Regression to the Mean, or Why Intelligent Women Marry Less Intelligent Men

“Women are made to be loved, not understood.”
Oscar Wilde

Imagine you’re at a party making small talk and some guy suggests its a well-known fact that intelligent women marry less intelligent men (factually this is correct). The genius supports his insight with reasons like, intelligent women have low self-esteem, or intelligent women want to dominate their partner, and so on. But what does account for the fact?

Daniel Kanneman, in Thinking, Fast and Slow, uses this example to illustrate the concepts of regression to the mean, correlation, and why we instinctively look for causal explanations when a simple statistical one will do.

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On Philosophy

But between theology and science there is a No Man’s Land, exposed to attack from both sides; this No Man’s Land is philosophy
– Bertrand Russell

There is a scene at a bar in Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon, the smart but poor kid, humbles the rich but arrogant kid exposing his cleverness as unimaginative regurgitation from books he’s read rather than any original thinking. This pretentiousness is what many of us associate with philosophy. We picture clever sounding arguments from poncy Harvard students, and are skeptical it speaks to anything useful.

I am basically illiterate as far as philosophy goes and in an attempt to cure my affliction I read A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell. He kicks it off with a nice explanation of what philosophy is and why it matters.

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Liking

I’m sick of just liking people. I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect – J. D. Salinger

‘Few people would be surprised to learn that, as a rule, we most prefer to say yes to the requests of someone we know and like. What might be startling to note, however, is that this simple rule is used in hundreds of ways by total strangers to get us to comply with their requests’. This is the fourth post in a series on Robert B. Chialdini’s classic work on the study of persuasion, compliance and change, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition. (more…)

Social Proof

Where all think alike, no one thinks very much – Walter Lippmann

The principle of social proof says that we look to other people to decide what constitutes correct behavior. ‘We view a behavior as more correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it’.

This is the fourth post in a series on Robert B. Chialdini’s classic work on the study of persuasion, compliance and change, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition.

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Commitment and Consistency

‘It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end’ – Leonardo da Vinci

The rule for commitment and consistency is ‘our nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.’

This is the third post in a series on Robert B. Chialdini’s classic work on the study of persuasion, compliance and change, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition. (more…)

Reciprocation

‘Pay every debt, as if God wrote the bill’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson

‘One of the most potent weapons of influence around us (is) the rule for reciprocation. The rule says that we should try to repay in kind, what another person has provided us.’

This is the second post in a series on Robert B. Chialdini’s classic work on the study of persuasion, compliance and change, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition.

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Robert Chialdini on Why the Hell We Say Yes

‘There’s a sucker born every minute’ – David Hannum

We all use mental shortcuts to navigate our world. To avoid information overload we filter, and we respond automatically, quickly and unconsciously to much of what we encounter.

For the most part we get it right. We’ve evolved systems and behaviors that deliver a successful result most of the time. These shortcuts, these automatic responses, play a big role in whether we say yes to, agree with or comply with requests. And these unconscious processes can  be manipulated by compliance professionals like sales people or politicians, or 6 year olds who are unnaturally savvy to what makes us say yes.

In his classic work on the study of persuasion, compliance and change, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition, Chialdini helps us understand 6 psychological principles that underpin influence – consistency, reciprocation, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity. And with an understanding he equips us with the beginnings of a defense.

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Edward Tufte on Why PowerPoint Charts Don’t Have to Suck

‘What is to be sought in designs for the display of information is the clear portrayal of complexity. Not the complication of the simple’ – Edward Tufte

It turns out that the dissatisfaction we experience looking at one PowerPoint chart after another is because they’re invariably bad. Occasionally we see something good – a clean, simple graphic that lets the data speak for itself. Edward Tufte wrote The Visual Display of Quantitative Information to explain why and show us how.

The book itself is a work of art; hard cover, beautifully typeset, and full of examples that illustrate and inspire.  This summary is no substitute for the real thing.  Get the book.  Also, this post won’t make a lot of sense without having read the book first.

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