Political discussions in many places around the world have become more contentious than at any time in our recent history. It seems almost impossible to have a calm conversation with someone who doesn’t hold our own political views. In North America and Liberia, we’re approaching the Thanksgiving holiday where families have a tradition of coming together to show gratitude for a successful harvest. In many of these settings, the dinner-table conversation with be with people we don’t agree with.

In this episode, Kurt and Tim share 5 tips on how to maintain civil discourse at the dining table during these family gatherings. As we all know, families aren’t homogeneous groups of automatons – in the United States or anywhere else. People choose different paths for their political or religious beliefs and “what I believe” can be difficult for those who don’t share those beliefs.

At the heart of these conflicts is that we are all different and different is good. To maintain a successful civilization, we need both conservative and liberal perspectives. Without a conservative perspective, we might fail to honor long-standing institutions. Without a liberal perspective, we might fail to move past our comfort zones. We need both, so we start by recognizing that.

Our list begins with being curious and we refer to the person we disagree with as “the crazy uncle,” with no disrespect for uncles or mental illness. When this uncle makes a statement you don’t agree with, don’t zing back a rebuttal…just ask him about his comment. How did he come to this perspective? What makes him believe this is the case? To what degree is he certain of this?

We reference an excellent article in Psychology Today by Robert Mauer on the topic of curiosity. Mauer urges readers to frame questions with high integrity and pure wonder. When you’re in that space, you are more likely to engage in conversations with people you initially disagreed with.

The second tip is to focus on the topic, not the person. Never attack the person with your objections – focus on the issue at hand. It’s about the topic, not the person!  A critical error in any contentious conversation is the erosion of the dialogue away from the topic at hand. When emotions get the best of us, we can dog-pile our grievances onto the crazy uncle and lose sight of why we disagree in the first place. Don’t wander from the point either of you was trying to make.

The third tip is to argue the facts, not the perceptions. And when you don’t agree on facts, agree to move on to a topic that you DO agree on the facts. (That means you need to think about the FACTS, not just your opinion.) It’s more of a philosophical approach, but still important in keeping the discourse civil, it’s best if we can agree on certain facts, even when they don’t support our own position.

John Greco’s chapter called “Knowledge as Credit for True Belief” in the Clarendon Press book titled Intellectual Virtue: Perspectives From Ethics and Epistemology is a great example of how to focus on facts and not perceptions.

Another way to approach the potentially contentious discussion is to make an agreement up front with the other person to focus on facts. Annie Duke, in her book Thinking in Betsspeaks to the importance of agreeing on a set of “rules” and sticking to it. Set up an agreement prior to the discussion and hold yourself accountable.

Our fourth tip is also related to Annie Duke’s book, and that is to talk in percentages and avoid black-and-white statements. Use statements like, “I’m 75% confident that gun legislation could have a positive impact on mass shootings,” and avoid saying things like, “You’re an idiot for not supporting gun control!”

Annie’s book is the best reference for avoiding a black and white approach to topics, especially challenging ones, and gives readers a very powerful toolbox for working our way through difficult dialogues. Most importantly, she reminds us that we don’t know everything – we never have, and we never will. We can feel certain, but that doesn’t mean we are perfectly correct. Allow our conversation with the crazy uncle to rest in the space of, “We could be wrong, even a little bit.”

The fifth tip is to respect our differences. Political difference has roots that are deeper than where we grew up – scientists are discovering that there are biological differences between conservatives and liberals. From what we know, the brains of people who tend to be more progressive experience triggers differently from those who tend to be more conservative. For instance, loud noises tend to impact people who are more conservative with more fear or caution than those who tend to be more progressive. These are uncontrollable, reflexive responses and we’re not going to persuade anyone to change their DNA.

To expand on this topic, we refer you to two pieces of value. In a Scientific American article by Emily Laber-Warren, the author highlights key findings in recent years about how Conservatives are better organizers and cleaners while Liberals are more novelty-seeking.

