Weekly Grooves
Economic Optimism in America – Really?

Economic Optimism in America – Really?

April 3, 2020

This week, we saw a survey conducted by McKinsey about consumer sentiments during the crisis across several different countries, generations and economic statuses. The comparative data is fascinating and we wanted to view it through a behavioral lens.

Although businesses may eventually come back to life after social distancing measures lift, it won’t happen all at once. It is also unlikely that consumer spending, the largest contributor to US economic activity, will bounce back immediately. Part of that is due to a decline in incomes, especially for workers who have been furloughed or laid off.

But there’s a psychological impact, too, said Elena Duggar, Chair of Moody’s Macroeconomic Board. The coronavirus pandemic has already disrupted human behavior in dramatic ways, ranging from social distancing to panic-buying toilet paper. Consumers will probably be wary of making big purchases even when the economy begins to come back to life. They’re unlikely to suddenly return to their pre-coronavirus levels of spending, Duggar said.

Finally, spending that would have taken place in the second quarter isn’t necessarily going to be made up later in the year. Travelers whose spring break trips were canceled are probably not going to take two summer vacations. Consumers are not going to eat double the meals at restaurants, or go to twice as many movies later in the year, simply because they missed out on those things in the spring.



Article that caught our attention: McKinsey & Company “Consumer Sentiment During the Coronavirus Crisis”: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/survey-us-consumer-sentiment-during-the-coronavirus-crisis

How fast can the US economy bounce back? It depends on the virus: https://presstories.com/2020/04/03/how-fast-can-the-us-economy-bounce-back-it-depends-on-the-virus-2/

The “Ostrich Effect” And The Relationship Between The Liquidity And The Yields Of Financial Assets: https://dqydj.com/ostrich-effect-ignore-negative-financials/

“The ‘Ostrich Effect’: Selective Attention to Information about Investments,” by Niklas Karlsson, George Loewenstein and Duane Seppi: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/226770945_The_Ostrich_Effect_Selective_Attention_to_Information

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

The Impact of Celebrity Donations

The Impact of Celebrity Donations

March 27, 2020

Celebrities making big donations are nothing new. But in the crisis-ridden days of our coronavirus quarantines, celebrity donations seem to be piling up. Good news for the charities – right? That’s why we were attracted to an article in The Hill about large celebrity donations intended to assist with the pandemic. Judy Kurtz’s story is about singer James Taylor and his wife Kim giving $1 million to Massachusetts General Hospital to assist with purchasing supplies and equipment, repurposing space, or furthering research seeking treatments and means of prevention for COVID-19.  

Ms. Kurtz identified a few things that caught our attention from a behavioral perspective: First, James was born at Mass General. Second, James and Kim live in Massachusetts. Third, Peter Slavin, the president of the hospital, said in the press release that the donation will be a big morale booster for the staff and caregivers. These things got us thinking about the behavioral implications.

First, celebrity donations usually act as good seed money for additional donations – especially when the celebrity has some meaningful connection to the charity.  Second, the reason that celebrity donations work well is that their donations are signals to everyone else. The signal that the charity itself is both likable and credible. Third, celebrity actions can backfire when they’re not authentic, like in the case of Gal Gadot using a song that didn’t match with her lifestyle.  Some celebrities are giving out of altruism, some out of ego and some from peer pressure.



Article: “James Taylor and wife donating $1M to help Massachusetts General Hospital fight coronavirus” by Judy Kurtz on March 25, 2020.

Link: https://thehill.com/blogs/in-the-know/in-the-know/489402-james-taylor-and-wife-donating-1m-to-help-massachusetts-general

Deborah Small, PhD on the Paradox of Charitable Giving: https://www.wharton.upenn.edu/story/what-motivates-people-to-give-charity-giving-tuesday/

Erica Harris, PhD and Julie Roth, PhD, on celebrity effects on charitable giving: https://www.rutgers.edu/news/celebrity-endorsements-lead-increases-charitable-donations-public

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


© 2020 Weekly Grooves

Out of Toilet Paper? Blame America’s Failings in the Toilet Wars

Out of Toilet Paper? Blame America’s Failings in the Toilet Wars

March 20, 2020

Kurt was struck by an article on the National Public Radio site that indicated the United States is significantly behind the rest of the civilized world when it comes to modernized toileting. That caused us to take a closer look at the behavioral science behind what’s keeping the US market from adopting higher tech versions of the porcelain throne.

