Behavioral Science vs. Behavioral Economics

Logo for HumanTech podcastWhat is behavioral science? How is it different from behavioral economics? And why are both so cool? Plus, Guthrie geeks out about Daniel Kahneman’s research.

HumanTech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

Learn About Brain and Behavioral Science

Optical Illusion pictureWe’ve launched our new course curriculum in Brain and Behavioral Science!

If you’re interested in learning more about why people are the way they are, why people do what they do, and how to work more effectively with people and communicate more clearly, then check out our new series of courses:

You can take one course, or you can take all of them, pass the Certificate exam,  and earn the Brain and Behavioral Science Certificate.

Check out the new courses, and let us know if you have any questions (

Use Promo Code: BBSNew and receive 30% off any of the Brain and Behavioral Science courses from now through Feb. 21, 2017.

Let us know what you think!

The Science of Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work (And What To Do About It)

Notebook and penHow many New Year’s resolutions have you made in your life? How many have you successfully accomplished? The estimate is that less than 10% of New Year’s resolutions are actually achieved (University of Scranton Psychology Professor John C. Norcross, Ph.D.). There’s a lot of homespun folksy advice out there this time of year about how to make sure you reach your New Year’s goals, but I thought I’d share the actual science of how to change behavior.

There’s two main lines of brain and behavior science that influence New Year’s resolutions: The science of habits and the science of self-stories.

Let’s start with the science of habits.

A lot of New Year’s resolutions have to do with making new habits or changing existing ones. If your resolutions are around things like eating healthier, exercising more, drinking less, quitting smoking, texting less, spending more time “unplugged” or any number of other “automatic” behaviors then we are talking about changing existing habits or making new habits. Habits are automatic, “conditioned” responses. You get up in the morning and stop at Starbucks for a pastry and a latte. You go home at the end of work and plop down in front of the TV.  Here’s what you need to know about the science of changing existing habits or making new ones:

  • Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not hard to change habits IF you do so based on science.
  • To change a new habit you essentially have to create a new one, so whether you are changing an existing habit or creating a new one, the “scientific” method for doing so is the same.
  • You have already created literally HUNDREDS of habits that you have now, and you don’t even remember how they got started, so creating habits can’t be that hard or you wouldn’t have so many of them!

To create a new habit you have to follow these three steps (based on B.J. Fogg and Charles Duhigg)

  1. You MUST pick a small action. “Get more exercise” is not small. “Eat healthier” is not small. This is a big reason why New Year’s resolutions don’t work. If it’s a habit and you want a new one it MUST be something really small. For example, instead of “Get more exercise” choose “Walk 1/3 more than I usually do” or “Take the stairs each morning to get to my office, not the elevator”, or “Have a smoothie every morning with kale in it”. These are relatively small actions.
  2. You MUST attach the new action to a previous habit. Figure out a habit you already have that is well established, for example, if you already go for a brisk walk 3 times a week, then adding on 10 more minutes to the existing walk connects the new habit to an existing one. The existing habit “Go for walk” now becomes the “cue” for the new habit: “Walk 10 more minutes.” Your new “stimulus-response” is Go For Walk (Stimulus) followed by “Add 10 minutes.” Your existing habit of “walk through door at office” can now become the “cue” or stimulus for the new habit of “walk up a flight of stairs.” Your existing habit of “Walk into the kitchen in the morning” can now be the stimulus for the new habit of “Make a kale smoothie.”
  3. You MUST make the new action EASY to do for at least the first week. Because you are trying to establish a conditioned response, you need to practice the new habit from the existing stimulus from 3 to 7 times before it will “stick” on its own. To help you through this 3 to 7 times phase make it as EASY as possible. Write a note and stick it in your walking shoe that says “Total time today for walk is 30 minutes”. Write a note and put it where you put your keys that says: “Today use the stairs.” Put the kale in the blender and have all your smoothie ingredients ready to go in one spot in the refrigerator.

If you take these three steps and you practice them 3 to 7 days in a row your new habit will be established.

Now let’s tackle the science of self-stories.

The best (and some would say the only) way to get a large and long-term behavior change, is by changing your self-story.

Everyone has stories about themselves that drive their behavior. You have an idea of who you are and what’s important to you. Essentially you have a “story” operating about yourself at all times. These self-stories have a powerful influence on decisions and actions.

Whether you realize it or not, you make decisions based on staying true to your self-stories. Most of this decision-making based on self-stories happens unconsciously. You strive to be consistent. You want to make decisions that match your idea of who you are. When you make a decision or act in a way that fits your self-story, the decision or action will feel right. When you make a decision or act in a way that doesn’t fit your self-story you feel uncomfortable.

If you want to change your behavior and make the change stick, then you need to first change the underlying self-story that is operating. Do you want to be more optimistic? Then you’d better have an operating self-story that says you are an optimistic person. Want to join your local community band? Then you’ll need a self-story where you are outgoing and musical.

