Saturday, July 04, 2009

** Drunkards Walk by Leonard Mlodinow

Life is random. Now you have proof. I always like to ponder that my existence has to do with the fact that the sperm on the left or right of the egg didn’t conceive first, otherwise someone else would’ve taken my place. So you are conceived in randomness, and it will rule your life from that moment on. You’d think that owing our existence to randomness would clue us into how to handle it and how to take advantage of it. But it turns out we’re pretty bad at dealing with random things. We always seek patterns, so we weave superstitions and ignore facts to buttress our delusions.

Maybe if I yell louder that will help?

Why do we think that yelling and getting mad at people improves performance, when all studies show that encouragement is the key to change behavior and train others, including animals? The answer lies in regression towards the mean… Here’s how it works in the example of fighter pilots… Any especially good or poor performance was mostly a matter of luck. So a landing far above his normal level of skill would mean that the odds are good that he would perform closer to his norm – that is worse – the next day. And if the instructor praised him, it would appear that the praise did no good. But if a pilot made an exceptionally bad landing, then the odds would be good that the next day he would perform closer to his norm – that is better. And if the instructor screaming ‘you clumsy ape’ when a student performed poorly, it would appear that this harsh criticism did some good. In this way an apparent pattern would emerge: student performs well, praise does no good; student performs poorly, instructor berates student, student improves. P8

When you put it that way it seems to obvious!

Which is greater? – The number of 6 letter English words having an N as their 5th letter OR 6 letter words ending in ING? Most people choose the ING option. Why? Because such words are easier to think of. But you don’t have to survey the dictionary to prove that guess wrong. The group of words ending in ING are contained in the group of words with N as the 5th letter. P28

The Greeks had math problems.

The order in which ones, tens, and hundreds didn’t really matter: sometimes all order was ignored. Finally, the Greeks had no zero. The concept of zero (really just the absence of a number) came to Greece when Alexander invaded the Babylonian empire in 331BC, but the idea of zero as we know it (anything multiplied by it equals 0 and anything added to it equals the number you started with), wasn’t introduced until 9th century by the Indian mathematician Mahavira. P30

And the Romans had Greek problems

The Romans generally scorned math, especially the math of the Greeks… A Greek textbook focused on the proof of congruences among abstract triangles, a typical Roman text focused on such issues as how to determine the width of a river when an enemy is occupying the other bank… The Romans didn’t produce even one mathematician. In Roman culture it was comfort and war, not truth and beauty, that occupied center stage. So while finding little value in abstract geometry, Cicero wrote that “probability is the very guide of life”. P31

Let’s examine DNA trial evidence:

The probability of a lab error is 1 in 100. The probability of someone else matching your DNA is 1 in 1 billion. That is given by our sum rule: the probability of an error is 1% + .000001%. That the latter is 10 million times smaller, we can just round this to 1%. Given both possible causes we should ignore the fancy expert testimony about the odds of accidental matches and focus on the lab error rate – the very data courts often don’t allow attorneys to present! P37

Does the best team always win the World Series?

If one team is good enough to warrant beating another in 55% of it matches, the weaker team will nevertheless win a 7 game series 4 times out of 10. And if the superior team could be expected to beat its opponent on average 2/3 of the time, the inferior team will still win a 7 game series about 20% of the time. In the lopsided 2/3 probability case, you’d have to play a series of 23 games to determine the winner with statistical significance, meaning that the weaker team has less than a 5% chance of winning the series. In the 55% probability, a tedious 269 games would be warranted. P71

Isn’t this a reality TV game show?

Everyone who plays pays a dollar. One will win a fortune, and one will be put to death in a violent manner. Would anyone play this game? Is this from ancient Rome? No, it’s called the California Lottery… Applying highway statistics, many millions of contestants drive to and from their local ticket vendors to purchase tickets, and a reasonable estimate is that 1 of them will die in an accident per game. P78

Would you believe it?

