Tag: Psychology

The Best Books on The Psychology Behind Human Decision Making and Irrationality

**reader suggestions are at the bottom***

This is a great way to build your antilibrary.

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
Mentioned by many others. Outstanding experimentally-driven analysis of human irrationality.

Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
Great book that explains the disproportionate impact that initial conditions (priming, anchoring, etc.) have on our decision making.

Stumbling Toward Happiness, by Dan Gilbert
Very engaging book, focusing mostly on how we go awry when we try to make decisions based upon our recollection of past events or beliefs about how we will feel in the future. (I also really enjoyed Haidt’s Happiness Hypothesis, though it’s less focused on decision making than this book is.)

Sway: The Irresistable Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori and Rom Brafman
Essentially, a quicker and more anecdotal version of Predictably Irrational.

Robert Axelrod’s, The Evolution of Cooperation (game theory & cooperative behavior)

Buyology by Martin Lindstrom

The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Fooled by Randomness by Nassim NicholasTaleb

Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

The Psychology of Human Misjudgment by Charlie Munger

The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making by Scott Plous

Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

Seeking Wisdom by Peter Bevelin

Turning Numbers into Knowledge: Mastering the Art of Problem Solving

How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of “Intangibles” in Business

A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

Your Are Not So Smart, David McRaney

On Being Certain by Robert Burton
A fascinating account of the neuroscience behind the feeling of “rightness” we get when we make decisions.

That’s an interesting list. I’d add:

Thinking and Deciding by Jonathan Baron, a recommendation from Nassim Taleb.

Judgment in Decision Making

Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions

Choices Values & Frames

Problem Solving, Decision Making, and Professional Judgment: A Guide for Lawyers and Policymakers

***Reader suggestions (Thanks!).***

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
Why do people dodge responsibility when things fall apart? Why the parade of public figures unable to own up when they screw up? Why the endless marital quarrels over who is right? Why can we see hypocrisy in others but not in ourselves? Are we all liars? Or do we really believe the stories we tell?

How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life
When can we trust what we believe – that “teams and players have winning streaks”, that “flattery works”, or that “the more people who agree, the more likely they are to be right” – and when are such beliefs suspect? Thomas Gilovich offers a guide to the fallacy of the obvious in everyday life.

Decision Traps: The Ten Barriers to Decision-Making and How to Overcome Them
Two experts in business management show how to avoid the ten common pitfalls that ensanre decision makers. The very latest research in the fields of business and psychology has been distilled into practical training methods that will save readers from ever making a bad decision again.

The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us
Reading this book will make you less sure of yourself—and that’s a good thing.

The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
With the born storyteller’s command of narrative and imaginative approach, Leonard Mlodinow vividly demonstrates how our lives are profoundly informed by chance and randomness and how everything from wine ratings and corporate success to school grades and political polls are less reliable than we believe.

The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life
In his bold new work, prominent biological theorist Robert Trivers unflinchingly argues that self-deception evolved in the service of deceit—the better to fool others. We do it for biological reasons—in order to help us survive and procreate. From viruses mimicking host behavior to humans misremembering (sometimes intentionally) the details of a quarrel, science has proven that the deceptive one can always outwit the masses. But we undertake this deception at our own peril.

Poor Charlie’s Almanac

The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement
Brooks turns to the building blocks of human flourishing in a multilayered, profoundly illuminating work grounded in everyday life.

Source: Quora

Viktor Frankl — Why to Believe in Others

“If we take man as he is, we make him worse,
but if we take him as he should be,
we make him capable of becoming what he can be.”


In this rare clip from 1972, legendary psychiatrist and Holocaust-survivor Viktor Frankl delivers a powerful message about the human search for meaning — and the most important gift we can give others.

Still curious? From Frank’s book, Man’s Search For Meaning, details his struggle to survive Auschwitz.

Would you choose to live or die?
What’s the one thing that can never be taken from you?

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think will change the way you think about your next meal.

According to eating behavior expert Brian Wansink the mind makes food-related decisions, more than 200 a day, and many of them without pause for actual thought. In Mindless Eating, Wansink argues that we don’t have to change what we eat as much as how we eat. Make no mistake, this isn’t a diet book.

Wansink says “This book is not about dietary extremism—just the opposite. It’s about reengineering your environment so that you can eat what you want without guilt and without gaining weight. It’s about reengineering your food life so that it is enjoyable.”

The research summaries are entertaining. Take the study of how much people ate when their plates were literally bottomless. “It seems,” Wansink writes, “that when estimating almost anything—such as weight, height, brightness, loudness, sweetness, and so on—we consistently under-estimate things as they get larger.”

