Archive for “March, 2015”

Two male ibex fight

#GeekReads: 5 Quick Reads that Made Us Smarter

 In this week’s #GeekReads: avoiding wasteful conflict; the stress of uncertainty; an “empathy pill”; the correlation between age and trust; social media and the human urge to connect.


Mistat for tat. Sometimes we perceive a first-strike attack against us that didn’t actually happen. Tips on avoiding wasteful conflict. From Jeremy E Sherman Ph.D. via Psychology Today.

Tell me what to do. Have you ever been so uncertain about something that you wish someone else would make the decision for you? When does uncertainty stop being exciting and start being stressful? From Julie Beck via The Atlantic.

A dose of empathy. A study finds that increased dopamine in the brain may promote fairer, more egalitarian behavior toward strangers. From Natalie Shoemaker via Big Think.

Growing to trust. Across generations, levels of trust seem to increase as we grow older. From Julie Deardorff via Futurity.

Information superhighway. Eric Haseltine Ph.D. goes back three billion years to help explain humans’ accelerating urge to connect in the digital age. Via Psychology Today.


Tweet us your #GeekReads at @w0nderlab.

Image: flickr/Tambako The Jaguar, CC BY 2.0

Communication break-down

#GeekReads: 5 Quick Reads that Made Us Smarter

In this week’s #GeekReads: communicating in the workplace; our illogical preference for large groups; happiness indicators across political lines; the limitations of history class; cooperation and game theory.


Speaking a shared language. Successful communication involves more than self-expression. Tips on how to navigate value conflicts in the workplace and communicate in terms that resonate with your audience. From Jason Hreha via Big Think.

The bigger the better. The psychology behind why we assign more value to items when they’re placed in larger groups. From Coglode.

If you’re happy and you know it. New research on facial expressions and language choice suggests liberals and conservatives may express happiness in different ways. From Tom Jacobs via Business Insider.

History is written by the winners. How can high schools move away from models that promote one “set” historical narrative and make space for multiple histories and accounts? From Michael Conway via The Atlantic

Work with me. Since cooperation creates more benefit and makes our lives easier, why then don’t we cooperate all of the time? From Alexander J Stewart via PsyPost.


Tweet us your #GeekReads at @w0nderlab.

Image: flickr/Jurgen Appelo, CC BY 2.0

Dr Strange gives Charlie Brown psychiatric advice

#GeekReads: 4 Quick Reads + 1 Watch that Made Us Smarter

In this week’s #GeekReads: debunking dubious “science”; creating network-oriented nonprofits; capturing attention on social media; how trust shapes the brain; fighting anti-Muslim sentiment with comedy.


Neurobollocks. Neuroscience has been used to lend credibility to some dubious claims about human psychology. Dr. Christian Jarrett cuts through the hype in a new video. From Simon Oxenham via Big Think.

The webs we weave. By strategically building social networks that are mobilized around a common goal, nonprofits can increase their impact as movement makers. From Charlie Brown via Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Look over here! How do we rise above the noise on social media? A look into the science of capturing people’s attention. From Will Yakowicz via Big Think.

Can I trust you? Researchers have discovered structural differences in the brain reflecting how trusting people are of others. From University of Georgia via PsyPost.

Laughter is the best cure. Comedian Maz Jobrani uses comedy to challenge Muslim stereotypes and bridge cultural divides. From Robin Wright via The Atlantic.


Tweet us your #GeekReads at @w0nderlab.

Image: flickr/JD Hancock, CC BY 2.0

Laughter is the Best Medicine (for Your Cause)

Research Tells Us Why Your Audiences Don’t Listen; Here’s What To Do About It

By Tamara Murray

When was the last time you wanted to feel sad and helpless?

You’re not alone. It’s human nature to gravitate away from what makes us feel bad. In fact, most people avoid information that’s painful, unpleasant, or uncomfortable. Scientists call this phenomenon “information aversion.”

Information aversion has major implications for you and your cause. Most organizations, in an effort to rally support, shine a spotlight on the problems and injustices they’re working to solve: poverty, climate change, out-of-control healthcare costs. If only people knew just how deep the suffering goes, we think.

