Weekly Grooves
Colleges and the Coronavirus

Colleges and the Coronavirus

September 20, 2020

We got a call recently from Eugen Dimant, a friend of ours who is an associate professor in behavioral and decision sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, about how the University of Michigan was trying to let students know that they should only gather in groups of 25 of less.

Eugen suggested we tee it up as a topical issue for Weekly Grooves and we readily agreed. It led to a discussion about what colleges are doing to regulate student activites to contain the coronavirus, the punishments involved in breaking those regulations, the environment in which students make deicisons on how to behave, and the importance of proper communication.

Also, in this episode we include some of the conversation we had with Eugen, which is a departure from our standard approach and we hope you enjoy it. Eugen’s insights from a  sociological perspective make for important reminders in an age when when the words we choose to communicate impacts whether get sick or not people.

As always, please let us know what you think and share it with a friend or colleague.

© 2020 Weekly Grooves


Eugen Dimant, PhD: https://ppe.sas.upenn.edu/people/eugen-dimant

University of Michigan Tweet: https://twitter.com/UMich/status/1299069416202739712

University of Alabama outbreaks: https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/29/us/university-of-alabama-covid-19-cases-trnd/index.html 


Redefining Old Age

Redefining Old Age

September 4, 2020

Nathan Yau, the head of the FlowingData.com blog site, wrote a piece called “Redefining Old Age” where he explores our changing definition and understanding of what it means to be old. The article starts by looking at various definitions of old age and reminds the reader that the average person’s life expectancy has dramatically increased since the 1930s.  

Kurt and Tim dissect this topic through a behavioral science lens wondering how old age gets redefined when (a) we live so much longer and (b) the psychological and social implications are so different today than they were even two decades ago.

Nathan does an excellent job of reporting the facts in his article and there are three important ones to call out. First, the definition of old age is often dependent upon who you ask. It can start with “Anyone with white hair and glasses” to “About 10-15 years before I expect to die.” The second is that the World Health Organization notes that “old age” is highly dependent on living in a developed country or not. 

The third call-out is that less than 100 years ago, in 1930, only 50% of males and 57% of females made it to the ripe old age of 65. Today, the average life expectancy of males is 77 and females is over 81 years old. That is an enormous change in such a short period of time.

Finally, the article has some very cool graphs that highlight the supporting documentation and we encourage you to check it out. You might even become a fan of FlowingData.com, which gets our enthusiastic support.

Thanks for listening and keep on grooving.

© 2020 Weekly Grooves



Redefining Old Age: https://flowingdata.com/2020/08/26/redefining-old-age/?utm_source=join1440&utm_medium=email

Life Expectancy by Country: https://www.worldometers.info/demographics/life-expectancy/

Priming and the Psychology of Memory: https://www.verywellmind.com/priming-and-the-psychology-of-memory-4173092

Dan Buettner “Blue Zones”: https://www.bluezones.com/

Positive vs negative priming of older adult’s generative value: do negative messages impair memory?: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13607863.2016.1239063?journalCode=camh20

Look for new roles for older citizens in an aging America, says Stanford's Laura Carstensen: https://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/february/carstensen-older-americans-021712.html

Tim Urban - Your Life In Weeks: https://waitbutwhy.com/2014/05/life-weeks.html

Romance and Politics: How to Keep Your Love Alive with Political Differences

Romance and Politics: How to Keep Your Love Alive with Political Differences

August 29, 2020

This week we were inspired by an article in The New York Times by Nicole Pajer called “Can Love Survive This Election?” Nicole’s article confirmed our sneaking suspicions about how romantic relationships may be suffering in the current political climate. She points out how divorces due to political affiliation are on the rise and reports that people using dating sites are searching on political affiliation of potential partners – now more than ever.

So, we decided to look more closely at the topic through a behavioral science lens.

One of our first questions was about whether the social norms around relationships and political identity might be changing. A decade ago, people with different political perspectives could successfully be in close relationships – but what about now?

We hope you enjoy the episode and share it with a friend.

© 2020 Weekly Grooves



“Can Love Survive This Election” by Nicole Pajer in The New York Times August 25, 2020: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/25/fashion/weddings/can-love-relationships-survive-this-election.html

Howard Lavin, PhD: https://cla.umn.edu/about/directory/profile/lavine

Eli Finkel, PhD, on “The All or Nothing Marriage”: https://elifinkel.com/allornothingmarriage


What Do Lions, Cow Butts with Painted Eyes and Human Decision Making Have in Common?