And one of our favorite books, Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, is a reference volume on how to understand and work with the differences we have. Highly recommended.


BONUS TIP: What do you want to achieve in this conversation? If you’re approaching your dinner conversation with the intent to persuade others to your point of view, think again. How would you feel if you felt as though others at the dinner table were trying to persuade you to agree with their controversial ideas? 

We recommend you leverage the power of your curiosity to learn more about what your crazy uncle has going on in his cranium. You just might leave the dinner table a little more informed than when you arrived.

November 12, 2018

David Yokum: Science is Hard

David Yokum may not be a household name but that shouldn’t stop you from listening. If you’ve ever wondered about police officer body cameras and the effect they’re having on crime, policing and adjudication, we have David to thank for conducting the first major randomized study on the use of police officer body cameras.

We came to know his work by a stroke of good fortune. He and Tim met as guests of George Loewenstein at the 2016 inauguration of Carnegie Mellon University’s undergraduate degree in Behavioral Economics. It was clear from the first handshake that David is not just another guy who’s curious about behavioral sciences. Even though he’s earned a law degree and a PhD in psychology, he’s not just another science geek. He’s a doer.

When they were introduced, David was transitioning from the White House Social and Behavioral Science Team to be a founding member of The Lab @ DC, which resides in the Executive Office of the Mayor of the District of Columbia. Among their many accomplishments, David and his colleagues conducted the foundational study on the impact of police officer body cameras. They set out to understand how body cameras might influence the use of force, how the cameras might impact crime and how the cameras might impact the flow of cases through the courts. But they discovered much more.

They realized that the context in which the study was rolled out mattered a great deal. The District of Columbia is not a static laboratory – it’s a city with nearly 4,000 law enforcement officers that represent a spectrum of quality, ability and experience on the job. Police officer training, police force reform, the urban crime environment, the population of the city, the support from other governmental agencies…all of these create a context that impacted the study’s results.

David shared with us about how, at the launch of the study, the team considered how body cameras might create an effect to increase the perceived legitimacy of the police force. And in some cases that happened. They believed that pairing the body camera data with existing datasets would reveal great insights for potential changes to police work. However, even with the tremendous amount of adjudication data and the dreaded police reporting paperwork, known to every viewer of a television police drama, there were still surprises. They discovered that some of the correlations (and sometimes lack of correlations) on arrests and quality of adjudication simply weren’t what they expected. To some degree, they got a null result. On that level, David noted that the null effect was an important message that prompted deeper analysis.

We wandered into a great discussion about the pratfalls of researchers relying too much on data, especially when they lack the ‘feet on the street’ view that comes from actually being in the field. All of this was predicated on the Lab@DC’s study on the capital city’s rat problem. The study changed for the better when the research team was enlightened with insights from the animal vector team and rat biology specialists.

At this point in our discussion, David enthusiastically noted that you should never stop developing a study. A study needs to be open to new insights, new data points, new information and reflect the latest and best thinking of the team. A study isn’t a shiny, newly-minted penny…it’s a living, breathing thing. All this connected us with the fact that not all results from just any similar study will replicate in your situation. This led us to a note about David’s failed attempt to replicate Michael Hallsworth’s tax letter studies, which reinforced the need for regular and rigorous research from context to context.

We were pleased to be conducting our discussion with David from Brown University, where he very recently assumed a post as an adjunct professor and has been tasked with establishing and directing a new center that will support applied public policy research with state and local governments. There is so much more to come from David Yokum!

Of course, we ended our discussion on music and we laughed our way through comments about Eddie Vedder to South African pop artist Mathew Mole and into the lost art of making a mixtape. Today, music is curated digitally, created by computers observing our likes and dislikes. We don’t even need to select individual songs, just click a ‘create’ button. But in the days before digital music, mixtapes allowed listeners to enjoy their favorite album tracks in the order that they wanted to listen to them. They were used at parties or for private consumption. And, in some cases, mixtapes were created as love letters – providing that special someone with a curated musical story of how you felt about him or her.