Meanwhile, our audiences are thinking:

So what’s the solution? Humor.

There’s nothing funny about my issue, you may be thinking, but please humor me. (Pun intended.) Let’s geek out for a moment on the science, and then I’ll show you how others are doing it.

Information Aversion 101

I heard about information aversion recently from NPR’s social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam at frank, a gathering for social-change communicators. He told us about a fascinating study on something deeply upsetting: cancer.

Imagine an office, filled with people who see each other and work together day in and day out. Then imagine that one of those people was diagnosed with breast cancer.

You would think that this horrible diagnosis would strike a chord with female colleagues in the office and motivate them to get screened, right?

Wrong. The women in the office were less likely to get a mammogram. Why? Information aversion. They didn’t want to know, because the information was potentially painful and scary.

But that has to do with one’s own health, not the well-being of others. What about when others’ well-being is on the line?

Vedantam told us about another experiment in which participants were asked whether they would save a drowning child if they were sure it would not be dangerous to themselves. Overwhelmingly, people said yes. But when told that there were two drowning children and they could only save one, then fewer people said yes. Why? It was too painful to imagine not being able to save the second one, so they chose no action at all.

If it is human nature to avoid painful information and feelings, we must help our audiences overcome this before they’re willing to take action in support of our cause. That brings us back to humor.

Humor is one of the ways people cope with uncomfortable or upsetting information. It eases our anxiety. And though humor isn’t the only strategy at our disposal, it’s one we often overlook or dismiss because we’re afraid it won’t be tasteful or will trivialize our cause.

Humor in Action

Let’s look at three examples of causes using humor, and then we’ll discuss.




Funny, right?

Imagine for a moment that these were your run-of-the-mill issue ads on overturning the blood ban, encouraging young people to sign up for Obamacare, and water conservation. More serious ads may have triggered subconscious reactions among audiences, like this:

  • Blood Ban: It’s depressing to know people are afraid of me/my friend/my relative. Will we ever have to stop fighting?
  • Obamacare: Stop telling me I’m going to get sick. I have my whole life ahead of me.
  • Drought: I’ve already let my lawn go. I’m tired of hearing how bad this drought is when I can’t control the weather!

All of these equal one thing: apathy. And apathy leads to tuning out and not taking action.

Humor took these serious issues and made them more palatable for their audiences. Once the issue is more palatable, audiences are willing to keep listening.

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this, it’s that we need humor in our toolbox if we’re to overcome our audiences’ natural inclination to tune out upsetting information. The next time you’re creating a campaign or doing message testing or research, don’t forget to see what tickling the funny bone can do.

Are there other campaigns you’ve seen that use humor effectively? Let us know in the comments.


Image: flickr/tropical.pete CC BY-SA 2.0, edited from original

Workers harvest strawberries

#GeekReads: 5 Quick Reads that Made Us Smarter

In this week’s #GeekReads: the social science behind cooperation; our brains on movies; defining emotions; bridging cultural divides; making sense of irrational decision-making.


There’s no “I” in team. Why do we make cooperative decisions that benefit the wider group, when selfish choices could get us ahead in the short term? From University of Nottingham via PsyPost.

Is this real life? From tear-jerkers to action flicks, movies trick our brains into believing that what we see on the screen is real. Neuroscientist Jeffrey Zacks explains. From Gerry Everding via Futurity.

No hard feelings. How would you explain emotions to a robot? Julie Beck explores the origins of emotions and the challenges of defining them. Via The Atlantic.

Mind the gap. For polyculturalists, rethinking our approach to cultural difference can foster interconnectedness in the global economy. From Columbia Business School via PsyPost.

Reckoning with irrationality. Human decision-making is often irrational, but that doesn’t mean our thought processes are “wrong.” What businesses and government can learn from human psychology. From David Berreby via Nautilus.


Tweet us your #GeekReads at @w0nderlab.

Image: flickr/JD Hancock, CC BY 2.0

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