Dunedin NZ - a serial wedding guest appeared in thousands of wedding photos in 1980's and 1990's - a cheerful little old lady who obviously enjoyed the happy occasions (not to mention the free food and booze) so much that she turned it into a recreational activity. No-one ever figured out who she was - she hasn't been around for a while so presumed to have died. Similar "guests" have been reported at funerals, where you have probably less chance of being caught out, but there tends to be less champagne ...

Having trouble understanding why people do the things they do?

Murphy's Laws
- Stupidity cannot be cured with money, or through education, or by legislation. Stupidity is not a sin; the victim can't help being stupid. But stupidity is the only universal capital crime; the sentence is death, there is no appeal, and execution is carried out automatically and without pity.
- Never underestimate the power of human stupidity

MIST Law (Man In The Street): The number of people watching you is directly proportional to the stupidity of your action.

Uhlmann's Razor: When stupidity is a sufficient explanation, there is no need to have recourse to any other. Corollary (Law of Historical Causation): "It seemed like the thing to do at the time.".


There are people who strictly deprive themselves of each and every eatable, drinkable, and smokable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation. They pay this price for health. And health is all they get for it. How strange it is. It is like paying out your whole fortune for a cow that has gone dry. Mark Twain

Knowledge is power, if you know it about the right person.

By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man's, I mean. Mark Twain

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.

Character is what you do on the 3rd or 4th try.

A sense of humor is a measurement of the extent to which we realize that we are trapped in a world almost totally devoid of reason. Laughter is how we express the anxiety we feel at this knowledge. Dave Barry

If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect. Benjamin Franklin

Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment. Benjamin Franklin

Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.

Quotes about Behaviour


We develop quite strong ideas about cleanliness - modern Western society believes that a) imperative to wash regularly and b) wash in private. many earlier societies regarded bathing as unhealthy, and since everyone smelled of dry sweat, no-one noticed. And many societies (ancient Rome, modern Finland) take mixed public bathing for granted. Yet paradoxically, washing the dead is an almost universal human custom - serves absolutely no practical purpose, but meets deep symbolic emotional ones.

Precommitment doesn't just happen in movies. For years the economists Dean Karlan and John Romalis kept their weight down by means of a clever pact. Karlan and Romalis knew a little something about incentives, so they struck a deal: Each would have to lose 38 pounds in six months or forfeit half his annual income to the other. If both failed, the one who lost less would forfeit a quarter of his income. They lost the weight and generally kept it off, although, at one point, Romalis's weight popped back up over the limit and Karlan actually collected $15,000 from his friend. He felt he had no choice. He felt he had to take the money to maintain the credibility of their system, without which they'd both get fat.

Phonecams changing definition of privacy - woman threw tantrum in supermarket; bystander flips open camera phone -moments later her snarling face is on a web page, complete with unflattering caption - change old idea that can lose yourself in crowd.

Dinner with both Keith Quinn and Peter FitzSimmons. KQ gets up and gives one of his long meaningless stories; PS looks at him in amazement. "Gee I'd hate to be Mrs Quinn" he says. "Why's that?" says KQ. "Because tomorrow morning there'll be all these punters ringing up going "Who gives a shit?"

When people give you a list of reasons why they're doing something, ignore the first two and believe the third.

Eccentrics in Britain often tolerated, particularly if upper class - they find their peculiarities entertaining. Frequently live longer, perhaps bc their weirdness insulates them from stress.

At least 1 in 3 believe in ghosts, angels and/or life after death.

Yuk factor - take dead cockroach, sterilize it then dip it briefly in orange juice - no-one will drink the juice.

Anecdotes about Behaviour


We usually make dumb choices because we are novices playing against experts. The higher the stakes, the less chance we get to practice. Don't make many new career choices, don't marry or buy a car often. But we're really good at grocery shopping! We learn by trial and error, and getting feedback. But long-term processes don't give us feedback until it's too late. You can eat a high-fat diet for years before the heart attack.

The best way to persuade people is to tell them that everyone else is already doing it.

When you ask people what they intend to do, they are more likely to change their behaviour to be consistent with their prediction.