A faithful husband, with a great job, and charming daughter, one day discovers that he is missing something in his life. One night as he returns home he spots a beautiful woman gazing with a pensive expression out the window of a dance studio. Each night as his train passes her studio, he falls further under her spell. Finally, one evening, he impulsively rushes off the train, and signs up for dance lessons, hoping to meet the woman. He finds that his haunting attraction withers once his gaze from afar gives way to face to face encounters. He does fall in love, however, not with her but with dancing. He keeps this new obsession from his wife and colleagues. Eventually his wife discovers he’s not working late. She figures the chances of his lying about after work activities is far greater if he’s having an affair than if he isn’t, so she concludes he is. But the wife is mistaken not just in her conclusion, but in her reasoning: she confused the probability that her husband would sneak around IF he were having an affair with the probability that he is having an affair IF he was sneaking around. P107

This makes no sense whatsoever until you read it

What is the probability of a family having 2 daughters if you are told that one of the children is a girl? It’s 1/3 because this additional fact eliminates the possibility of the family having 2 boys, so the only remaining combinations are (girl, boy), (boy, girl), and (girl, girl). So (g,g) is 1 out of 3. Simple really. Now, what is the probability if I tell you instead that the family has a daughter named Florida? Would you believe it improves to 1 in 2? Take a seat, this is complicated. First, there’s only a 1 in a million chance that a family has girl named Florida. And thus you can assume that the family will not name 2 daughters Florida. So now the combinations become (boy, girl named Florida – girl F), (boy, girl-NotF), (girl-NotF, girl-F), (girl-F, girl-NF). Of these 4 possible combinations, 2 have 2 girls, or 50%. P113

Don’t freak out – yet.

If you take an HIV test with 1 in 1000 false positive rate, and you come out positive, is it time to panic because the chances are 999 out of 1000 that you’ll be dead from this disease? Not quite yet… Assume that only 1 in 10,000 heterosexual, non IV drug using males is infected in the general population, and a false negative rate of 0 (that means if you do have HIV the test doesn’t miss it). This means that 1 in 10,000 will test positive. And in addition, since the false positive rate is 10x higher, there are 10 others who are not infected who will test positive as well. So now you’ll have 11 positives of which 10 are false. So the chances are really only about 9% not 99.9%. Make sure to demand a 2nd test to confirm. P116

Urine testing for performance enhancing drugs for Olympic athletes has a 1% false positive rate. This probably makes many people comfortable that an athletes chance of guilt is 99%, but as we have seen that is not true. Suppose you test 1000 athletes. 1 in 10 is guily (doing the drug), and the guilty had a 50/50 chance of the drug being revealed in the test. Then for every 1000 athletes, 100 are cheating, the test would find 50 of them. Meanwhile, the other 900 who are not cheating, 9 of them will be found positive falsely. So the chance of guilt is not 99% but only 50/59=84.7%. p118

The nose knows not

Hold a chunk of horseradish under your nose, and you’d probably not mistake it for a clove of garlic or the inside of your sneaker. But if you sniff clear liquids, all bets are off. In the absence of context, there’s good chance you’d mix up the scents. At least that’s what happened when researchers presented experts a series of 16 random odors: the experts misidentified about 1 out of 4 scents. P133

Another reason to stick with beer
Given all these reasons for skepticism regarding wine experts discrimination, one method to test an expert is the wine triangle; each expert is given 3 wines, 2 of which are identical. The mission is for them to choose the odd one out. In a 1990 study, the experts could do this only 2/3 of the time. P133

A 1000 fallen 9/11 victims whom we’ve not recognized

After 9/11/01, when travelers were afraid to take airplanes, their fear translated into about 1000 more highway fatalities. The hidden casualties from the 9/11 attack. P159

Researchers concluded: “That people have a very poor conception of randomness; they don’t recognize it when they see it and they can’t produce when they try.” And we routinely misjudge the role of chance in our lives and make decisions that are demonstrably misaligned with our own best interests. P174

Since there’s no difference, why have one?