In his book, Redirect, Timothy Wilson describes a large body of impressive research of how stories can change behavior long-term. One technique he has researched is “story-editing”:

  1. Write out your existing story. Pay special attention to anything about the story that goes AGAINST the new resolution you want to adopt. So if your goal is to learn how to unplug and be less stressed, then write out a story that is realistic, that shows that it’s hard for you to de-stress, that  you tend to get overly involved in dramas at home or at work.
  2. Now re-write the story — create a new self-story. Tell the story of the new way of being. Tell the story of the person who appreciates life, and takes time to take care of him/her-self.

The technique of story-editing is so simple that it doesn’t seem possible that it can result in such deep and profound change. But the research shows that one re-written self-story can make all the difference.

I’ve tried both of these techniques — creating new habits using the 3-step method, and creating a new self-story. The research shows they work, and my own experience shows they work.

Give it a try. What have you got to lose? This year use science to create and stick to your New Year’s resolutions.

What do you think? What has worked for you in keeping your resolutions?

For more info:

Timothy Wilson’s book Redirect:

Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit:

My book, How To Get People To Do Stuff

B.J. Fogg’s website:

The Fascination Of Live Video

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Now anyone anywhere can create and stream live video. Have you spent any time at the Facebook Live Video Map? It’s fascinating and addictive. We explore why that is in this podcast episode.

HumanTech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

Any Cell Phone In The Room Messes With Rapport – (What You Need To Know About People #120)

cell phone on table at cafeYou are interviewing a candidate for a job in your department. You take your cell phone, turn it to “do not disturb” and place it face down on a side table several feet from where you and the candidate are sitting. This way you won’t be disturbed, and you’ve signaled to the other person that you are giving them your full attention and won’t be distracted by the phone.

Right? Well, maybe not.

Andrew Przybylski and Netta Weinstein studied how the presence of a cell phone affects the way people communicate with each other. Because people use their mobile devices to stay connected with people who are not in close proximity, it’s easy to build a conditioned response to the device and think of it as “everyone else.” As long as the cell phone is visible, even if it is on the other side of the room, it represents its owner’s social network. The whole social network is in the room. Which means that the phone will trigger thinking about other people and other events outside the immediate context, which will in turn divert attention away from the experiences that are occurring at the particular time and place.

Some of this may occur consciously, but some of this “not being present” occurs unconsciously. Social psychologists, including Przybylski and Weinstein, theorize that these devices can, therefore, have a negative impact on person-to-person relationships.

To research the idea, they ran two experiments. In the first experiment people who did not know each other were assigned to pairs, asked to leave all their personal belongings outside the room, and then told to “Discuss an interesting event that occurred to you over the past month,” for ten minutes. For half of the pairs, there was a mobile phone (not belonging to either person) on top of a book. The book was on a nearby desk, but not in the direct visual field of the participants. The other half of the pairs had the same room setup, but without a mobile phone.

After the ten-minute discussion, each participant individually filled out forms to measure things such as relationship quality, closeness, and positive affect.

The pairs that had been in the room with the mobile phone felt less close to each other, and rated the relationship lower than the pairs in a room without a cell phone present.

In the second experiment, some of the pairs were instructed to discuss their “thoughts and feelings about plastic holiday trees” (casual condition). Other pairs were instructed to discuss “the most meaningful events of the past year” (meaningful condition). The surveys were the same as in the first experiment, except some new surveys were added to measure trust and empathy.

When the mobile phone was in the room participants gave lower ratings on all the measures, including the new trust and empathy measures. But this effect was stronger in the meaningful condition pairs than the casual condition pairs.

The researchers concluded that simply placing the cell phone in the room interfered with the formation of a new relationship, and that the negative effect of the cell phone was stronger during a meaningful conversation.

So you and that candidate won’t bond as well if any phone is visible.

What to do? This may sound drastic, but if you want to establish great rapport then here are some takeaways:

  • When you’re establishing a new relationship with someone, don’t have a cell phone in view.
  • When you’re trying to deepen an interpersonal relationship or get someone to trust you, don’t have a cell phone in view.
  • When you’re in a meeting, model the behavior by not only turning off your cell phone, but actually putting it out of view.
  • When you’re running a meeting, ask everyone to turn off their cell phones and put them out of view.

What do you think? Does the presence of a cell phone change your conversations and rapport-building?

Here’s the research:

Przybylski, Andrew K., and Netta Weinstein. 2013. “Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, vol. 30 no. 3, 237-246.

If you liked this article, and want more info like it, check out my newest book: 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People.

HumanTech — Check out the new podcast

Logo for HumanTech podcastJust a quick announcement to let you know we’ve started a new weekly podcast called HumanTech.

I’m hosting this podcast with my (amazing) son, Guthrie. Here’s the description at iTunes:

HumanTech — A podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. We explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

Check out our first episode on the Internet of Things, and I hope you will subscribe to the weekly podcast on iTunes and on Stitcher.



New Book Tour for 2016

photo of a deserted road

Want to host a Brain Lady keynote and/or workshop?

I’ll be going on the road in 2016 for a book tour for my new book: 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People. We are looking for some sponsoring partners.

We’re flexible, but here are the basics — We are looking for companies and organizations that want to bring us in for a keynote or workshop internally, or who want to partner with us to host and help market a public keynote and/or workshop in select cities.

If you are interested, let us know: and we can talk details.