My life is fairly crammed, and writing time is hard to come by. Today I got one of those precious blocks of time in which I could write for several hours almost without interruption, yet as I fired up the computer, I felt not excited about the prospect, but worried and on edge. I also felt a little unsure: I had several projects I could be working on and was waffling on which one to choose. Continue reading Better Writing Through Writing About Writing
Writing a novel can be a little like a troubled romance, neh? Perhaps it started out with a flurry of excitement. Your idea swept you away and fascinated you–this was the one! This was the novel that was going to get finished or be your first sale or make a name for you. At the beginning, the characters were endearing or intriguing and the plot opened up before you like a twisty road opens up before a motorcycler on a crisp fall morning. Continue reading When You Hate Your Novel
It rained on Saturday afternoon. It rained and it rained and it rained. It rained so much that I couldn’t go out, not even to the cinema, not even for a walk. I was trapped, so I decided to invest some serious time in a video game. I powered up the PS3, slid the armchair just that little bit closer to the TV and I dipped my toes into the world of Sucker Punch Productions’ superhero sandbox extravaganza Infamous 2.
A few hours later, I unfolded myself from the chair and looked up at the clock on the wall… I registered 5 pm but my joints were screaming. How long had I been here? In something of a daze, I headed upstairs to my computer where I checked my email. My computer’s clock read 7:30 pm. Surely this was a glitch. I googled the time: same problem. I headed downstairs and asked my girlfriend what time it was and she pointed to the clock… the one that I had checked only a few minutes earlier. It now read 7:35 pm. Continue reading Infamous 2: Mindless Fun and the Basis of Aesthetic Judgement
Via MindHacks, here’s Language Log dissecting some recent research into the persuasive power of logos and slogans.
A recent paper by Juliano Laran et al. (2011) suggests that resistance to persuasion can be triggered in a highly automatic and unconscious manner. The work builds on some interesting results involving commercial brands and implicit priming effects. For example, previous work has shown that subliminally flashing the Apple logo can spur study participants to think more creatively, and that presenting a Walmart logo can encourage frugal behavior whereas presenting a Nordstrom logo leads to greater indulgence. In other words, the brands activate a set of associations that in turn trigger certain cognitive or behavioral goals. Nifty results.
But brand names and logos, argue Laran and colleagues, are different from other commercial messages in that they’re not necessarily perceived as inherently persuasive—despite the fact that they’re often designed with great care, we may normally take them to be primarilyreferential, much as any proper name might be. Slogans (or, as they say in the industry, taglines) are transparently persuasive according to the authors. Perhaps people react to these latter messages in knee-jerk reverse-psychology manner by blocking and even countering the typical brand associations.
Laran et al. found that when they had people look at cost-conscious brand names like Walmart in an alleged memory study and then later take part in an imaginary shopping task, they were able to replicate the implicit priming effect: people were willing to spend quite a bit less than if they’d seen luxury-brand logos. But when subjects saw slogans (e.g. Save money. Live better.) instead of the brand names, there was a reverse priming effect: now, the luxury-brand slogans triggered more penny-pinching behavior than the economy-brand slogans.
Interesting; we’re more resistant to suggestion using language directly than we are to implicit suggestion encoded by association with images and/or designs.
Someone should do a spoof of They Live with this research rolled into it…
Via MindHacks, the Stanford University alumni magazine has interviewed a bunch of participants in the infamous Prison Experiment for the fortieth anniversary thereof. The ethics of the SPE are quite rightfully questioned, even to this day, but even so it’s a hugely valuable data point in our understanding of human nature and its response to cultural roles.
We had arranged for everyone involved—the prisoners, guards and staff—to be interviewed on Friday by other faculty members and graduate students who had not been involved in the study. Christina Maslach, who had just finished her PhD, came down the night before. She’s standing outside the guard quarters and watches the guards line up the prisoners for the 10 o’clock toilet run. The prisoners come out, and the guards put bags over their heads, chain their feet together and make them put their hands on each other’s shoulders, like a chain gang. They’re yelling and cursing at them. Christina starts tearing up. She said, “I can’t look at this.”
I ran after her and we had this argument outside Jordan Hall. She said, “It’s terrible what you’re doing to these boys. How can you see what I saw and not care about the suffering?” But I didn’t see what she saw. And I suddenly began to feel ashamed. This is when I realized I had been transformed by the prison study to become the prison administrator. At that point I said, “You’re right. We’ve got to end the study.”
At first Phil didn’t seem different. I didn’t see any change in him until I actually went down to the basement and saw the prison. I met one guard who seemed nice and sweet and charming, and then I saw him in the yard later and I thought, “Oh my God, what happened here?” I saw the prisoners being marched to go down to the men’s room. I was getting sick to my stomach, physically ill. I said, “I can’t watch this.” But no one else was having the same problem.
Phil came after me and said, “What’s the matter with you?” That’s when I had this feeling like, “I don’t know you. How can you not see this?” It felt like we were standing on two different cliffs across a chasm.
What came over me was not an accident. It was planned. I set out with a definite plan in mind, to try to force the action, force something to happen, so that the researchers would have something to work with. After all, what could they possibly learn from guys sitting around like it was a country club? So I consciously created this persona. I was in all kinds of drama productions in high school and college. It was something I was very familiar with: to take on another personality before you step out on the stage. I was kind of running my own experiment in there, by saying, “How far can I push these things and how much abuse will these people take before they say, ‘knock it off?'” But the other guards didn’t stop me. They seemed to join in. They were taking my lead. Not a single guard said, “I don’t think we should do this.”
The fact that I ramped up the intimidation and the mental abuse without any real sense as to whether I was hurting anybody— I definitely regret that. But in the long run, no one suffered any lasting damage. When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, my first reaction was, this is so familiar to me. I knew exactly what was going on. I could picture myself in the middle of that and watching it spin out of control. When you have little or no supervision as to what you’re doing, and no one steps in and says, “Hey, you can’t do this”—things just keep escalating. You think, how can we top what we did yesterday? How do we do something even more outrageous? I felt a deep sense of familiarity with that whole situation.
Every time I’m reminded of the SPE, I find myself thinking that every politician, general and CEO in the world should be forced to study it in intimate detail.
That thought is immediately followed by the horrible suspicion that they already have.