What Do Lions, Cow Butts with Painted Eyes and Human Decision Making Have in Common?

August 22, 2020

This week we were inspired by Robby Berman’s article on Big Think.com called “Eyes painted on cow butt’s thwart lion attacks.” It got us thinking about how humans put together stories from things that don’t make sense – just like lions.

The article is about how lions don’t prey on cattle when the cattle have eyes painted on their butts. Lions are what are called ambush predators. That means they want the easiest kills possible. They want to come up on an unsuspecting animal and pounce it quickly…and they won’t do that if the animal appears to be looking at them.

Lions confuse the painted eyes for real eyes. More than simply the inability to process a fake eye from a real eye, lions are susceptible to an optical illusion. Optical illusions happen to be very similar to cognitive illusions (in decision making) in humans.

Kurt and Tim decided to follow this direction: how do people make decisions when the inputs don’t make sense or when there’s too much input data?

This discussion is about human decision making and the challenges we have with using shortcuts (heuristics) to make sense of overwhelming amounts of data.


© 2020 Weekly Grooves


  “Eyes painted on cow butts thwart lion attacks” in BigThink.com by Robby Berman, 12 August, 2020: https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/cow-eye-butt?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1

  “TOP 10 MASTERS OF DECEPTION IN THE NATURAL WORLD” http://isciencemag.co.uk/features/top-10-masters-of-deception-in-the-natural-world/

  “’Reality’ is constructed by your brain. Here’s what that means, and why it matters.” By Brian Resnick, Vox, July 2020. https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/20978285/optical-illusion-science-humility-reality-polarization

  “How Do Optical Illusions Work?” by Kirk Zamieroski on Inside Science: https://www.insidescience.org/video/how-do-optical-illusions-work

  Common Biases & Heuristics: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1XHpBr0VFcaT8wIUpr-9zMIb79dFMgOVFRxIZRybiftI/edit

   Some of our favorite optical illusions…

Cornsweet illusion: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornsweet_illusion

Adelson’s Checker-Shadow Illusion: https://www.illusionsindex.org/ir/checkershadow

Poggendorff Illusion: https://www.illusionsindex.org/ir/poggendorff-illusion

Shepard Tables: https://www.illusionsindex.org/i/shepard-scales

Kanizsa Triangle: https://www.illusionsindex.org/i/kanizsa-triangle


3 Reasons Why Dolly Parton is So Likeable

3 Reasons Why Dolly Parton is So Likeable

August 14, 2020

3 Reasons Why Dolly Parton is So Likeable

Today we saw an article in Billboard Magazine by Melinda Newman titled, “Dolly Parton: Steers her Empire Through the Pandemic – and Keeps it Grooving.” Yes, putting “grooving” in the title made it appealing, but the general fascination with Dolly caused us to investigate more deeply.

What we found is what millions of people already know: Dolly Parton is frickin amazing!  Looking back at her 50 years of work –as a singer, actress, and entrepreneur – you get a sense of how amazing she is with all the success in a diverse line of work.

As the article stated, “Everyone sees her as theirs.”  She transcends boundaries by connecting with people from many walks of life.  This is partly due to who she is – she is warm, funny, smart, and likeable but also diverse in her professional offerings.

Melinda Newman’s article was in part spurred because Dolly garnered a lot of publicity with her positive support of Black Lives Matter. Some of the press was caused by an apparent mismatch of her persona and who she really is. Surprise leads to attention and she got it. Plus the way that she stated her support called out white people –  and that was surely an attention-getter.

We hope you enjoy our episode of Weekly Grooves. If you do, please leave us a quick review on the service of your liking.

© 2020 Weekly Grooves



Dolly Parton: Steers her empire through the pandemic – and keeps it grooving.”: https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/country/9432581/dolly-parton-country-power-players-billboard-cover-story-interview-2020

Psychology Today: Why we are obsessed with celebrities: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-big-questions/200912/why-we-are-obsessed-celebrities

New Yorker Radio Hour with David Remnick: https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/dolly-partons-america

Likeability Scale: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/roger-covin/likeable_b_901191.html

To Move Fast, Slow Down: 3 Tips to Make Better Decisions in 15 Minutes

To Move Fast, Slow Down: 3 Tips to Make Better Decisions in 15 Minutes

August 7, 2020

This week we were inspired by an article by Minda Zetlin on Inc.’s webpage titled, “Need to make a difficult decision fast?  Take 15 minutes and do this first.”

The article outlines tips on how to slow down prior to making a key decision in order to improve the quality of the decision you’re making. The basic idea is to move fast, we need to slow down.

