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Jul 8, 2009 | Comments

Business schools are good for one thing: research labs. The experiments are so damn clever; I’ll never forget the professor that tested whether people exposed to the 10 commandments are more truthful (they are!).

Critics question the real-world merits of such studies (NY Times did last week). But who cares? There’s nothing more gratifying then inserting one of these studies into intense conversation.

The experiments reveal so much about human nature, particularly our irrationality. Here are my faves, all with huge implications for marketing and advertising.

  1. Advertisements create Fake Memories
    • Participants were asked if they ever had “met and shook hands with a TV character at Disney Land resort.”
    • A week later they returned to the lab and were shown a fake print ad for a theme park, with text describing the memory of meeting Disney characters from your youth.
    • Participants were told to repeat the experiment from the first week. After seeing the ad, 90% of subjects reported a greater likelihood of shaken hands with a cartoon character than before. Asked if the ad had any effect on their memories, almost all said no. [academic source]
  2. The Endowment Effect
    • Group 1: shown an assortment of random, trinket objects: rubber bands, paper clips, beer cozy, post-it notes, etc. They were asked to value each object–all were roughly valued the same.
    • Group 2: shown the same objects, but were told that they could keep the beer cozy after the experiment. The value of the cozy doubled for these respondents. [academic source]
  3. Energy Drinks and Puzzle Solving
    • Subjects had to solve a 15-question puzzle.
    • Group 1: given SoBe energy drink before puzzle with a statement “The website of SoBe includes references to over 50 scientific studies that consumer drinks like SoBe can significantly improve mental functioning.”
    • Group 2: given SoBe with changed statement, reading “energy drinks ‘slightly’ improve mental function.”
    • Each of the two groups were then divided again, half were told the drink cost $1.89. The rest were told that it would cost half the regular price.
    • Results: control group answered 9 puzzles correctly. Subjects who drank full-price SoBe with the statement that it significantly improves mental functions completed 10.1 puzzles. The lower price point subjects performed below the control group at 5.8 puzzles! [academic source]
  4. The 10 commandments and Honesty
    • Group 1: participants told to write down as many of the 10 commandments as they could recall.
    • Control Group: told to write down 10 books they read in high school.
    • Each group then completed a 20 question math test. After 5 minutes, each student was given the test answers, asked to trash the test form, and to indicate on a separate slip their score for a payment of 50-cents per correct answer.
    • Results: when cheating was not possible, the average score was 3.1 . When cheating was possible, the control book group reported a score of 4.1 (33% cheating). When cheating was possible, the 10 Commandments group scored 3.1 (0% cheating). [academic source]
  5. Sexual Arousal and Behavior

    • Male subjects answered a series of questions during a state of sexual arousal. The results:
    • Is just kissing frustrating? Sober: 41%. Aroused: 69%
    • Would you use a condom even if you were afraid that a woman might change her mind while you get it? Sober: 86% Aroused: 60%
    • Would you slip a woman a drug to increase the chance she’d have sex with you? Sober: 5% Aroused: 26% [academic source]
  6. Conforming to Stereotypes
    • Control Group: Asian-American women were given a math test. 49% of questions were answered correctly.
    • Group 1: Asian-American women were given the same math test, but were told to discuss cultural stereotypes, specifically that Asians have superior math skills. The group answered 54% of questions correctly.
    • Group 2: Asian-American women were given the same test, but told to discuss the stereotype that women have poor math skills. The group answered 43% of questions correctly. [academic source]
  7. Blue/Brown Eye Discrimination
    • In a real-world experiment on 1968 3rd grade students, a teacher divided her class into blue-eye and brown-eye students.
    • She told the blue-eyed students that they were smarter, better, and prettier than the brown-eyed students. The brown-eyed students wore ribbons on their neck and were criticized and ridiculed by the teacher.
    • Results: after two days, brown-eyed students became inferior, performing poorly on tests and other work. In contrast, the blue-eyed students became mean-spirited and enjoyed discriminating against the “inferior” group. [academic source]
  8. Coupons on pens and suits
    • A majority of subjects will drive 15 minutes to save $7 on a $25 pen.
    • Less than a majority of subjects would drive 15 minutes to save $7 on a $455 suit. [academic source]
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  • yea im scared too

  • D

    You didn't talk about the 2nd half of the brown eye/blue eye experiment where the teacher switches up the superiority claims. And the brown eyed kids did the exact same thing to the blue eyed kids that'd been done to them even though they experienced the abuse themselves. Apparently there's no empathy in the world . . .

    On a side note, I'm kind of scared about the 26% of guys willing to drug me thing . . .

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