Tag Archives: psychology

Potential Experiment: Priming Phone Agents with Nonstandard Spelling Alphabets?

When calling airlines to make or change award bookings, you usually need to tell a phone agent a confirmation number. And it’s often necessary to use some sort of spelling alphabet (e.g. “A” as in “alpha”) to communicate the letters of the confirmation number to the phone agent as it’s very easy to confuse letters like “M” for “N” over the phone.

While I’m sure that many mileage junkies like to use the NATO phonetic alphabet, I wonder if there’s a better spelling alphabet to use. Like instead of using something boring like “hotel” for “H”, what if we attempted to prime the phone agent with our word choice?

Priming is an attempt to influence later responses using a prior exposure to a stimulus. So if we wanted to try to make the phone agent more helpful and willing to do what we ask, we could try using spellings such as “A” as in “agreeable” and “H” as in “helpful”.

Here’s an example spelling alphabet to use:
A = agreeable
B = benevolent
C = cooperate
D = delightful
E = enjoyable
F = friendly
G = gratifying
H = helpful
I = ideal
J = jolly
K = kind
L = lovely
M = merry
N = nice
O = open
P = productive
Q = quaint
R = responsive
S = supportive
T = terrific
U = useful
V = viable
W = welcoming
X = ???
Y = yielding
Z = zest?

The golden rule for dealing with phone agents is always hang up and call again if you get an answer that you don’t like, but perhaps with priming you can tilt the odds a little more in your favor. Has anyone tried anything like this before?

How to Date Efficiently Part 3

…or more reasons why you should ask people out.

Here’s a writeup of a psych study that attempts to discern differences in how men and women respond to sexual offers. In the study, confederates went up to random students on campus who they found attractive and asked them one of three questions: 1) would you go out with me tonight; 2) would you come over to my apartment tonight; or 3) would you go to bed with me tonight.

You can read the paper if you’re interested in the results, but here are what I think are the two most interesting results to the study:

  1. “Ratings of the confederates’ attractiveness were found to have no effect on the results”
  2. 50% of people said yes to the request to go on a date.

My takeaway: asking random people out on dates worked for these people 50% of the time, and it didn’t even matter how attractive the asker was!

Granted, the study took place on a college campus in the 1980s, but mathematically, taking initiative in dating is the optimal strategy, and this study provides empirical evidence that the odds of getting someone to say yes to a date are actually pretty good. So if you were previously convinced that you should be asking people out but perhaps were too scared to pull the trigger (and my advice on dealing with rejection didn’t help), be emboldened by the knowledge that random strangers had a 50% hit rate for asking people out.

How to Make Flossing a Habit

I personally love flossing, and I have strong opinions about what kind of floss to use, but a friend who had read that post asked me, “Edward, how do I make flossing a habit?”

I recently read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, and Duhigg repeats throughout his book that a habit has three things: a cue, a routine, and a reward. In my friend’s case, we want to introduce the new routine of flossing, so we need to establish a cue and a reward to make this habit stick.

Food is prone to getting stuck between my molars (I blame having braces as a kid), so for me, the cue might be feeling that there’s food stuck between my teeth, the routine is flossing, and the reward is the great feeling when there’s no more food stuck between my teeth.

For others, I’m going to suggest the following: the cue will be your inclination to brush your teeth (which I’m going to assume is already a habit), the routine is flossing, and the reward will be letting yourself brush your teeth. Thus, in order to brush your teeth, you need to floss first. If you don’t floss, then you don’t get to brush your teeth.

In his book, Duhigg talks about the success of Pepsodent; in large part, Pepsodent was successful because it was the first toothpaste to provide a cool, tingling sensation. This sensation was the reward that drove the formation of the habit of regular tooth brushing. So why not try to co-opt this reward to establish the new habit of flossing?

I’d love to hear how this works if anyone tries it. Did this help you establish flossing as a habit? Or do you have any other ideas about how to make flossing a habit?

How to Haggle Effectively

I hate haggling. It makes me anxious, and I often feel like I get ripped off. But I have a new strategy that I effectively used on my last trip abroad: figure out how much I’m willing to pay before I even ask for a price, and then stay firm to that price. Why does this help?

By coming up with a price before you even ask how much something is, you prevent yourself from being biased by anchoring. Here’s an experiment: ask someone if the Mississippi river is longer or shorter than 5000 miles. Then ask him how long he thinks it actually is. Then try it again with a different person, same questions, except instead of 5000 miles, ask if the Mississippi river is longer or shorter than 500 miles, and see how the answer to the second question changes. If you ask enough people, you should find that people usually guess around 3500 miles for those who are anchored with the 5000 mile number, while those anchored with 500 miles usually guess around 1500 miles. This effect is particularly potent when we have very few other data points to help us shape our answer, like in the case of estimating the length of the Mississippi river or when we’re trying to buy a wooden animal figurine as a souvenir in Greenmarket Square.

If I wait until after hearing a price to determine my maximum willingness to pay, then I subconsciously allow myself to be biased, which means that I’m likely to overpay and regret my purchase. By coming up with the figure before engaging in any haggling, I know that if I end up buying the item, I should be happy, since I paid no more than my maximum amount that I had predetermined, and if I don’t end up with the item, then I’m still better off since I wasn’t willing to pay any more than I had predetermined.

Of course, this all relies on the assumption that you can accurately gauge how much you’re willing to pay for something. This is often hard, so sometimes it’s easier just to say how much you’re willing to spend on someone (in the case of a souvenir), and you’ll only buy it if you think the person you have in mind would really enjoy it.

My real-life example: in Korea, I saw a hoodie that I wanted. Before I even started haggling, I had predetermined that I would be willing to spend 20,000 won on it (roughly $20). When I asked the price, the first number the salesman showed me was 40,000 won, twice as much as I was willing to pay. I said that that was too much, and he dropped his price to 38,000. Again, I told him it was too much for me, so he dropped to 36,000. When I refused again, he said that he could give it to me for 33,000 won if I paid in cash, his final offer. Since it looked like we wouldn’t come to an agreement, I just started to walk away. He then asked me what I was willing to pay, so I told him 20,000, and he accepted. I walked away happy.

What have been your experiences with haggling? Do you have any favorite tips that I didn’t cover?