Hot and Cold decisions. Ulysses tying himself to the mast so he cd hear the Sirens but not be able to be tempted by them. But we underestimate the effect of arousal. When we are 'cold' we do not appreciate how much our desires and behaviour are altered when we are 'hot'. Nudge

We don't eat food or have sex because we calculate that that will increase our genetic contribution to the next generation. Instead we are driven by appetites. Evo psychologists argue that morality and altruism are similarly appetite driven. Morality is basically an understanding of what we can and cannot get away with. Altruism is a 'do-unto-others' strategy that you expect third parties to notice and to take into account when dealing with you.

Why do scientists come across as nerds in conversation? Author suggests it's because scientists learn a completely different conversational style at work, which discourages banalities and strongly encourages confrontational destruction-testing of anything suggested. Not necessarily to expose the person as a moron, but simply as part of the fun. But of course not so much fun in a cocktail party setting where people expect small talk and are surprised to be forced to minutely justify opinions.

Some societies a lot more open than others. Every year Norway publishes a list of how much everybody earned and how much tax they paid. Several American states publish the earnings of public employees. Santa Fe publishes a list of the top ten water users. In Japan, where households must sort their trash into dozens of categories, rubbish bags are transparent, so your neighbours can see whether you're recycling.

Studies have found that it's only the people in the middle who worry about what people think of them. Those at the bottom have nowhere further to fall. Those at the top can buy their reputation if necessary, but mainly they are isolated from those who might want to criticize. People Will Talk

Groupthink - everyone checks out everyone else to get handle on how they should be behaving. So when confronted by an emergency, potential good samaritans see nobody else helping so they assume everything OK. Amusing Ourselves To Death

Politics is all about emotion - study of how people reacted to scary pictures or loud noises, as measured by pulse rate and sweat response. The more conservative you were (pro-high mil spending, death penalty, literal truth of bible anti- premarital sex, immigration, gun control or abortion) the higher yr panic response. The more extreme yr political position partic on right, more likely you were to respond to emotional appeals from demagogues rather than stop and think rationally. How Many Friends Does One Person Need?

The White Bicycle Project. Some Dutch activists felt that Big Govt had underestimated basic human goodness. They placed a few dozen white painted bicycles on streets of Amsterdam, free for anyone to use. It was an almost instant failure. Within a month the whole lot had been stolen or thrown in the canals. The only communal bike projects which have succeeded are ones which use security, lock the bikes up and access through credit cards. Turns out, that despite Dutch guys optimism, if there's opportunity to misbehave, and little penalty for doing so, enough people will behave antisocially to wreck things for everyone. Here Comes Everybody

Imagine there's a Q on WWTBAM abt the Monkees - "Which of these people were not a member of the group - Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Roger Smith, Mike Nesmith?" Imagine there are 100 people in the audience. Seven of them are Monkees fans, and they know the answer is C. Another ten people recognize two of the names on the list as being Monkees, so their choice is between Noll and one other. That means half will vote for C, and the other 5 will be spread amongst rest. Another fifteen audience members will recognize one of the names, so by the same logic, C will get another 5 votes. The rest, 68 people have no idea, so distribute their votes completely at random, 17 each. Add them up and C gets 34 votes. Statistically the other names will get about 22 votes each, so C will be a clear winner, even though 93% of the audience were basically guessing. The Smart Swarm

Book Extracts about Behaviour


Most gamblers understand their numbers betting as a means of personal saving," Light reported, adding: "The bettor's justification for this seemingly preposterous misconception arises from unsatisfactory experiences with depository savings techniques. Once a numbers collector has a man's quarter, they aver, there is no getting it back in a moment of weakness. If, on the other hand, the quarter were stashed at home, a saver would have to live with the continuing clamor of unmet needs. In a moment of weakness, he might spend the quarter. Therefore, in the bettor's view, the most providential employment of small change is to bet it on a number. .... they were likely to get back $500 for every thousand bets of $1 each. That may not seem like much of a return on investment, but bear in mind that many players bet with quarters, a sum that even among the poor tends to vanish unaccountably. They got some hope. They couldn't raid their "savings" until they won. Precommitment

5 monkeys locked in a cage, after which a banana was hung from the ceiling with, fortunately for the monkeys (or so it seemed...), a ladder placed right underneath it. Of course, immediately, one of the monkeys would race towards the ladder, intending to climb it and grab the banana. However, as soon as he would start to climb, the sadist (euphemistically called "scientist") would spray the monkey with ice-cold water. In addition, however, he would also spray the other four monkeys... What We Can Learn From Monkeys