A Columbia/Harvard study of large corporations whose bylaws made them vulnerable to shareholders’ demands that they respond to rough periods by changing management. They found on avg that in 3 years after firing there was no improvement in operating performance. No matter what the difference in CEOs ability, they were swamped by the effect of the uncontrollable elements of the system. P188

How to avoid confirmation bias

The human brain evolved to be very efficient at pattern recognition, but the as the confirmation bias show, we are focused on finding and confirming patterns rather than minimizing our false conclusions… We should spend as much time looking for evidence that we are wrong as we spend on searching for reasons that we are correct. P191

Get out there, and get lucky

In the real world, if several similar sized firms entered a market, small fortuitous events – unexpected orders, chance meetings with buyers, managerial whims – would help determine which one received early sales and over time, which came to dominate. Economic activity by individual transactions that are too small to forsee, and these small random events could accumulate and become magnified by positive feedback over time. P204

There are many high quality but unknown books, singers, actors, and what makes one or another come to stand out is largely a conspiracy of random and minor factors – that is luck. In this view, traditional media executives and talent hunters are just spinning their wheels. And thanks to the internet this has been tested… Participants were divided into 8 separate ‘worlds’ and could only see the data on music downloads of the people in their own world. All artists in all 8 worlds began with 0 downloads… If the deterministic view is true, the same songs ought to have dominated in each of the 8 worlds, and popularity rankings in those worlds ought to have agreed with the intrinsic quality as determined by the isolated individuals. But researchers found exactly the opposite: the popularity of individual songs varied widely among the different worlds, and different songs of similar intrinsic quality also varied widely in their popularity. P206

Maybe the editors knew something that the prize committee didn’t?

The Times of London conducted an experiment. Its editors submitted typewritten manuscripts of the opening chapters of 2 novels that had won the booker prize to 20 major publishers. The submissions were made as if they were the work of aspiring authors, and none of the publishers appeared to recognize them. How did they fare? All but one of the replies were rejections. P215

** Buyology by Martin Lindstrom

Completing the recent trilogy on choice, decision and selection, Buyology reveals why we choose to purchase the things we do, even when we say we don’t like or if the product harms us (think fast food, cigarettes, alcohol). Using brain research, we learn what’s really going on inside that thick skull of our when were in our true habitat; the shopping mall. Did you buy any of that description?

And you thought smoking was a disgusting habit?

Nothing comes close to the cigarette warnings from Canada, Thailand, Australia and Brazil. They’re gorely forensically true to life, showing full color images of lung tumors, gangrenous feet and toes, open sores, mouth and throat cancers. You’d think that these graphic images would stop most smokers in their tracks… They don’t, in fact, they actually have no effect or increase smoking in smokers. [More later] p9

When 6 out of 10 doctors do it, it’s got to be good for you, right?

1.4 billion people use tobacco products today, including 1/3 of all adult males. In China, 60% of all male doctors smoke. P10

Baby face

As subject gazed as images of Mini Coopers, a discrete region in the brain that responds to faces came alive… The Mini Cooper registered in subjects brains as an adorable face. This explains its appeal. P32

Within 1/7 of a second upon viewing a facial picture, a spike in activity occurred in an area linked to the detection of rewarding stimuli. In other words, brains seemed to identify infant’s faces as somehow special. P32

6 years down the drain

By the time we reach 66, most of us will have seen 2 million TV commercials. Time wise, that’s the equivalent of watching ads for 8 hours straight 7 days a week for 6 years. P37

Location, Location, Location

Cokes product placement in American Idol had not only increased response to subjects memories for their brand, but actually had inhibited the recall of the unbranded logos. In other words, subject’s memories for the branded logos, like Coke and Cingular, had crowded out memories of the unbranded ones, such Pepsi and Verizon. P49

