Every now and again, a company will come up with a product "innovation" that seems to deprive people of their free will, driving great masses of internet users to look for Pokemon, or tend virtual farms, or buy now with one-click, or flock to Upworthy-style "You won't believe what happened next" stories, or be stampeded into buying something because there are "only two left" and "14 people have bought this item in the past 24 hours."
Read the rest
There's a wealth of psychological research that correlates wealthy people in the real world with negative traits like rudeness (people driving fancier cars are less considerate of pedestrians and their likelihood of cutting off another driver is correlated to the cost of the driver's car); greed (rich people take more candies out of dishes set aside for kids than poor people); generalized unethical behavior; cheating at games of chance; and overall stinginess.
Read the rest
MIT's How to Win at Texas Hold 'Em is a CC-licensed open course taught by Will Ma in 2016 and now free to watch online; the game is the perfect combination of psych and stats, and learning to play is a great way to improve your basic reasoning skills. (via Kottke)
Read the rest
McDonald's deploys a number of design tricks that are intended to tempt you to buying from its more expensive, higher-margin new menu: they're largely trivial and obvious (putting up big pictures of the menu items, animating the preferred menu-items to catch your eye), though sometimes the explanation for these rests in highly speculative accounts of the evolutionary pressures on early hominid (the idea that we are attracted to moving things because it helps us "spot predators" -- an evidence-free conjecture based on the imagined lives of our distant ancestors who left no record of their social conditions).
Read the rest
The basis for the health-insurance copay is that the 99% need to be disincentivized from "abusing" their health-care and going to the doctor for frivolous ailments (if this was really a thing, we'd have sliding-scale copays that charged rich people astounding sums to see the doctor, to ensure that everyone's incentives were properly aligned). Read the rest
"Willpower" began as an element of philosophical/theological arguments, used to explain riddles like how humans could commit sin even though they were created by a perfect, all-powerful god -- but it took on new meanings through the Enlightenment and then the Victorians imbued it with mystical, all-important significance, as a kind of synonym for morality and goodness. Read the rest
Teller, the silent half of the Penn & Teller magic act, explains seven cognitive biases that magicians exploit in order to "alter the perceptions" of their audiences and achieve impossible-seeming feats. Read the rest
Since the earliest days of ecommerce, analysts have predicted that retailers would use their estimations of their customers' willingness to pay to invisibly, instantaneously reprice their goods, offering different prices to each customer. Read the rest
You might think that when companies impose crappy, abusive terms of service on their customers that the market could sort it out, by creating competition to see who could offer the best terms and thus win the business of people fed up with bad actors. Read the rest
Any well-designed self-driving car will be at pains to avoid killing people, if only to prevent paperwork delays when they mow someone down. Read the rest
CSIR-Tech is the commercial arm of the Indian government's Council of Scientific and Industrial Research; after spending ₹50 crore (about USD7.6M) pursuing more than 13,000 "bio-data patents" (patents of no real value save burnishing the credentials of the scientists whose names appear on them), they have run out of money and shut down. Read the rest
Economist Tim Harford (previously) traces the history of denialism and "fake news" back to Big Tobacco's cancer denial playbook, which invented the tactics used by both the Brexit and Trump campaigns to ride to victory -- a playbook that dismisses individual harms as "anaecdotal" and wide-ranging evidence as "statistical," and works in concert with peoples' biases (smokers don't want cigarettes to cause cancer, Brexiteers want the UK to be viable without the EU, Trump supporters want simple, cruel policies to punish others and help them) to make emprically wrong things feel right. Read the rest
Jonathan Stray summarizes three different strains of propaganda, analyzing why they work, and suggesting counter-tactics: in Russia, it's about flooding the channel with a mix of lies and truth, crowding out other stories; in China, it's about suffocating arguments with happy-talk distractions, and for trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos, it's weaponizing hate, outraging people so they spread your message to the small, diffused minority of broken people who welcome your message and would otherwise be uneconomical to reach. Read the rest
Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, set up an experiment to measure dishonesty using a coin and a six-sided die. Conclusion: "if the person running the system is telling us corruption or dishonesty is allowed, our understanding of what is acceptable changes instantly." Read the rest
When Benjamin Franklin wanted someone to like him, he'd ask that person to do him a favor, because he noticed that people who'd done him a nice turn would rationalize this by assuming that they'd done so because they liked him, and so they'd continue to do him other favors in the future based on that affection. Read the rest
In this 30 minute video, Harry Brignull rounds up his work on cataloging and unpicking "Dark Patterns," (previously) the super-optimized techniques used by online services to lure their customers into taking actions they would not make otherwise and will later regret. Read the rest
In Are CEOs paid for performance? Evaluating the Effectiveness of Equity Incentives, a new study from MSCI, researchers compared the salaries of 800 US CEOs of large and medium-sized companies to the returns to their shareholders during their tenure. Read the rest