The rogue conventional wisdom of Freakonomics

In the introduction of Freakonomics – A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything, we are told that Steven D. Levitt is a young, successful, and serious–if controversial–economist. We should believe what Levitt writes because he has the right credentials: he is a professor of economics at the University of Chicago. But soon enough we find out that Levitt doesn’t believe in “expert” opinions:

[The typical expert] is prone to sound exceedingly sure of himself. An expert doesn’t so much argue the various sides of an issues as plants his flag firmly on one side. That’s because an expert whose argument reeks of restraint or nuance often doesn’t get much attention. An expert must be bold if he hopes to alchemize his homespun theory into conventional wisdom. His best chances of doing so is to engage the public’s emotions, for emotion is the enemy of rational argument.

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Perceived cost-benefit and (online) behavior

Often I hear these broad blanket statements on what people do or don’t do online: “people don’t read,” “people don’t scroll,” “people don’t wait.” It’s usually from those who have just enough knowledge of usability to be dangerous, but sometimes, alas, I’ve heard usability people uttering them. When I hear statements like this I’ll usually slowly count to 10 to regain self-control and then with the calmest tone of voice I can fake I’ll say: “Well, let’s talk about it.”

So, let’s talk about it.

Do people read online? – Of course people read online. Don’t you go online to get your news? Aren’t you reading this blog post online? You read content online all the times. But even a more specific statement such as “people don’t read instructions online” is incorrect.

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Empathy, compassion, and revolution

Why do people do make the life decisions they make? Why somebody decides to become a revolutionary and another a dictator? Why some people become doctors and go to Haiti to cure AIDS and others become Kenneth Lay?

After watching Walter SallesThe Motorcycle Diaries I couldn’t stop thinking about empathy, compassion, and revolution.

The empathy continuum – One could describe empathy as a two-dimensional continuum: on one axis the distance between the subject and the objects of his or her empathy; on the other the intensity of the feeling.

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I’ve just finished listening for the second time to the audiobook version of Malcolm Gladwell‘s Blink. The book discusses psychological resesarch around rapid cognition and snap decisions and has plenty of findings and concepts relevant to usability and market research (with some good evidence of the limits of “just asking people what they feel or think,” which is one of my pet peeves).

Among the many interesting studies mentioned in the book, for example, the research conducted by Louis Cheskin in the 50s and 60s, and by Darrel Rhea and Davis Masten more recently on “sensation transference” or the influence of packaging on perceived taste (how cheap brandy tastes worse when it’s served in the wrong bottle; and how Sprite tastes too much like lime if one increase the amount of green on the can).

Aside from the results of the studies, however, there are couple of things that struck me in the book.

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