With toilet paper flying off the shelves, one wonders WHY more Americans aren't scooping up bidets. (In fact, they are starting to. Tushy said their sales are up 50% since the outbreak of the coronavirus.)

We are not really interested in the world of scatology, but we do care about hygiene and technology. And most importantly, we care about what behavioral science has to say about the use of these technologies.


© 2020 Weekly Grooves

Tim Houlihan: @THoulihan

Kurt Nelson, PhD: @WhatMotivates



America is losing the toilet war: https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2020/02/25/808791622/why-america-is-losing-the-toilet-race?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social

Why Don’t Americans Use Bidets: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/03/the-bidets-revival/555770/

Today I Found Out: https://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2014/10/dont-americans-use-bidets/

Lessons on cleanliness NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2013/05/27/are-americans-too-obsessed-with-cleanliness/lessons-in-cleanliness-between-french-and-americans

Toilet psychology: https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-25/edition-6/toilet-psychology

Squatty Potty: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlEovr29KBU

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

Cristina Bicchieri, PhD on toilet use: https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/trendsetters-shaped-indias-massive-sanitation-campaign/


Manipulated Media – Do Labels Matter?

Manipulated Media – Do Labels Matter?

March 13, 2020

This week, Twitter created a new policy and applied it to an edited video of Joe Biden that a White House official posted, and of course, President Trump retweeted.  The material was not original – it had been tampered with. The video triggered Twitter to create a new policy banning the use of synthetic or manipulated media. In other words, videos that were not original would be in violation.

Twitter has faced push-back from activists citing First Amendment rights and the difficulty in identifying what is “fake” versus what isn’t. Their policy reads:

“You may not deceptively share synthetic or manipulated media that are likely to cause harm. In addition, we may label Tweets containing synthetic and manipulated media to help people understand their authenticity and to provide additional context.”

The criteria Twitter laid out include: 1. Is the content synthetic or manipulated?  2. Is the content shared in a deceptive manner?  3. Is the content likely to impact public safety or cause serious harm?

 The best form of punishment for creating deceptive messaging, however, is not retweeting in disgust, but silence. According to former Twitter employee Nathan Hubbard, “Hot Twitter tip from someone who worked there: every time you retweet or quote tweet someone you’re angry with, it *helps* them. It disseminates their B.S.! Hell for the ideas you deplore is silence. Have the discipline to give it to them.”

We hope you enjoy our discussion of the behavioral science implications of Twitter's new policy.


© 2020 Weekly Grooves

Tim Houlihan: @THoulihan

Kurt Nelson, PhD: @WhatMotivates



Twitter Synthetic and Manipulated Media policy: https://help.twitter.com/en/rules-and-policies/manipulated-media

Politico – Biden video first manipulated media label: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/08/manipulated-media-twitter-biden-video-124116?cid=apn

“Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing” by Stephan Lewandowsky, Ullrich K. H. Ecker, Colleen M. Seifert, Norbert Schwarz, and John Cook: http://www.emc-lab.org/uploads/1/1/3/6/113627673/lewandowskyecker.2012.pspi.pdf

“Stopping the spread of fake news with behavioral sciences” by IE University: https://drivinginnovation.ie.edu/stopping-the-spread-of-fake-news-with-behavioral-sciences/

“Fighting Fake News and Post-Truth Politics with Behavioral Science: The Pro-Truth Pledge” by Gleb Tsipursky and Fabio Votta: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3138238

“Sources of the Continued Influence Effect: When Misinformation in Memory Affects Later Inferences” by Hollyn M. Johnson and Colleen M. Seifert: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232501255_Sources_of_the_Continued_Influence_Effect_When_Misinformation_in_Memory_Affects_Later_Inferences

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

Behavioral Grooves: https://behavioralgrooves.com/

Hacking the Coronavirus and Covid-19

Hacking the Coronavirus and Covid-19

March 10, 2020

Coronavirus and the disease it’s created – Covid-19 – is alive and well and getting stronger every day. How bad is it? It’s difficult to say with any certainty in part because it’s constantly changing and it’s very complex. However, when presented with ambiguous information, our minds draw conclusions based on our biases and the decision-making heuristics our ancient brains rely on.