"There are intelligent people who are stupid," says Dylan Evans, a psychologist and author who studies emotion and intelligence. When we process information, they found, our brain can access two different systems. IQ tests measure only one of these, the deliberative processing that plays a key role in conscious problem-solving. Yet our default position in everyday life is to use our intuition. To begin with, these intuitive mechanisms gave us an evolutionary advantage, offering cognitive shortcuts that help deal with information overload. They include cognitive biases such as stereotyping, confirmation bias, and resistance to ambiguity - the temptation to accept the first solution to a problem even if it is obviously not the best. While these evolved biases, called "heuristics", may help our thinking in certain situations, they can derail our judgement if we rely on them uncritically. Stupidity: What makes people do dumb things

The very poor and the very rich (two classes that continue to grow in our present economic situation) have always been comfortable and blatant in their swearing. Swearing bears no risk if you don't have anything to lose or are so well-heeled that there is no one else in the room that you need to impress. Only the upwardly mobile bourgeoisie are afraid of swearing. Swearing

Stories are the most effective form of human communication, more powerful than any other way of packaging information. And telling purposeful stories is certainly the most efficient means of persuasion in everyday life, the most effective way of translating ideas into action. PowerPoint presentations may be powered by state-of-the-art technology. But reams of data rarely engage people to move them to action. Stories, on the other hand, are state-of-the-heart technology - they connect us to others. They provide emotional transportation, moving people to take action on your cause because they can very quickly come to psychologically identify with the characters in a narrative or share an experience. Persuade by telling stories

Chris Huhne and his penalty points. The former cabinet minister thinks that he was sent to jail despite the fact that so many others commit the same crime and get away with it. In fact, a Becker-style analysis suggests that he was sent to jail precisely because so many others commit the same crime and get away with it. If a crime is very hard to detect, the incentive to commit it is greater. The benefit of the crime outweighs the cost. As a result, you have to make the penalty greater so that, taken together, the punishment and the risk of punishment make transgression too costly to be worthwhile.

He also developed and popularised the idea of human capital, now a common term but very controversial when Becker first used it. The professor argued that education could be seen as an economic decision in which the long-term benefit of a better job could offset the short-term cost.It is impossible now to debate student tuition fees, for instance, without reference to Becker's ideas. Given that students increase their earning power as a result of a university education, but also that there is a social benefit, who should pay for it? And would tuition fees put off poorer students?

Becker would not have been surprised (as others have been) that the people most willing to pay tuition fees have proved to be the least well-off, and those least likely to pay have been the middle class. The cost is the same for both groups but the least well-off gain a greater benefit because they have less to fall back on without higher education. During his life Becker was often accused of treating human beings as factors of production and purely self-interested. Yet this is a complete misunderstanding. The real significance of Becker's work is the opposite.

Becker won the Nobel prize because he demonstrated the way in which economics was about more than money. Understanding people's incentives, and structuring social institutions in response to them, does not mean that people's incentives are purely selfish.

Normal people made rules - we'll crap over here, worship over here, have sex like so - which a few deviants in every society couldn't keep. They clung together in small bands of misbehavior. Becker's work set out to show that out-groups weren't made up of people who couldn't keep the rules; they were made up of people who kept other kinds of rules. Marijuana smoking, too, was a set of crips, a learned activity and a social game. At a time when the general assumption was that drug use was private and compulsive, Becker argued that you had to learn how to get high. Smoking weed, he showed, was most often strange or unpleasant at first. Gary Becker Cost and Reward

'Everyone has an ideal student or audience in mind, and we never get them,' he points out. This makes teachers impatient with students, and jazz musicians suspicious of audiences. Jazz musicians smoked weed to get high, but one of the effects was to set them off from the night-club-going customers they despised. 'This insight looks original only now,' Becker says. 'If you were playing, that was all you heard: 'Fucking squares, now look what they want!'

'A 'world' as I understand it consists of real people who are trying to get things done, largely by getting other people to do things that will assist them in their project. . . . The resulting collective activity is something that perhaps no one wanted, but is the best everyone could get out of this situation and therefore what they all, in effect, agreed to.' Howard Becker How Things Work


Your walking style, beliefs vs evidence

Behaviour Letters