How Weird Is Winter? The Science of Cold and Ice
By Heath Shive
As House Stark would say: Winter is coming. Or, depending on where you live, winter is already there. So it might help to “know thine enemy.”
The Weird Stuff About Winter
Winters come and go. But humans have tackled winters - and worse - and we still survive. We have fought every crisis that Mother Nature brings to us. And we have what it takes to overcome…or move to Florida.
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"Southern Russia overwhelmed with purple snow 09/03/2010." YouTube. Uploaded by czesio95, 8 Jul. 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ty8kWGhWyYU. Accessed 22 January 2017
Armstrong, W.P. "Watermelon Snow." Environment Southwest. Number 517, 1987, pp. 20-23.
Officer, Charles & Jake Page. Tales of the Earth: Paroxyms and Pertubations of the Blue Planet. New York City: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Fagan, Brian, ed. The Complete Ice Age: How Climate Change Shaped the World. New York City: Thames & Hudson, 2009.
Rafferty, John P, ed. The Cenozoic Era: Age of Mammals. New York City: Britannica Educational Publishing, 2011.
Doughnuts, Dishonesty, and What Makes a Holiday Disappointing
By Heath Shive
Holidays started out as “holy days” – a time for rest. But there’s no rest for the wicked - and apparently the wicked steal doughnuts and bagels!
That's how you can judge a holiday.
And people steal more doughnuts around Christmas than any other time of year!
Don’t believe me?
To the science!
The Bagel Man and His Magic Math
Paul Feldman was an economic analyst for years. He then retired and started a bagel/doughnut delivery business. After a few years, he was delivering over 8,000 bagels a week to over 140 companies. Because Feldman used to be an economic analyst, his records are immaculate…and filled to the brim with data to scrutinize.
In an 8-year period, he delivered 1.375 million bagels and over 648 thousand doughnuts.
How often are people honest? Paul Feldman knows the answer. People are honest – on the average – 89% of the time.
What Do Bagels Have To Do With a Bad Holiday?
Because of his mountainous data, Feldman could see all kinds of trends, such as:
People are more likely to steal bagels and doughnuts during Christmas time than any other holiday!
Overall payment rates drop 2 percent (from an 89% honesty rate to 87%) during the week of Christmas. This boost in dishonesty represents an 15% increase in theft!
Thanksgiving is almost as bad. St. Valentine’s Day is “lousy” and so is the week of Tax Day (April 15th).
Here’s another surprise. People were more honest during July 4th, Labor Day, and Columbus Day.
You would think that Christmas would the time of maximum honesty and goodwill. So why the extra bad instead of extra good?
In the acclaimed best-selling book Freakonomics, authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner reviewed this case of bagel theft in the very first chapter of their book.
They compared the holidays. Why are Christmas and St. Valentine’s Day so different from Labor Day and even Columbus Day?
Because holidays like Christmas (and Thanksgiving and St. Valentine’s) represent a major financial setback and an overwhelming increase in anxiety. In contrast, holidays like Labor Day and Columbus Day are basically just a day off of work.
What makes a holiday good – or any day of any week, for that matter – is how much stress and anxiety it creates.
But since Christmas and St. Valentine’s Day are not likely to get any easier to bear in the future, things will look bleak for honesty (and doughnut sales) come the holidays.
So remember, when a high-spending holiday looms, keep an eye on your valuables. People are more willing to steal. ‘Tis the season.
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Levitt, Steven D. and Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores The Hidden Side of Everything. William Morrow (HarperCollins imprint), 2005.
Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt (June 6, 2004). "What The Bagel Man Saw". The New York Times.
Gift Giving Psychology (Part 3): Family Is A Better Investment Than Friendship
By Heath Shive
We've seen that there's a psychology to gift giving. First, we looked at the norm of reciprocity. Then we looked at the "foot-in-the-door" technique.
Today, we look at the science behind the adage, "Blood is thicker than water." Or - as I say it - family is a better investment than friendship.
