Wednesday, May 01, 2013

but then a strange fear gripped me and I just couldn't ask.

'What happens with fear is that probability doesn't matter very much. That is, once I have raised the possibility that something terrible can happen....even though the possibility is remote, you may find it very difficult to think of anything else. Emotion becomes dominant.'

The above quote is Daniel Kahneman explaning how human emotional reactions routinely over-ride the rational in conditions of uncertainty.

Under most conditions to be fair.

DK also famously notes that all heuristics are equal, but 'availability' is more equal than others.

This is the simple explanation of why reach and frequency are still so important to advertisers messages.

So, reach + frequency + fear therefore is about as powerful a combination motivator as one can get.

A typical strategy to exploit this would be thus.

- Invoke a sense of fear.

- Then present a solution – invariably a path back into a known comfort zone (status quo bais) – and usually one that promotes using a particular product or service to maintain said status quo.

The famous product example is around halitosis.

Halitosis was a 'medical' condition invented by the manufacturers of Listerine mouthwash in order to create a problem for which they had already premade solution.

This is also interesting through the lens of non-behaviour change strategies, where a status quo is required.

Or a non-action.

The fear factor is naturally multiplied by at least a factor of two due to a natural human bias for loss aversion.

We feel losses (or potential losses) about twice as badly as we would feel equivalent gains.

For example.
On the way to work/school/uni this morning you find that you have lost $100 somewhere on the journey.

Imagine how bad that feels. Pretty annoying and likely to be on your mind all day.

However if you had found $100 in the street then you would feel happy for a short while but far less happy than the equivalent unhappiness you would have felt about the loss of the money.

When discussing behaviour change strategies with clients this is a key point we raise.
The new behaviour needs to be presented as significantly better, more fun and easy to adopt.

At least twice as 'good' as the status quo behaviour to even have a chance. Apples for apples doesn't cut it.

In this sense fear can be a powerful motivator for inaction because it can also paralyse.
Again, in any given situation or market there is the option to do nothing.
And most often that's the easy one to adopt.

This has been a long-winded intro to presenting this article - brought to our attention by Charles - from the blog of Craig Murray the author, broadcaster and human rights activist and former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan.

In his piece Murray points out the repeated use of the words 'warning” and “Scottish independence” in the same sentence by the BBC in repoting associated with the forthcoming referendum vote on Scottish Independence.

Below are a few of the links, there are many more.

“Scottish independence: Pension shortfall warning”

“UK Treasury warning that an SNP plan for a currency union after independence”

“Scottish independence: Warning over ‘weakened military’”

“Scottish independence: ‘Havoc’ warning from pensions firm”

My own view on Scottish independence or otherwise aside theres a few of points worth noting.

The first being around the availability heuristic.
Availability is our natural human bias towards believing things that come most easily to mind.

To that end the 'Better Together' (anti) side of the independence debate have clearly grasped that key to their ends is ensuring that the fear motivator is the frame - and the resultant in-action or status quo bias is the desired outcome.

To the power of two, the key to the success of their campaign is not simply persuading those who are against independence to take action, but also to ensure that those who have no clear preference do nothing and stick with what they know.

What is somewhat disturbing is that the BBC appear to be giving disproportionate and significant airtime to this framing of the debate.
Albeit in a somewhat covert way.

The second point is understanding another point about human behaviour.
Again in situations of uncertainty or risk we will tend to look around and see what other people feel before deciding how we feel.
So for the side of the debate that can mmanipulate the 'mass' media to the best extent. ie using these supposed independent sources to perpetuate the idea that this is indeed the popular idea this is a winning frame.

Reach and frequency (social diffusion + availability heuristic) + fear frame (loss aversion + status quo bias) looks like the equation for a no vote.

And as final psychology gag (and something of a killing joke) one has to doubt the resolve of the yes lobby when one understands that the Nationalists card up it's sleeve is a radical middle way - and their own unfortunate slip towards the do nothing option.

Apparently an independent Scotland would keep the monarchy, the currency (pounds), join NATO and the European union. In other words Scotland becomes independent but everything stays exactly the same. A pitch towards a subset of the inert and the system justification bias vote.

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