Weekly Grooves
Communicating Through a Pandemic

Communicating Through a Pandemic

May 8, 2020

Charles Duhigg, one of our favorite authors on habits, wrote an article for The New Yorker called, “Seattle’s Leaders Let Scientists Take the Lead, New York’s Did Not.” The article explores how the two cities differed in their response and how the results were tragically different. While Dughigg covers a lot of ground, and the article is fascinating, we want to explore a couple of key concepts out if it as it relates to communication.

In the article, there is a reference to the CDC’s (Center for Disease Control) field manual on managing a crisis. In it, a whole chapter is dedicated to communication and we thought the behavioral implications were worth discussing.



Duhigg, C., “Seattle’s Leaders Let Scientists Take the Lead. New York’s Did Not,” New Yorker, May 4, 2020.  https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/05/04/seattles-leaders-let-scientists-take-the-lead-new-yorks-did-not

The CDC Field Epidemiology Manual https://www.cdc.gov/eis/field-epi-manual/chapters.html

Bicchieri, C., & Dimant, E., “Nudging with care: the risks and benefits of social information,” Public Choice (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-019-00684-6   

Kassim, S., The “Messenger Effect” in Persuasion, DOI:10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199778188.003.0053 https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199778188.001.0001/acprof-9780199778188-chapter-53


Thanks For No Memories

Thanks For No Memories

April 25, 2020

Our inspiration this week comes from an article written by Shayla Love for Vice titled, “You’ll probably forget what it was like to live through a pandemic.” We thought it would make a great jumping-off point for how we will remember this time as well as a discussion on memory in general. 

We explore how memories get shaped during historically significant times and how vividness and emotion play into those memories. But, as Shayla notes, we don’t remember things all that accurately.

She points out that our specific memory of this time, even with all it’s heightened emotions and significance, will become, as she says, “a blur.”  

She goes on to say, “Those on the frontlines, like healthcare workers, will remember it differently. They'll witness the toll on human life firsthand and emotions like grief, fear, and anxiety will heighten their memories….[but] For those whose lives remain unscathed, who have the privilege of waiting out the weeks without much daily variety, this stretched out "historical event" isn't conducive to creating sharp, defined memories. Despite having conscious awareness of each moment now, a lot of it will slip away.”

We hope you enjoy this episode of Weekly Grooves.

© 2020 Weekly Grooves



“You’ll probably forget what it was like to live through a pandemic.” By Shayla Love: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/5dmxvn/what-will-we-remember-from-the-coronavirus-covid19-pandemic

You have no idea what happened (New Yorker): https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/idea-happened-memory-recollection

A new false memory study suggest people can’t tell whats real:  https://gizmodo.com/a-new-false-memory-study-suggests-people-cant-tell-what-1842751404

How our brains make memories: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-our-brains-make-memories-14466850/

Did That Really Happen? How Our Memories Betray Us: https://www.npr.org/2019/12/16/788422090/did-that-really-happen-how-our-memories-betray-us


Tips for Maintaining Social Relationships in During COVID-19

Tips for Maintaining Social Relationships in During COVID-19

April 18, 2020

This week, we saw an article in NewScientist titled, “Psychology tips for maintaining social relationships during the lockdown.”  For those of you who haven’t seen it, we thought it would be valuable to review that and other tips on staying sane during a shelter-in-place order.

In this episode, Kurt and Tim look at hints and tips to stay more socially connected while needing to be physically distant.

The article that got us excited about this topic was written by Robin Dunbar, PhD, a British anthropologist, evolutionary psychologist and an expert in social bonding. Dr. Dunbar created a concept called the “Dunbar Number,” which explores the number of people with whom we can maintain stable social relationships – relationships in which we know who each person is and how each person relates to every other person.

We hope you enjoy this week’s episode.


Psychology tips for maintaining social relationships during lockdown: https://www.newscientist.com/article/2240487-psychology-tips-for-maintaining-social-relationships-during-lockdown/?utm_source=NSDAY&utm_campaign=adbf6d03c7-NSDAY_150420&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1254aaab7a-adbf6d03c7-373930907

Dunbar Number – Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number

Harlow’s monkey Experiment: https://www.psychologynoteshq.com/harlows-monkey-experiment/

Endorphins: effects and how to increase levels: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320839#low-endorphins-and-health-conditions

Music reduces stress: https://www.thehealthy.com/mental-health/anxiety/songs-to-reduce-anxiety/

Debussy “Clair de Lune”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNcsUNKlAKw

Chopin “Mazurka”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yn2tOKHjEMQ

Opioid release after high-intensity interval training in healthy human subjects: https://www.nature.com/articles/npp2017148

Why No One is Reading Your Coronavirus Emails

Why No One is Reading Your Coronavirus Emails

April 10, 2020

Todd Rogers, PhD, wrote an editorial piece for CNN called “Why is No One Reading Your Coronavirus Emails,” and we can’t really get it out of our heads. Todd is a professor of public policy at Harvard University and chief scientist at EveryDay Labs, a behavioral science company focused on parent communication in education. We instantly appreciated that he’s looking at the problem of too damn many coronavirus emails through a scholarly, and behavioral, lens.

In this episode, we groove on the behavioral aspects of these emails: the senders and the receivers. We see retailers succumbing to herd mentality, fear of missing out (FOMO), and generally irrelevant communication without so much as batting an eye.

Our inboxes are full. Our cognitive processing stretched thin. And retailers, in many cases, are failing to effectively communicate WIIFM (what’s in it for me).

That said, we have examples of companies who are doing things right and we are hopeful that this is a teachable moment.


“Why no one is reading your coronavirus e-mails”: https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/13/opinions/coronavirus-emails-effective-messaging-rogers/index.html

The Dakota Jazz Club: https://www.dakotacooks.com/

Nachito Herrara: http://nachitoherrera.com/

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


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