Results revealed that we have no memory of brands that don’t play an integral part of the storyline of a program. They become white noise, easily, instantaneously forgotten. P50

Products that play an integral part in the narrative of a program – like Coke – are not only more memorable, they even appear to have a double barreled effect. They increase our memory of the product, and weaken our ability to remember the other brands. P51

It’s called karma

Pain related neurons in both male and female brains lit up in empathy when noncheaters (in a game) experience a shock. But when cheaters were shocked, the male subjects’ brains not only showed less empathy, their reward centers actually lit up. P57

When a woman views a shapely mannequin or model who looks great – slim, sexy, confident, relaxed and appealing – subconsciously she thinks I could look like that too if I just bought that outfit… This is because of your mirror neurons – that help us tune into one another’s feelings and responses – so we can experience what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes (or outfit). P59

Cool is in the genes

Scientists have found an area in the brain that is activated when we see products we think are ‘cool’, and this area is associated with self perception and social emotions… So that slinky Prada dress or shiny new Ferrari might be just what we need to attract a mate who could possibly end up carrying on our genetic line or providing for us for life. P64

Are you strong enough to resist Abercrombie and Fitch?

Abercrombie and Fitch positions large blow up posters of half naked models just inside their doors. Not only that, they hire actual models, attired in A&F clothes, to hang out in front of the store in groups… Let’s say you’re a socially uncertain 14 year old. As you pass the store, your mirror neurons fire up. You can imagine yourself among them: popular, desired, at the center of it all… You can’t help it, you go into the store. The place is designed like a dark, noisy nightclub, and the people working there are just as sinuous as the models – and they offer to help YOU… You inhale the characteristic A&F fragrance – and before you’ve even tried on a single item, your brain is sold. P65

Subliminal works better for taboo

When researchers imaged the brains of smokers by showing them logos of cigarettes, and subliminal images associated with smoking without having cigarettes or brands present (to comply with advertising prohibitions against cigarettes), they found more activity in reward and craving centers when subjects viewed the subliminal images than the overt images… One reason for the stronger response to subliminal imagery, is that the smokers weren’t consciously aware that they were viewing advertising, and as a result they let their guard down… Tobacco companies have succeeded in bypassing gov’t regulations by creating stimuli powerful enough to replace traditional advertising. P84

What are the least powerful ads in prompting you to smoke? Ad without warning disclaimers. Followed by ads with warnings disclaimers. More powerful still was the subliminal imagery, particularly the association with formula 1/NASCAR racing. P86

Ancient Mexican ritual revealed

The Corona with lime ritual was invented on a whim by a Chicago bartender in 1981 who popped a lime wedge into the beer on a random bet during a slow night. P89

Painting by the numbers; how to raise a family

In families with predictable routines, children had fewer respiratory illnesses, better overall health, and they performed better in elementary school. Rituals have a greater effect on emotional health, and that in families with strong rituals adolescents ‘reported a stronger sense of self, couples reported happier marriages, and children had greater interaction with their grandparents.’ P92

Oh, I’m not superstitious

On Friday 13th in 2007, the number of car accidents shot up 51% in London, and 32% in Germany – most likely due to drivers’ heightened anxiety about unlucky date. P95

In California, heart attacks among Chinese descendants spiked 13% on the 4th day of every month. In China, the unluckiest number is 4 since it sounds like death in Mandarin. P96

The new religion

Researchers discovered that when people viewed images associated with strong brands – iPod, Ferrari, Coke – their brains registered the exact same patterns of activity as they did when they viewed religious images. P125

The new gods

Sports imagery didn’t elicit quite as strong an emotional response as strong or weak brands. However exposure to sports stars did activate the part of our brains associated with our sense of reward in way similar to religious icons... This makes intuitive sense. When we’re thinking about whether or not to buy a new dress, a TV, a camera, our brains summon up all kinds of info about the product – and make decision accordingly. When it comes to sports, there’s little fact finding; we root for the team we like because we just do. We believe in the religion we like, because we just do. P125

½ of what you buy you don’t set out to

Researchers have found that over 50% of all purchasing decisions are made spontaneously – and therefore unconsciously – at the point of sale. P130

So if they don’t work, why do they exist?