There’s the old Biblical proverb, “It’s better to give than receive" (Acts 20:35).
But kids will tell you something different – it is way more fun to receive gifts!
There’s a scientific way to maximize your gift-receiving selfishness!
To the science of family and friends!
Gift Giving Psychology
In 2003, psychologists Gad Saad and Tripat Gill performed a study on young adults to determine how much they spent on gifts and also who received the most expensive gifts.
Specifically, Saad and Gill were predicting that the gift's price would correlate with genetic relatedness. In their paper, genetic relation was measured as the value r, where r equaled the amount of shared genetic material.
For example, your parents would have an r value of 0.50, because you share 50% of your DNA with each parent. Siblings would also have an r value of 0.50. Grandparents (r=0.25), aunts/uncles (r=0.25), half-siblings (r=0.25), cousins (r=0.125), step-relations (r=0), and friends (r=0) were also included.
As Saad and Gill predicted, the study results showed that the closer the genetic relation, the greater the gift. Close family (r = 0.50) received $73.12 on mean average. Moderately close family (r = 0.25) and distant family (r = 0.125) received $19.03 and $18.56 respectively.
How Does This Help Me?
Now you know who to invite into your life! If you have to choose between your aunts and high-school friends, it’s better to involve your aunts. If you have to choose between your favorite sibling and your best friend for your maid-of-honor/best man, choose your sibling.
Saad & Gill’s study showed other patterns too:
Saad and Gill’s study is far from exhaustive – it was one study of one group from one city. There are bound to be cultural and individual differences. But compare the results above with your own experience. Pretty close, right?
Who spends more money on your wedding: your parents or college buddies? Who will donate a kidney: your family or your friends?
In “The Dukes of Hazzard,” Boss Hogg once said, “Blood is thicker than water, but money is thicker than blood.”
Scientifically, money is not thicker than blood. Family is always a good investment.
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Saad, Gad and Tripat Gill, “An Evolutionary Psychology Perspective on Gift-Giving among Young Adults,” Psychology & Marketing 20 (2003): 765-84.
Gift Giving Psychology (Part 2): The Door-In-The-Face Technique
By Heath Shive
In the last blog we talked about the norm of reciprocity – a societal rule that says: you have to give me something if I give you something.
This next mind trick is a variation of the norm of reciprocity.
This mind trick is called the door-in-the-face technique – or in other words, when you reject my first ridiculous offer, you will be more likely to agree to my second offer.
Sound impossible? To the science!
In 1976, psychologists Robert Cialdini and Karen Ascani performed a study at the University of Arizona.
They asked people to donate blood as part of a blood drive, but they were asked in 2 different ways: (1) one group would be asked if they would donate blood sometime tomorrow, but…(2) a second group would be asked to donate once every 2 months for 3 years!
Okay, here's the twist. If people in the second group refused to donate blood every 2 months for 3 years, only then would the researchers ask them to donate just once sometime tomorrow.
The results showed that more people agreed to give blood (and actually gave blood) when they received the more extreme request first!
When people reject the first proposal (“shut the door in your face”), they are more likely to agree to the second (lesser) request.
How It Works
The door-in-the-face technique makes use of 2 basic psychological processes.
First, the large request sets up a contrast effect – for example, contrast the one time blood request to a blood donation over 3 years!
Second, the immediate concession by the requester invokes the norm of reciprocity. The requester implicitly says, “Hey! I’m giving a little; now you give a little.”
And many people do!
Car dealers often artificially inflate the asking price for a car. During negotiation, the seller “graciously” will concede a little on the car price. But now it is your “turn” to raise your buying price!
Have you ever had a sales agent say something like: “So can I write your name for a $100 donation?” or “…for a 2-year lease?” or “…for 20 boxes of units?”
They ask high to set an artificially high standard – so that you will settle (or reciprocate) at a higher number than normally.