In this episode, Kurt and Tim discuss an article by friend and leading behavioral scientist, Michael Hallsworth, PhD. Michael leads the North American Behavioural Insights Team and knows a thing or two about behavior change.

In this article, Michael talks about what behavioral science hacks can be applied to reduce the spread of the virus and, hence, Covid-19.



“Handwashing can stop a virus – so why don’t we do it?” by Michael Hallsworth, PhD: https://behavioralscientist.org/handwashing-can-stop-a-virus-so-why-dont-we-do-it-coronavirus-covid-19/ 

Effective Hand Washing: https://tinyurl.com/to4gpsw

Doctors Hand Hygiene plummets unless they know they are being watched: https://abcnews.go.com/Health/doctors-hand-hygiene-plummets-watched-study-finds/story?id=39737505

The long history of the hand-washing gender gap: https://slate.com/technology/2020/02/women-hand-washing-more-than-men-why-coronavirus.html

“Experimental Pretesting of Hand-washing interventions in a natural setting,” by Gaby Judah, PhD, et al.: https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdfplus/10.2105/AJPH.2009.164160

“Risk and Morality: Three Framing Devices,” by John Adams, PhD: https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

When-Then Statements: https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/for-educators/teaching-strategies/behavior-strategy-when-then

Temptation Bundling: https://jamesclear.com/temptation-bundling

Donation Burnout

Donation Burnout

March 9, 2020

You’re probably familiar with the dreaded Membership Drive from non-profit organizations around the world. Whichever season it is, there seems to be a membership drive going on. In Minneapolis, where we live, the Winter Membership Drive from National Public Radio has been going on and it’s driving us crazy.

In this episode of Weekly Grooves, we explore the irritation that donors have for being asked to give more and more frequently. And not only membership and donation drives, but why we get burned out on charitable giving across the board.  

It’s not that we don’t love these non-profits. In fact, we do love them. But persistent requests for increases in donations and the frequency with which we’re being asked is fatiguing. We understand the psychology of charitable giving, altruism and persuasion, and we can say that the creative work done by many pro-social agencies is excellent. The trouble is that, as donors, we are tired of it!

Listen to this episode to peek into the behavioral science behind why donors don’t enjoy being asked repeatably to give and give more. And, we offer a few tips on what you can do about it.



Charity Burnout: https://www.energizeinc.com/hot-topics/2005/december

Psychology Today:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201305/7-ways-get-out-guilt-trips

All Biases and Heuristics: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1XHpBr0VFcaT8wIUpr-9zMIb79dFMgOVFRxIZRybiftI/edit#

Nonprofit Donor Burnout:  https://www.nonprofitexpert.com/nonprofit-questions-answers/nonprofit-donor-burnout/

How to survive a public radio membership drive: https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-to-survive-a-public-radio-membership-drive

“6 Ways Fundraisers Turn Off Donors” in Small Business: https://www.thebalancesmb.com/why-donors-dont-give-2502028

National Do Not Solicit Registry (for the United States):  https://www.donotcall.gov/index.html


Garbage Language & Corporate Double Talk: The Downside..and Upside?

Garbage Language & Corporate Double Talk: The Downside..and Upside?

February 28, 2020

Corporate speak. Garbage language. Double talk. Acronyms. We are fed up with language that lacks clarity and is intended to obfuscate. We were instantly happy when we saw an article in Vulture by Molly Young that got us thinking: among all the detestable aspects of this double talk, is it possible there’s an upside, too?

In this episode of Weekly Grooves, we explore some of the psychological benefits and attenuations caused by what is often referred to as Garbage Language. In just a few short minutes, we run through some of our most irritating examples of this unnecessary jargon.