In the article, Ms. Zetlin shares how we, particularly in this time of COVID, are dealing with a lot of tough decisions. This causes stress and can potentially lead to decisions that we regret later.   In it, the author suggests that people should take a 15-minute timeout before any significant decision and I quote, “Nearly all business decisions – even very pressing ones – can accommodate a 15-minute delay.”

It's not only a timeout – but a timeout with some very specific steps: She notes, Step 1: 30-60 seconds of vigorous exercise.  Step 2: take some deep breathes. Step 3: pause and process your decision. 

We hope you enjoy this episode. If you do, please leave us a quick review.

© 2020 Weekly Grooves



“Need to Make a Difficult Decision Fast? Take 15 Minutes and Do This First,” Minda Zeltin, Inc. Magazine: https://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/decision-making-tough-choices-mental-calm-focus.html


Exercising to Relax – Harvard Health Publishing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax


“Endorphins and Exercise: How Intense Does a Workout Have to Be for the ‘High’ to Kick in?”: https://www.wellandgood.com/endorphins-and-exercise/


“Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises and Your Vagus Nerve”: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201705/diaphragmatic-breathing-exercises-and-your-vagus-nerve


“Deciding advantageously before knowing the advantageous strategy” by A, Bechara, H. Damasio, D. Tranel, and A. Damasio: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/275/5304/1293


Stephen Curtis, PhD in Behavioral Grooves # 148: https://behavioralgrooves.com/episode/covid-19-crisis-stephen-curtis-on-neuroplasticity-and-creating-the-ideal/


All Work and No Play

All Work and No Play

July 31, 2020

This week’s topic is inspired by an article by Erik Vance in The New York Times titled, “Where the Wild Things Play”  about how we could learn some of the lessons from the animal world when it comes to play.


We want to explore this through a behavioral science lens and see how important play is – not only for wild animals – but for human animals as well.


Almost all intelligent animals exhibit some sort of play, and this is for adults as well as juveniles. And the first thing we learn is that play is important. Humans enjoy formal play and even imaginary play in our heads. It helps us reduce stress by releasing endorphins and other neurotransmitters, it also provides us with a way to connect and bond with others. 


It's also vital to note that animals tend to play fairly. If you knock someone down, they get to knock you down. This is a key insight for us humans.  In general, we like to play fairly too as seen by how we tend to play the Dictator and Ultimatum games.  People who don’t play fair are not invited back to the playground.


Finally, play is important in building relationships and social skills that help us succeed – not only in work but life in general.  Happiness research points out that happiness tends to be a prerequisite of success and not a result of success.  Those who are happy and playful succeed more than those who are dour and overly serious.  We need to laugh at ourselves a little bit more.


© 2020 Weekly Grooves


“Where the Wild Things Play” by Erik Vance in The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/21/parenting/animal-behavior-play-games.html?smid=li-share


The Surprising Science of Happiness – TED talk – Dan Gilbert: https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_the_surprising_science_of_happiness/transcript


The Neuroscience of Fairness and Injustice – Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201408/the-neuroscience-fairness-and-injustice


“Why Play is Important” – Psychology Today:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beastly-behavior/201705/why-play-is-important


“The Importance of Play for Adults”: https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-importance-of-play-for-adults/


“The happiness advantage: the seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work,” by Shawn Achor.

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Changes in How We Work

Changes in How We Work

July 26, 2020

This week we explore a recent article published in Harvard Business Review’s “The Big Idea” section titled, “Microsoft analyzed data on its newly remote workforce.” It’s written by Natalie Signer-Velush, Kevin Sherman and Erik Anderson and it compares 4-months of anonymized data from 350-plus Microsoft employees during the pandemic to the same metrics prior to the work-from-home orders.


Kurt and Tim discuss the findings and then try to decipher “why” those changes occurred via the behavioral and psychological inputs and outputs that may have been at play. 


Some of the findings are contrary to what we might think, and of course, it will be interesting to see if any of the new habits/routines continue after the pandemic is done.