During a virtual stroll of Paris while wearing a brainscanners, volunteers viewed ads on billboards, bus stops, sides of buses to see which best got their attention. The results: none of them. All of the visual stimulation resulted in only glazed eyes, not higher sales. P142

Smellyvision; coming soon to Fox

Odor activates many of the same regions as does sight. If short, if you smell a doughnut, you’re likely to picture it in your mind… How can smell activate some of the same areas of the brain as vision? Chalk it up to mirror neurons. Thanks to these neurons, sound can evoke equally powerful visual images. P145

Soft as a baby’s bottom

What would you guess as the most recognized and best liked fragrances in the world? Chocolate? Lilac? Money? Try J&J baby powder…Chances are good that primal childhood associations will be registered in your memory from this odor. P146

Vanilla smells like what?

Some companies use the scent of vanilla to evoke childhood because it is a scent found in breast milk. Why do you think Coke chose to roll out Vanilla Coke? In fact, the scent of vanilla is so appealing, that when it was sprayed in a clothing store near Seattle, sales of women’s clothing doubled. P147

They should call it a fakery

Some supermarkets don’t even bother having a real bakery to lure shoppers into buying more. They just pump artificial fresh baked smell straight into the store aisles from ceiling vents. P149

Dead weight

I gave 100 consumers 2 Bang & Olufusen remote controls, one with aluminum inside and the other without. The immediate reaction to the lighter weight remote? “It’s broken”… Even they found out the lightweight one was completely functional, they felt its quality was inferior. P152

Beauty is skin deep; but it sells

Women choosing mayo jars were given a choice between a pear shaped container and a container that had a narrow middle. All diet conscious females choose the latter without even tasting the stuff. Why? The shape of the bottle was associated with an image of their own bodies, and what they want. P156

Don’t believe the mouth

SST brain scans showed that although subjects rated the unaired pilot of Quizmania as the show they were least likely to watch, viewer’s brains were actually more engaged than when watching the Swan, a show they had claimed to liked (and a show that flopped in reality). P175

More companies will be trading in their pencils for SST caps. Traditional market research – questionnaires, surveys, focus groups – will gradually take on a smaller role, and neuro marketing will become the primary tool. P176

If sex sells, what exactly does it sell? More sex it seems.

Subjects who were shown the sexually suggestive ads were no better able to recall the names of the brands and products they had seen than the subjects who viewed the unerotic ads… What’s more, the group that watched a sexually charged show, had worse recall of the ads – it seemed that their memory of the explicit commercials had been eclipsed by the sexual content in the show itself. The researchers concluded ‘that sex does not sell anything other than sex itself.’ P181

But they did remember the size of her bodacious, firm, shapely, round…

Men spent inordinate amount of time passing their mousse over the woman’s breasts. But in doing so, they largely bypassed the brand name, logo, and other text. The sexual material blinded them to all the other info… In fact, only 9.8% of the men were able to remember the correct brand, compared to almost 20% of men who viewed non-sexual ads. For women – only 10.85% remembered correctly for sexual ads, vs. 22.3% for non-sexual. P182

Love really does conquer all; including sex

The more provocative and sexual the women rated the model’s expression and attire, the more bored or disinterested the women were by the ad. The more wholesome, natural, and unmade up, and clothed the model was, the more positive thee women’s reactions. Nearly twice as many people (53% vs 26%) were more likely to buy the product if it showed images of love rather than sex. P187

The plain truth

Why do we respond more favorably to real or ordinary people? It’s tied to our desire for authenticity. When we see supermodels, we intrinsically feel that whatever they claim about the product is phony. P189