“While most Americans stop eating when they’re full, those in leaner cultures stop eating when they’re no longer hungry.” Not only that, unlike our (leaner) European friends, we tend to have bigger package sizes (and bigger kitchens), which means we end up eating (or pouring) more — “Because big packages (like big portions) suggest a consumption norm—what is appropriate or normal to use or eat.”

The problem is we’re all tricked by our environment. We think others could be fooled by something as simple as a bigger plate, but we never think we are fooled. That is what gives mindless eating so much power over us—we’re not aware it’s happening. Wansink’s approach is to change the environment.

Wansink believes that warehouse clubs are bad for our health. He also explains why you should leave empty wine glasses on the table, why Cinnabon stores are positioned beside stores that don’t sell food, how Subway is bad for your health, and why you should be the last person to start eating.

Check out this five-minute interview of Wansink.

“Regardless of how well we think we are tuned into our eating decisions, we will serve 25% to 35% more on a larger plate than a smaller plate.” Don’t think it makes a difference? 150 extra-calories a day is up to 15 pounds a year.

Interested in learning more? Check out Mindless Eating and this link on Why We Get Fat.

Situations Matter

“We’re easily seduced by the notion of stable character.
So much of who we are, how we think, and what we do is
driven by the situations we’re in, yet we remain blissfully unaware of it.”

— Sam Sommers


Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World

Situations Matter is an excellent book that should give you a leg up in life.

One of the lessons of modern psychological research is that ‘the situation’ we find ourselves in influences us. If you’ve ever wondered about why you are not as independent-minded as you think or about the difference between men and women this is a great book.

A summary paragraph:

So much of how we see and interact with the social universe around is shaped by our immediate context. … seemingly trivial aspects of daily situations determine whether we keep to ourselves or get involved in the affairs of others, whether we follow a group or stake out on an independent path, why we’re drawn to certain people and away from others.

As Sam Sommers points out, “once you start paying attention to situations there’s no going back.” Sommers argues, “People are easy to see. They’re tangible. Context is harder: it’s an abstract, nebulous concept, a backdrop that can be downright invisible. Precisely because situations are difficult to see, effort is required to recognize their influence.”

Herbert Simon on the Distinction Between What is Legal and What We Will Tolerate

You’d break the law. In fact most of us would. How can I say this with near certainty? Because if you were put in a position where the ends justified the means, the means would become acceptable.

The person who steals bread so his starving child can eat is an easy one to sympathize with. While illegal, most of us understand and even tolerate this petty behaviour.

However, would we tolerate bigger transgressions? For the answer to this question we turn to Nobel Prize winning social scientist Herbert Simon. Simon’s contributions to our growing repository of wisdom include why the principles of good management are not often followed, the role of intuition in experts, and why organizational planning is doomed to failure.

In his autobiography Models of My Life, Simon touches on the difference between what a society will tolerate and its laws.

A revolution aims at bringing about fundamental changes in institutions by employing illegal tactics. What is legal and what a society will tolerate are distinct. When there is sympathy for ends, illegal means may become acceptable and the laws against them unenforceable.

Fundamentally we seem to believe that if the means warrant the ends, they will be accepted. Killing to overthrow a dictator, which is obviously against the law, becomes acceptable at a certain point if the dictator is too horrible. The question of when it becomes acceptable, however, while easily distinguishable for the edge cases, becomes grey in the middle.

Simon continues:

If a revolution aims at overthrowing an entire legal system, the role of the illegal action is to arouse an already sympathetic population; to goad the defenders of the legal system to severity that will arouse additional sympathy; to demonstrate strength, hence to reduce fear fo the authorities and to increase fear of the revolutionaries; and finally to seize weapons and strong points. When people no longer believe that the existing laws can be enforced, the first half of the revolution has been won. There remains the task of securing for it the “right” party. This has been the common point of failure for the moderates.

There are also situations where the laws are better than what the government will enforce. Something to think about.

Create Advertising That Sells


How to Create Advertising That Sells

By David Ogilvy

Ogilvy & Mather has created over $1,480,000,000 worth of advertising, and spent $4,900,000 tracking the results. Here, with all the dogmatism of brevity, are 38 of the things we have learned.

1. The most important decision. We have learned that the effect of your advertising on your sales depends more on this decision than on any other: How should you position your product? Should you position Schweppes as a soft drink – or as a mixer? Should you position Dove as a product for dry skin or as a product which gets hands really clean? The results of your campaign depend less on how we write your advertising than how your product is positioned. It follows that positioning should be decided before the advertising is created. Research can help. Look before you leap.

