Wednesday, January 17, 2018

If you want people to believe you - you must speak first.

Research tells us that we tend to believe the first thing that we hear about a subject, whether or not it is true.  It's part of the primacy effect. 

Then, once we believe something, we use selective perception to hear only new information that supports our beliefs, while blocking out additional information that does not. 

We do this to deal with the upset, known as cognitive dissonance, that occurs when we have a conflict between what we believe to be true and new information. 

Since cognitive dissonance creates such an uncomfortable feeling, we opt instead for denial.  How could something be true when it makes us feel bad?  Better to just ignore it and pretend. ( McLeod, 2014)

It makes perfect sense, but it does provide a significant challenge for people trying to change perceptions.

Consider Paul McCartney, who on October 22, 1969 appeared on the BBC to refute three years of rumors about his death.  He did so by paraphrasing a comment made by Mark Twain in 1897 when he faced a similar situation, saying: "The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated." 

Sadly, not everyone believed him. (Early, 2017)

McLeod, S. (2014) Cognitive Dissonance  Retrieved January 17, 2018, from

Early, C. (2017, May 12) October 22, 1969: Beatle Paul McCartney denies rumours of his own death.  Retrieved January 17, 2018, from

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Met (maybe) proves that words matter.

Last week the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that their $25 suggested admission price would be mandatory for non-New Yorkers.  Since they are dealing with a $15 million budget deficit they had to do something, but there's more to the story than that.

The museums original charter in 1893 mandated that "the public should be admitted free for at least 5 days a week and 2 nights," to the building, which the city owns.  A subsequent agreement between the city and the museum in 1970 allowed for a donation of a nominal amount from all visitors.

The rationale is that since the city owns the building and contributes $26 million to the annual budget, local visitors should get a break.  But, these days, 40% of visitors are from outside the US and an additional 24% are from outside NY state.  So that means only 36% of visitors are actually New Yorkers paying taxes to support the institution. (Deb, 2017)

It's also important to note that with this change, the city will be reducing their funding of the Met and reallocating the money to other less popular museums.  My guess is that this is the first step in transitioning the Met to a private non-profit partnership based on the Central Park Conservancy model.  It makes sense.  The Met is the fifth most popular museum in the world, so they can probably pull it off.

But back to the word change.  In 2013, a class action lawsuit was filed against the Met.  At that point the wording on their signs said: "Recommended Donation."   Settlement of the suit in 2016, resulted not in an end to the fee, but in a change in the way it was expressed.  Instead of "Recommended" the signs would be altered to read "Suggested." Changes were also made in the font size and placement of the words.

So how did these changes affect donations?  It's hard to say exactly since the only data that has been released is a comparison with 2005.  But in that time,  people paying the full admission price has declined from 63% to 17%. (Freeman, 2018)

The lawsuit got a significant amount of press, and travel apps now tell people all about free opportunities.  So those things no doubt contributed to the decline as well.

But at the end of the day, one has to believe that the word change played a significant part in the reduction of donations, proving that words do matter - perhaps more than we realize.  Choose yours with care.

Deb, S. (2017, May 14)  Would Fees at the Met Deter Visitors?  Retrieved January 10, 2018, from

Lam, K. & Behr, K. (2016, February 27) Met changes fee signs to 'suggest' $25 ticket, rather than 'recommend.'  Retrieved January 10, 2018, from

Freeman, N. (2018, January 4)  Met to Charge Mandatory $25 Admission Fee to Out-Of-Towners, Ending 'Suggested' Rates.  Retrieved January 10, 2018, from

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

If you tell a lie often enough people will think it's true.

Of all the things that I learned in 2017, this one surprised me the most.  Researchers call it the Illusory Truth Effect. 

The seminal study on the subject was done in 1977, so it's not exactly new news.  And, the basic effect has been studied and replicated dozens of times since then.  But the recent emergence of a variety of strong held beliefs based on falsehoods has led to people to take a closer look at the phenomenon.

The bottom line is that repetition of a statement makes it easier to process relative to new statements.  This leads people to the sometimes false conclusion that the initial statement is more truthful.  The more times something is repeated the more we perceive it as true.  Even if it isn't.  (Fazio, Brashier, Payne & Marsh, 2015)

Essentially what is happening is that we are mistaking familiar for true, because the more times we hear something the more comfortable we become with it.  Then our brains convince us to believe it is true because we feel it is true.  (Tsipursky, 2017)

Knowing all this I probably shouldn't have been surprised when I read last week that 44% of Republicans think Trump repealed Obamacare. (Kliff, 2017) 

And yet, I still was.

Fazio, L., Brashier, N., Payne, B., Marsch, E. (2015, August 24)  Knowledge Does Not Protect Against Illusory Truth.  Journal of Experimental Psychology. Retrieved January 3, 2018, from

Tsipursky, G. (2017, October 27)  A brain science expert explains how to deprogram truth-denying Trump supporters.  retrieved January 3, 2018, from

Kliff, S. (2017, December 27)  44 Percent of Republicans think Trump repealed Obamacare.  Retrieved January 3, 2018, from

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

If you want me to come to your restaurant tell me the cross street.

Last week, I wanted to go out to eat at a restaurant in Manhattan.  Should be easy to find one - right?  Not. 

As all students of marketing know, what makes decision-making hard is having too many choices.  And in Manhattan there are way too many restaurants to choose from.

But what made the process even more frustrating was the wealth of lousy websites out there.  I don't know what's worse, photos that fail to convey the tightness of the locations, or menus that don't download.  But what really makes me nuts is not including the cross street.

I don't get it.  How hard is it to add "between 42nd Street & 41st Street?"  Do they think for some reason that avenue addresses are classier?  More important?  If so, I can't imagine why.  And forcing me to go the extra step and goggle the street address in order to find the cross street is a losing proposition.  Most times I just move on.

But here's the thing.  It's not just me.  Including that cross street could make all the difference, and a map might be even better. 

In Howard Leventhal's seminal research about tetanus shots, follow-through increased by 28% when a map was added to the flier. 

Such a simple fix with such significant effects.  Hopefully the restaurants are reading this. 

Sethi, R. (2011, January 19)  5 fascinating experiments from the world of psychology and persuasion.  Retrieved December 27, 2017, from,