IQ and Race

Is there a connection between how smart you are and the genes you inherits from your parents? Or do social, cultural, and economic factors play a more important role in how well one ranks in intelligence quota than the nature of his make-up?

Malcolm Gladwell adds his perspective to the Race-IQ debate in this weeks New Yorker with his insightful article, None of the Above: What I.Q. doesn’t tell you about race.


Surrendipity: 2012

Malcolm Gladwell at 2007 New Yorker Conference

Billions and billions of dollars have been spent in the pursuit of new drugs but vanishingly few useful drugs are actually being developed. Dr. Safi Bahcall, the president and C.E.O. of the biotechnology company Synta Pharmaceuticals, and Malcolm Gladwell talk about how mistakes lead to great scientific discoveries and how big drug companies hamper innovation.

Check out their talk, Surrendipity: 2012 from the 2007 New Yorker Conference.

backmasking psychology

The Truth About Subliminal Influence

Hungry? Eat Popcorn

The interesting thing about the claim of a subliminal influence contained within popular music when played backwards is that the messages are very difficult (if not impossible) to discern unless you’ve been primed to hear them on a conscious level.

I’ve been receiving emails wanting to know how this apparent lack of influence ties in with research that demonstrates subliminal messages can coerce unwary buyers into making purchases they would not otherwise have considered?

A short story is in order, (stop me if you’ve heard this one) Fort Lee, N.J., 1957. Unsuspecting film goers are enjoying “Picnic”, with William Holden and Kim Novak. In the projection room, an important marketing experiment is being staged. Researcher James Vicary has installed a tachistoscope, a machine that can inject subliminal images of tiny fractions of a second—far below that of a person’s conscious threshold. Every five seconds and for a duration of just 1/3000th of a second, Vicary alternated two messages. One read, “Drink Coca-cola” and the other, “Hungry? Eat Popcorn”.

Vicary’s results were spectacular! Coca-cola sales jumped 18.1%; popcorn sales 57.8%. Vicary dubbed this “subliminal advertising”, the practise of manipulating consumers to make purchases they might not normally make.

And if you believe that, I’ve got a pet rock I’d like to sell you.

The great popcorn experiment was a fraud.

Advertisers and regulators doubted Vicary’s story from the beginning, so another researcher, Dr. Henry Link, duplicated Vicary’s experiment and found no evidence that people reacted to the messages. In a 1962 interview, Mr. Vicary admitted the data was all fabricated to gain attention for his business. Some critics have since expressed doubt that he ever conducted the experiments at all.

However, the legend lives on. To this day a great many people still believe Vicary’s claims and will apparently never be convinced otherwise.

As numerous studies over the last few decades have demonstrated, subliminal advertising doesn’t work; in fact, it never worked, and the whole premise was based on a lie from the very beginning.

It is possible to prime the unconscious.

According to a recent experiment, psychologists at Yale were able to alter people’s judgments by simply priming them with either hot or cold coffee.

The study participants, college students, had no idea that their social instincts were being deliberately manipulated. On the way to the laboratory, they had bumped into a laboratory assistant, who was holding textbooks, a clipboard, papers and a cup of hot or iced coffee and asked for a hand with the cup.

That was all it took: The students who held a cup of iced coffee rated a hypothetical person they later read about as being much colder, less social and more selfish than did their fellow students, who had momentarily held a cup of hot java.

As improbable as it may seem, findings like this one have continued to pour forth in psychological research in recent years.

New studies have found that people tidy up more thoroughly when there’s a faint tang of cleaning liquid in the air; they become more competitive if there’s a briefcase in sight, or more cooperative if they glimpse words like “dependable” and “support” all without being aware of the change, or what prompted it.

The article goes on to remind readers that, “studies of products promising subliminal improvement, for things like memory and self-esteem, found no effect”.

If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I recommend reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink—here’s a very short audio snippet from chapter 2 (650k mp3).


Buzz Marketing Interview with Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell at World Innovation Forum

Paul Dunay, of Buzz Marketing for Technology has a recap of Malcolm Gladwell’s recent speech at the World Innovation Forum about, what else, innovation.

Paul found an opportunity to speak with Gladwell during the conference and recorded his interview.

Gladwell illustrates some of his points from his book, The Tipping Point, and what I found to be quite interesting, how the “last mile problem of marketing” is still trouble for marketers.

“The last mile in word of mouth marketing is personal relationships. At the end of the day I’m most powerfully influenced by those I know, respect and love,” explains Gladwell. The most complicated marketing scheme in the world won’t have a very strong affect on any given individual if the people that that individual trusts aren’t moved by the product.

Gladwell also talks a little bit about his new book. He says it’s about exceptional performers and high achievers, how they got there, and what we can learn from them.

Listen to the “Buzz Marketing for Technology’s” interview with Malcolm Gladwell.