2. Large promise. The second most important decision is this: what should you promise the customer? A promise is not a claim, or a theme, or a slogan. It is a benefit for the consumer. It pays to promise a benefit which is unique and competitive, and the product must deliver the benefit you promise. Most advertising promises nothing. It is doomed to fail in the marketplace. “Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement” – said Samuel Johnson.

3. Brand image. Every advertisement should contribute to the complex symbol which is the brand image.Ninety-five percent of all advertising is created ad hoc. Most products lack any consistent image from one year to another. The manufacturer who dedicates his advertising to building the most sharply defined personality for his brand gets the largest share of the market.

4. Big ideas. Unless your advertising is built on a BIG IDEA, it will pass like a ship in the night. It takes a BIG IDEA to jolt the consumer out of his indifference – to make him notice your advertising, remember it and take action. Big ideas are usually simple ideas. Said Charles Kettering, the great General Motors inventor: “This problem, when solved, will be simple.” BIG SIMPLE IDEAS are not easy to come by. They require genius – and midnight oil. A truly big one can be continued for 20 years – like our Eyepatch for Hathaway shirts.

5. A first-class ticket. It pays to give most products an image of quality – a first-class ticket. Ogilvy & Mather has been conspicuously successful in doing this – for Pepperidge, Hathaway, Mercedes Benz, Schweppes, Dove and others. If your advertising looks ugly, consumers will conclude that your product is shoddy and they will be less likely to buy it.

6. Don’t be a bore. Nobody was ever bored into buying a product. Yet most advertising is impersonal, detached, cold – and dull. It pays to involve the customer. Talk to her like a human being. Charm her. Make her hungry. Get her to participate.

7. Innovate. Start trends – instead of following them. Advertising which follows a fashionable fad or is imitative, is seldom successful. It pays to innovate, to blaze new trails. But innovation is risky unless you pre-test your innovation with consumers. Look before you leap.

8. Be suspicious of awards. The pursuit of creative awards seduces creative people from the pursuit of sales. We have been unable to establish any correlation whatever between awards and sales. At Ogilvy and Mather, we now give an annual award for the campaign which contributes the most to sales. Successful advertising sells the product without drawing attention to itself, it rivets the consumer’s attention on the product. Make the product the hero of your advertising.

9. Psychological Segmentation. Any good agency knows how to position products for demographic segments of the market – for men, for young children, for farmers in the south, etc. But Ogilvy and Mather has learned that it often pays to position for psychological segments of the market. Our Mercedes-Benz advertising is positioned to fit non-conformists who scoff at “status symbols” and reject flim-flam appeals to snobbery.

10. Don’t bury news. It is easier to interest the consumer in a product when it is new than at any other point in its life. Many copywriters have a fatal instinct for burying news. This is why most advertising for new products fails to exploit the opportunity that genuine news provides. It pays to launch your new product with a loud BOOM-BOOM.

11. Go the whole hog. Most advertising campaigns are too complicated. They reflect a long list of marketing objectives. They embrace the divergent views of too many executives. By attempting too many things, they achieve nothing. It pays to boil down your strategy to one simple promise – and go the whole hog in delivering that promise.

What Works Best In Television
12. Testimonials. Avoid irrelevant celebrities. Testimonial commercials are almost always successful – if you make them credible. Either celebrities or real people can be effective. But avoid irrelevant celebrities whose fame has no natural connection with your product or your customers. Irrelevant celebrities steal attention from your product.

13. Problem-solution (don’t cheat!) You set up a problem that the consumer recognizes. Then you show how your product can solve that problem. And you prove the solution. This technique has always been above average in sales results, and it still is. But don’t use it unless you can do so without cheating: the consumer isn’t a moron. She is your wife.

14. Visual demonstrations. If they are honest, visual demonstrations are generally effective in the marketplace. It pays to visualize your promise. It saves time. It drives the promise home. It is memorable.

15. Slice of life. These playlets are corny, and most copywriters detect them. But they have sold a lot of merchandise, and are still selling.

16. Avoid logorrhea. Make your pictures tell the story. What you show is more important than what you say. Many commercials drown the viewer in a torrent of words. We call that logorrhea, (rhymes with diarrhea.) We have created some great commercials without words.

17. On-camera voice. Commercials using on-camera voice do significantly better than commercials using voice over.

18. Musical Backgrounds. Most commercials use musical backgrounds. However, on the average, musical backgrounds reduce recall of your commercial. Very few creative people accept this. But we never heard of an agency using musical background under a new business presentation.

