic subscription?  In fact, Ariely conducted a test with 100 Sloan School students and only 16 chose “Electronic Only” while 84 chose the “Electronic and Print” option.  No one chose the “Print Only” option!  At first look, this option seems unimportant so we often don't even key it into our awareness.  So why do they offer it?   It turns out that something very interesting happens when this seemingly irrelevant option is eliminated.  When another 100 students were offered only two choices: “Electronic Only” and “Electronic and Print”, 68 chose “Electronic Only” while only 32 chose “Electronic and Print.”   The presence of an irrelevant option influenced a more than 250% increase in customers choosing the more expensive alternative. 

The Illusion of Choice

The subject of free choice and free will is a sensitive one, and most of us get a little uncomfortable thinking about how perhaps we don't have as much control over our decisions as we believe.  Are there more small and seemingly insignificant contextual details have a major impact on people’s behavior?  What do you think?

On Influence - "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride."

Thanks for visiting the blog.  In my performance, I use psychological illusions to read thoughts, influence actions and predict behaviors for entertainment purposes.  But these things happen frequently to all of us in our everyday life.  I wanted this blog to explore the means that shape our perception and behavior.  I thank you for reading and I encourage you to share your thoughts and/or subscribe below.

For our first post, I thought we might visit the ideas of  influence and persuasion, do you know the origin of the famous saying "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride"? 

Not surprisingly, it's been around since the 1920's.  Surprisingly, it came from an old Listerine advertisement to promote mouthwash by appealing to the socially embedded desire of young women to be married.  Here's a photo of the ad and the description:

  "Poor Edna was getting on for thirty and most of her girlfriends were either already married, or about to tie the knot. How she wished that, instead of being their bridesmaid, she could be the bride! However, any romance of hers invariably ended quickly. There was a reason. Unbeknownst to her, she suffered from bad breath and no one would tell her, not ever her closest friends.

 

"Poor Edna was getting on for thirty and most of her girlfriends were either already married, or about to tie the knot. How she wished that, instead of being their bridesmaid, she could be the bride! However, any romance of hers invariably ended quickly. There was a reason. Unbeknownst to her, she suffered from bad breath and no one would tell her, not ever her closest friends.

The advertisement sold millions of bottles of mouthwash and also gave the English language a new saying.  By spreading widely the now-popular saying: Listerine helped to cement the already-existing social expectation of marriage and commitment for women at that time.  Along with other similar gender role reinforcements, "always a bridesmaid" played a critical part in creating a foundation for our current social behavior.  For example, the average amount of money that brides spend on their wedding day is $27,021.  Forbes recently estimated the net worth of the wedding industry at 60 billion dollars.  "Always a bridesmaid...", a simple saying with interesting roots that has possibly sprung deep-rooted desires for young women to be brides, to avoid the judgement of being bridesmaids, being undesired and being secondary.

For me, it's been one of the greatest mentalism trick: advertisements that change the way we think and operate.  How about you? Any other favorite famous sayings that has been stemmed in advertisement that currently influences collective behavior?