Genius: 2012

Gladwell at New Yorker TalkCultural phenomenon Malcolm Gladwell gave a talk at the New Yorker Conference 2012: Stories From the Near Future. His talk Genius: 2012 illustrates the importance of stubbornness and collaboration in problem-solving.


Gothamitis: Malcolm Gladwell and Adam Gopnik in Conversation

Malcolm Gladwell and Adam Gopnik in Conversation

The Design Trust Council held their inaugural event last Wednesday in the Founders Room at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Blink) was joined by fellow New Yorker magazine writer Adam Gopnik(Through the Children’s Gate, Paris to the Moon), in an entertaining and provocative conversation titled “Gothamitis.”

Gladwell and Gopnik, both keen observers of New York civic life, each relate different perspectives on “Gothamitis” what current development trends mean for the soul of New York City.

Listen to the entire conversation (116.5mb mp3), along with audience questions via Design Trust’s blog, I ♥ Public Space.

Email me if you’d like a copy of the mp3, I still have a copy on my old hard drive


Malcolm Gladwell vs. Stephen Colbert

My favorite author goes head to head with Stephen Colbert.

View it on The Colbert Nation site.


Gladwell on Geothermal

Malcolm Gladwell’s father recently installed a geothermal heating and cooling system in his backyard. After reading his father’s explanation on the benefits of geothermal temperature control, I will definitely consider this option when it comes time to build my dream home.

“[N]ot only was the house warm but the difference in the quality of the air inside the marked. Oil heat works through combustion: it uses up oxygen. Geothermal systems heat the house with ambient air, which makes you feel like you are outside when you are inside. This summer, southern Ontario—where my parents live—has had the same heatwave as the rest of us in the Northeast, and now my parent’s house has been as wonderfully cool as it was warm in the winter.”


Gladwell Offers an Anatomy of Explanations

Reading Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker review on Charles Tilly’s new book “Why”, I had one of those eureka moments in tracing back and understanding the deterioration of an old relationship. I hope you’ll glean some insight as well.

Though I haven’t read it, Gladwell summarizes the book’s breakdown of the types of reason-giving we give into four categories: conventions (social formulae), stories (common sense narratives), codes (legal formulae) and technical accounts (specialized stories). Depending upon the type of reason we give, we run into trouble because of the unspoken message that is sent by our choice.

Imagine, he says, the following possible responses to one person’s knocking some books off the desk of another:

  1. Sorry, buddy. I’m just plain awkward.
  2. I’m sorry. I didn’t see your book.
  3. Nuts! I did it again.
  4. Why did you put that book there?
  5. I told you to stack up your books neatly.

The lesson is not that the kind of person who uses reason No. 1 or No. 2 is polite and the kind of person who uses reason No. 4 or No. 5 is a jerk. The point is that any of us might use any of those five reasons depending on our relation to the person whose books we knocked over. Reason-giving, Tilly says, reflects, establishes, repairs, and negotiates relationships. The husband who uses a story to explain his unhappiness to his wife—”Ever since I got my new job, I feel like I’ve just been so busy that I haven’t had time for us”—is attempting to salvage the relationship. But when he wants out of the marriage, he’ll say, “It’s not you—it’s me.” He switches to a convention. As his wife realizes, it’s not the content of what he has said that matters. It’s his shift from the kind of reason-giving that signals commitment to the kind that signals disengagement. Marriages thrive on stories. They die on conventions.

As I usually do with Gladwell’s writing, I highly recommend you check out this article, “HERE’S WHY“.


Malaysia – Day 9

I checked out the cost to go to Iran from here, but when I checked the dates I realized that I made a gross miscalculation with regard to how long it is until I leave Malaysia. It looks like I won’t have time to do any extra travelling after all unless I finish up the work-study early or have my flight plans changed. I’ll have to look into these respective possibilities.

I shaved off my beard today. I was holding onto the hope that Anna-Maria might come and visit me here and well… though she’s a big fan of my facial hair, she’s not going to see me here.

On my commute to work I’ve been listening to the audio version of the book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. It’s by Malcolm Gladwell, and it’s about how we make decisions — both good and bad — and why some people so much better at making decisions than others. My friend Jason recommended it to me along with another of his books, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, which is about change and more specifically it shares a new way of understanding why change so often happens as quickly and as unexpectedly as it does.

So far Blink has been an eye opening experience; when I’m done I will certainly pick up The Tipping Point. In almost every chapter—if not every chapter—I find myself at the edge of my seat hanging on every word. I particularly liked the insight on improvisational acting (he believes in Keith Johnstone’s techniques), the story behind a massive war games held by the United States in 2002 (which in reality was a failure), and the decision for the Coco-cola Bottling Company to switch to New Coke in the 80’s (read about New Coke at Snopes). I’m only on Chapter 6 of Blink but I love everything about this book.