“Microsoft analyzed data on its newly remote workforce,” by Natalie Signer-Velush, Kevin Sherman and Erik Anderson: https://hbr.org/2020/07/microsoft-analyzed-data-on-its-newly-remote-workforce

The Surprising Science of Happiness – TED talk – Dan Gilbert: https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_the_surprising_science_of_happiness/transcript

Behavioral Grooves #56: Liz Fosslein: https://behavioralgrooves.com/episode/liz-fosslien-the-smile-file/

The Hedonic Treadmill (and other biases and heuristics): https://docs.google.com/document/d/1XHpBr0VFcaT8wIUpr-9zMIb79dFMgOVFRxIZRybiftI/edit

The 4 Drive Theory: http://blog.lanterngroup.com/tag/4-drive-theory


The Demographic and Psychological Aspects of Mask Wearing

The Demographic and Psychological Aspects of Mask Wearing

July 17, 2020

Megan Brenan, a research consultant at Gallup, published an article on July 13, 2020, about data collected in a recent Gallup Poll. Her article is titled, “Americans’ Face Mask Usage Varies Greatly by Demographics.”  We were intrigued because every demographic breakdown comes with some psychological components.

Facemask use in public helps to stop the spread of coronavirus, according to the latest scientific sources. However, wearing a mask has become politized beyond the facts. Brenan’s article took an in-depth look at the demographic breakdown of usage of masks and we wanted to discuss the potential psychological issues associated with them. 

We thought that there might be some psychological differences among the demographic groups. We wondered why some people are feeling like they don’t have to wear a mask, or that wearing a mask makes some people “sheep,” while others wear a mask without hesitation and can’t understand what might be motiving others to not wear a mask!

We hope you enjoy our discussion and, if you do, please leave us a quick 5-star rating!

© 2020 Weekly Grooves



Americans’ Face Mask Usage Varies Greatly by Demographics: Megan Brenan Gallup: https://news.gallup.com/poll/315590/americans-face-mask-usage-varies-greatly-demographics.aspx?utm_source=join1440&utm_medium=email

The Masks We Wear (and Don’t Wear): Shawn Burns Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/presence-mind/202006/the-masks-we-wear-and-don-t-wear

Confrontation over face masks and the psychology behind why some people resist them: Jessical Flores USA Today:  https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/07/14/across-usa-face-masks-seen-some-lifesavers-others-seen-them-violations/5437469002/

The Masks We Wear (and Don’t Wear): Shawn Burns Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/presence-mind/202006/the-masks-we-wear-and-don-t-wear

Using Diversity to Bring a New Lens to Old Problems

Using Diversity to Bring a New Lens to Old Problems

June 27, 2020

This week, Tim found an article published by the American Economic Association with Harvard professor Mario Small, PhD called “Rethinking racial discrimination: how sociology can help economics diversify its perspective.”

The article explores how – with only 3% of economists identifying as black in a recent AEA survey – economists are lacking a diverse perspective.  Dr. Small argues this inhibits creativity and innovation in the field of economics and is particularly true as it relates to how racial discrimination is studied in economics.

He argues that economics could learn from sociology in the way the field embraces different perspectives and uses each to paint a more accurate and holistic understanding of issues. He points out that there are currently only two main perspectives on discrimination in economics – “taste-based and statistical-discrimination,” neither of which reaches the underlying issues. 

In this episode, Kurt and Tim explore the article with a slightly different lens. We have seen how diversity of race and gender and age and political affiliation can lead to more engaging discussions, improved creativity, more robust innovation, and hence better outcomes, in science, business, and our personal lives.

We hope you enjoy our discussion and please share it with a friend if you found it helpful.

© 2020 Weekly Grooves



Rethinking racial discrimination: https://www.aeaweb.org/research/economics-racial-discrimination-mario-small

HBR: Does Diversity Actually Increase Creativity?: https://hbr.org/2017/06/does-diversity-actually-increase-creativity

Ethnic Diversity and Creativity in Small Groups: McLeod, Lobel & Cox: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1046496496272003

Hidden Brain: Creative Differences: https://www.npr.org/2019/01/24/687707404/creative-differences-the-benefits-of-reaching-out-to-people-unlike-ourselves

Implicit Bias Review: http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/implicit-bias-training/resources/2017-implicit-bias-review.pdf

Diversity and black leadership in corporate America: https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/02/success/diversity-and-black-leadership-in-corporate-america/index.html

Kimberle Crenshaw, JD: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimberl%C3%A9_Williams_Crenshaw

April Seifert, PhD in Episode 24: https://behavioralgrooves.com/episode/april-seifert-on-digital-exhaust-analysis-and-gender-stereotyping/

Race and Intelligence: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_and_intelligence

April Seifert, PhD – Episode 24 of Behavioral Grooves: https://behavioralgrooves.com/episode/april-seifert-on-digital-exhaust-analysis-and-gender-stereotyping/

GI Joe Effect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GimHHAID_P0


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