19. Stand-ups. The stand-up pitch can be effective, if it is delivered with straightforward honesty.

20. Burr of singularity. The average consumer now sees 20,000 commercials a year; poor dear. Most of them slide off her memory like water off a duck’s back. Give your commercials a flourish of singularity, a burr that will stick in the consumer’s mind. One such burr is the MNEMONIC DEVICE or relevant symbol – like the crowns in our commercials for Imperial Magazine.

21. Animation and cartoons. Less than five percent of television commercials use cartoons or animation. They are less persuasive than live commercials. The consumer can not identify herself with the character in the cartoon and cartoon’s do not invite belief. However, Carson-Roberts, our partners in Los Angeles, tell us that animation can be helpful when you are talking to children. They should know – they have addressed more than six hundred commercials to children.

22. Salvage commercials. Many commercials which test poorly can be salvaged. The faults revealed by the test can be corrected. We have doubled the effectiveness of a commercial simply be re-editing it.

23. Factual versus emotional. Factual commercials tend to be more effective than than emotional commercials. However, Ogilvy & Mather has made some emotional commercials, which have been successful in the marketplace. Among these are our campaigns for Maxwell House Coffee and Hershey’s Milk Chocolate.

24. Grabbers. We have found that commercials with an exciting opening hold their audience at a higher level than commercials which begin quietly.

What Works Best In Print?
25. Headline. On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. It follows that, if you don’t sell the product in your headline, you have wasted eighty percent of your money. That is why most Ogilvy and Mather headlines include the brand name and the promise.

26. Benefit in headlines. Headlines that promise to benefit sell more than those that don’t.

27. News and headlines. Time after time we have found that it pays to inject genuine news into headlines. The consumer is always on the lookout for new products or new improvements in an old product, or new ways to use an old product. Economists – even Russian economists – approve of this. They call it “informative” advertising. So do consumers.

28. Simple headlines. Your headline should telegraph what you want to say – in simple language. Readers do not stop to decipher the meanings of obscure headlines.

29. How many words in a headline? In headline tests conducted with cooperation from a big department store, it was found that headlines of ten words or longer sold more goods than short headlines. In terms of recall, headlines between eight and ten words are most effective. In mail order advertising, headlines between six and twelve words get the must coupon returns. On the average, long headlines sell more merchandise than short ones – headlines like our “At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.”

30. Localize headlines. In local advertising, it pays to include the name of the city in your headline.

31. Select your prospects. When you advertise your product which is consumed by a special group, it pays to flag that group in your headline – MOTHERS, BED-WETTERS, GOING TO EUROPE?

32. Yes, people read long copy. Readership falls off rapidly up to fifty words, but drops very little between fifty and five hundred words (this page contains 1,909 words, and you are reading it). Ogilvy & Mather has used long copy – with notable success – from Mercedes Benz, Cessna Citation, Merrill Lynch, and Shell Gasoline. “The more you tell, the more sell.”

33. Story appeal and picture. Ogilvy & Mather has gotten noticeable results with photographs, which suggest the story. The reader glances at the photograph and asks himself, “what goes on here?” Then he reads the copy to find out. Harold Rudolph called this magic element “story appeal.” The more of it you inject into your photograph, the more people look at your advertisements. It is easier said than done.

34. Before and after. Before and after advertisements are somewhat above average in attention value. Any form of visualized contrast seems to work well.

35. Photographs versus art work. Ogilvy & Mather has found that photographs work better than drawing – almost invariably. They attract more readers, generate more appetite appeal, are more believable, are better remembered, pull more coupons, and sell more merchandise.

36. Use captions to sell. On the average, twice as many people read the captions under photographs as read the body copy. It follows that you should never use a photograph without putting a caption under it; and each caption should be a miniature advertisement for the product – complete with the brand name and promise.

37. Editorial layout. Ogilvy & Mather has had more success with editorial layouts, than with “addy” layouts. Editorial layouts get higher readership than conventional advertisements.

38. Repeat your winners. Scores of great advertisements have been discarded before they have begun to pay off. Readership can actually increase with repetition – up to five repetitions.

Is this all we know?
These findings apply for most categories of products. But, not to all. Ogilvy & Mather has developed a separate and specialized body of knowledge on what makes for success in advertising food products, tourist destinations, proprietary medicines, children’s products – and other classifications. But, this special information is revealed only to the clients of Ogilvy & Mather.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out David Ogilvy’s books Confessions Of An Ad Man and Ogilvy on Advertising.

You do want to write better, don’t you? Try The Copywriter’s Handbook: A Step-By-Step Guide To Writing Copy That Sells.