Just so you know…consider these:

“Can you parallel path this?” ...Do you want me to work on two things at the same time or deliver an alternative?

“It’s a blue ocean project…” ...Are you trying to let me know that this has vast opportunity to grow or that we’re starting from scratch?

“We should be able to deliver this for single digits…” ...Why not just say that we expect to come in under $10 million?

“We’ll need to do a deep dive on that…” ...Are you indicating we need more analysis?

“We’ll need more bandwidth to get that done…” ...What are you asking for? Do you want more or different people with the same or different skill sets to help get this done?

“We need to get aligned on this before we move forward…” ...Are you indicating that every person on the team must agree 100% with the recommendations or just most of us before we get started?

“What’s your takeaway from this?” ...Are you asking what I’m learning from our discussion or are there specific items that require action that you want me to follow up on?

© 2020 Weekly Grooves



“Why Do Corporations Speak The Way They Do?” by Molly Young in Vulture: https://www.vulture.com/2020/02/spread-of-corporate-speak.html

WeWork Filing with SEC: https://www.businessinsider.com/wework-reportedly-draws-scrutiny-from-sec-2019-11

Cristina Biccieri, PhD: https://philosophy.sas.upenn.edu/people/cristina-bicchieri

Lila Gleitman, PhD: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lila_R._Gleitman

Reclining Airline Seats – Whose Space Is It Anyway?

Reclining Airline Seats – Whose Space Is It Anyway?

February 22, 2020

How do you deal with someone reclining their airline seat while you’re trying to read? And how do you deal with someone behind you who doesn’t want you to decline your seat?  This very small encounter can create heated exchanges, as seen in the video links below.

The resolution could be very simple when viewed through a behavioral lens. The first question is about ownership: who owns the space – the person wanting to recline or the person wanting to read?

In this week’s episode, we apply the behavioral lens to a situation that need not be so difficult if the drink and snack cart is handy.

© 2020 Weekly Grooves


The video that sparked the conversation: https://www.today.com/video/viral-video-shows-airline-passenger-punching-woman-s-reclined-seat-78666309643

The Endowment Effect and other biases: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1XHpBr0VFcaT8wIUpr-9zMIb79dFMgOVFRxIZRybiftI/edit#

How to Resolve Seat Disputes: Use Behavioral Economics. https://evonomics.com/resolve-fights-reclining-airplane-seats-use-behavioral-economics/

41% of Fliers Think You’re Rude: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/airplane-etiquette-recline-seat/

Don’t Want Me to Recline My Airline Seat? You Can Pay Me: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/28/upshot/dont-want-me-to-recline-my-airline-seat-you-can-pay-me.html

The Knee Defender: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knee_Defender

Tale of Two Markets: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1111/j.0956-7976.2004.00757.x

Coase Theory: https://www.intelligenteconomist.com/the-coase-theorem/

Tim Houlihan: @THoulihan

Kurt Nelson, PhD: @WhatMotivates

How Do We Deal with Disinformation?

How Do We Deal with Disinformation?

February 14, 2020

We saw an article in The Atlantic that caught our attention because of its hook into behavioral science: our willingness to believe disinformation. In this week’s episode, we talk about the underlying behavioral science into why we humans are so susceptible to information that is not accurate.

What can we do? We can use the OODA loop to interrupt our too-quick decision to simply accept suspicious content: Observe – Orient – Decide – Act. The OODA loop, in a very simplistic manner, uses these four elements in this way: to take in and observe the context in which you’re seeing this information; orient yourself with the source in a critical way; make a decision by asking, “if this is from someone I might not trust, would I still believe it?”; and take action by deleting content created to DIS-inform you.  

And since our podcast is relatively new, we are very interested in knowing how you think we’re doing. Please leave us a review or drop us a line. @THoulihan or @WhatMotivates

© 2020 Weekly Grooves



“The Billion Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President,” by McKay Coppins in The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/03/the-2020-disinformation-war/605530/

Disinformation: “False information, which is intended to mislead, especially propaganda issued by a government organization to a rival power or the media.”

Misinformation: “False or inaccurate information, especially that which is deliberately intended to deceive.”