As explained in the great persuasion manual, Age of Propaganda: “The norm of reciprocity is successful as a persuasion device because it directs our thoughts and carries its own motivation to act on those thoughts. We are directed to think “How can I repay my obligation?” as opposed to “Is this a good deal?”
So this Christmas, if your daughter asks for a pony…beware. She knows you will say no. It is the second gift on her list that she really wants.
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Cialdini, R. B., & Ascani, K. (1976). Test of a concession procedure for inducing verbal, behavioral, and further compliance with a request to give blood. Journal of Applied Psychology, 61, 295-300.
Pratkanis, Anthony, & Elliot Aronson. Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and abuse of Persuasion. W.H. Freeman and Company, 1991.
Gift Giving Psychology: The Norm of Reciprocity
by Heath Shive
In the 1970s, the Hare Krishna were experts at collecting donations. They looked strange, would chant in airports, and had a tendency to "weird" people out. So, how did they do it?
They used the psychology of the norm of reciprocity.
So this Christmas, how can you protect yourself from this psychological trick?
Let's find out.
To the science of gift giving!
The Norm of Reciprocity: Society’s Guilt Trip
The Hare Krishna were a very visible religious movement in the 1970s, especially in airports. When it comes to the art of persuasion, you wouldn’t expect a chanting, orange-clad, stubble-headed pagan to be an expert - but their organization made millions!
It was the famous psychologist Robert Cialdini who discovered that they used a powerful technique called the norm of reciprocity.
But first, what is a "norm"? As described in the fascinating book Age of Propaganda, a norm is a specific guide to conduct. A norm is how society tells you to act normally – like tipping 15% at a restaurant, sneezing into your elbow, or not cutting in line.
The norm of reciprocity is simply this: If I give you something, you are obligated to give me something in return. The norm of reciprocity regulates exchange in a culture.
The Power of Flowers
Psychologist Robert Cialdini – who spent hours at the airport observing Krishnas in action – discovered that the sect used the norm of reciprocity to “guilt trip” people into giving money.
They would simply give you a flower.
The Krishna member would spy a “victim,” who would suddenly find a flower pressed into his or her hand. If the target attempted to give it back, the Krishna would refuse by saying, “It is our gift to you.” Only then did they request a donation.
The gift of a flower established a feeling of obligation. The targeted “victim” would feel compelled to donate – thus fulfilling the norm of reciprocity.
The Power of a Free Coke
In fact – even if you dislike someone – the norm of reciprocity can work. A study by Dennis Regan published 1971 illustrates this. In his experiment, two male students were surveyed for their “aesthetic judgments.” However one of the students was an accomplice who intentionally either made himself likable or unlikable.
After five minutes, sometimes the accomplice would leave and come back with two Cokes…offering the other Coke to the other student. At the end of the study, the accomplice asked the real student if he would like to buy some raffle tickets.
The results showed that when the accomplice gave the other student a Coke, he sold nearly twice as many tickets compared with no Coke – whether the accomplice was likable or not!
So beware of gifts! Those “free” cheese samples at the grocery, those “free” mailing labels from a nonprofit, and that “free” drink from someone in a bar. Beware that invitation to a distant cousin’s or college friend’s wedding. Beware of those “free” pill samples given by a pharmaceutical rep.
Because every gift gives twice - it gives a gift...and an obligation.
The norm of reciprocity is supposed to establish a fair exchange for a better society. Ironically, the norm of reciprocity can be used to cheat people too.
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Cialdini, Robert. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Rev.ed. Collins, 2007.
Pratkanis, Anthony, & Elliot Aronson. Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion. W.H. Freeman and Company, 1991.
Regan, D. T. (1971). Effects of a favor and liking on compliance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 7, 627-639.
Hello! My name is Heath Shive, content manager at ScholarFox. I'll be the author of most of the blog posts. I'm a former geologist and currently a freelance writer. The world is complex and seemingly crazy. Good! Because when you love to learn, you'll never be bored.