Conspiracy Theory: “A belief that some covert but influential organization is responsible for a circumstance or event.”

The Donation of Constantine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donation_of_Constantine

The National Enquirer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Enquirer

The Daily Mail: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daily_Mail

The Messenger Effect: https://www.nber.org/papers/w25632.pdf

OODA Loop: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OODA_loop

Leveraging the OODA Loop with Digital Analytics to Counter Disinformation, by Jami Carroll (2019): https://search.proquest.com/openview/0a78c42e27ef89dab1bd4969bd6d0974/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=396497

Viktor Frankl: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viktor_Frankl

FactCheck.org: https://www.factcheck.org/

Snopes: https://www.snopes.com/about-snopes/

Gallup Polls Believing in the Media: https://news.gallup.com/poll/267047/americans-trust-mass-media-edges-down.aspx

Iowa Caucus Conspiracy Theories – How to Inoculate Yourself

Iowa Caucus Conspiracy Theories – How to Inoculate Yourself

February 7, 2020

Listeners, especially in the United States, are already aware of the debacle from the Iowa Caucuses and how the Iowa Democratic party used a new app to help streamline the caucus results. You’re probably also aware that the processes and technologies failed, and results were not available for days afterward.

The delay has caused a plethora of online conspiracy theories and that’s our topic for this week. In the absence of good data, we make it up.

Some of the richest conspiracy theories Kurt and Tim found include: 1.) The Democratic party didn’t like the results that they were seeing, so they were changing them. 2.) The Russians or the Chinese had hacked the app and were messing with us. 3.) The Republicans had hacked the app and were trying to rig the election. 4.) Hillary Clinton had helped build the app and was using it to get back at Sanders. And our all-time favorite conspiracy theory (5.) involves the Illuminati and how they were controlling the outcome. 

With all this swirling around, Kurt and Tim discuss why it’s humans to engage in conspiracy theories and some of their psychological underpinnings, the personality types that are most prone to believing a conspiracy theory, and what we can do to inoculate ourselves from this sort of thinking.

We are reason-seeking machines and are more likely to ask “why” before we fully understand “what” happened.

Join us for a quick review of why we experience conspiracy theories in the first place and what we can do about them.

© 2020 Weekly Grooves

Kurt Nelson, PhD: @WhatMotivates

Tim Houlihan: @THoulihan


Online conspiracy theories flourish after Iowa caucus fiasco:  https://apnews.com/8ae0e5172130f81265172fbd3e65094a

The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories, 2017, Douglas, Sutton and Cichocka:  https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0963721417718261

The psychology of conspiracy theories: Why do people believe them, John Grohol PsyD: https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-psychology-of-conspiracy-theories-why-do-people-believe-them/

Closed Belief System: https://issuepedia.org/Closed_belief_system

Conspiracy theories: the science behind belief in secret plots, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2013/sep/05/conspiracy-theories-science-belief-secret-plots

Fundamental Attribution Error: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_attribution_error

Hanlon’s Razor: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon%27s_razor

Illuminati: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20170809-the-accidental-invention-of-the-illuminati-conspiracy

Lantian, A., Muller, D., Nurra, C., Douglas, K. (2017). “‘I know things they don’t know!’: The role of need for uniqueness in belief in conspiracy theories,” Social Psychology, 48, 160-173

Mercier, H. & Sperber, D., “Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory” BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2011) 34, 57–111 doi:10.1017/S0140525X10000968

Motivated Reasoning: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motivated_reasoning

Oliver, Eric on “Big Brains” Episode 25: https://news.uchicago.edu/podcasts/big-brains/science-conspiracy-theories-and-political-polarization-eric-oliver

Pareidolia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia

Pattern Recognition: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pattern_recognition_(psychology)

Pattern Recognition: The Science Behind Conspiracy Theories, Steven Novella: https://www.thegreatcoursesdaily.com/why-do-we-give-into-conspiracy-thinking/

Project Mogul: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Mogul

Resulting (Annie Duke): https://www.annieduke.com/how-to-make-the-right-decisions-even-when-you-dont-have-all-the-facts/