As technology changes, the world changes with it. For better or for worse, our human brains are huffing to keep up with that changing world. Our biases appear to be stuck in the context of a world that existed not 4 years ago, but 40,000 years ago. As long as we have a gap between our brain’s ability to process the contemporary world, we need science to help us understand it. We need people like David Yokum to do the hard work of figuring out how to apply the behavioral sciences to government.

Yes, science is hard. And we have David Yokum to thank for contributing to a better understanding of how governmental policies can improve our daily lives.


PS: As of this writing, Behavioral Grooves is now listened to in more than 85 countries. We are pleased to have listeners around this wonderful world. Thank you all for sharing in our journey.


While Kurt and Tim were waiting for a podcast interviewee to log in recently, we decided to discuss the behavioral and psychological aspects of waiting. What do you do when you have unplanned time on your hands? Some people call it marginal time and others wasted time. But much of how we feel about slack in our schedule is dependent on how we frame it.

We reference Christopher Hsee's work on idleness to answer the question, "Why do we feel better taking back roads to avoid freeway traffic when we reach our destination at the same time?" Whether or not we know how long the wait is going to be didn't seem to make much difference to Kurt and Tim. We want to maximize its value in our lives. And although there is plenty of research on tolerable waiting times for different activities (longer for airport security lines, shorter for retail check-out lines, even shorter for web page refresh), we focused on what to do when the wait comes to us. 

We believe that being thoughtful about how the time gets used is the first and most important element to making the most of waiting. Using your deliberate (System 1) thinking to make a decision about how you're going to spend that time is the best thing you can do. Tim relates how he was stuck in the doctor's office recently and a person on the staff let him know the doctor was running "at least 20 minutes late." That was the trigger for the choice. What to do? Tim chose to meditate and was unsure how long the waiting went on because the meditation was so good. 


Koen Smets is not a household name, but it ought to be. Pronounced KEWN, our guest in this episode is Belgian by birth and has lived in the UK for more than 20 years.  He is a founding partner of CareIQ, a firm that offers innovative concepts for improving the healthcare market, but spends most of his time with Altered Chord, a behavioral sciences firm near and dear to his heart. And he is an avid writer on the topics related to applied behavioral science. Koen believes that human behavior is complex and simplified conclusions about why we do what we do are just plain lazy. We applaud his rigor!

It’s best to start learning about Koen from his own words: “A widespread misconception is that biases explain or even produce behavior. They don’t – they describe behavior…biases evolved with us, and for good reasons…”

Kurt and Tim came to follow Koen because of his provocative tweets and thoughtful writings about behavioral economics. His witty insights and unique perspective on the field bring a vital voice to how best to apply behavioral sciences to a variety of real-world situations. And for Koen, like us, it all starts with scientific study. 

So our conversation started with discussing an issue on the minds of those who follow the world of behavioral sciences today: the so-called replication crisis. We got into Koen’s thoughts on why it’s no crisis at all, even in light of John Bargh’s famous study on priming failing to replicate. Koen explained that researchers are stumbling into the vagaries of how the complexities of context influence the execution of studies.  In fact, he went on, the “replication crisis” really points to the need for organizations to test and identify the most successful practices for their own culture. Otherwise, beware of the consequences.

This led to a discussion about how the environment influences our decision making. We used the environment as a natural platform to discuss the actual differences, and similarities, between life in Europe and the US as well as the differences between behavioral economics and neoclassical economics. We discussed how the economics debate is a false dichotomy – or at least it should be – because decision making in the real world is complex. A decision will be influenced by our worldview, which is influenced by who we socialize with, which is influenced by where we work, which is influenced by our education, which is influenced by our family of origin, which is influenced by where we were born! Context contributes to a great deal of the way our decision making is manifest in the world. 

We brought up some of the papers Koen’s written such as “There's more to behavioral economics than biases” and one of our all-time favorites, “An accidental behavioral economist on holiday This last article shares insights on how taking a holiday in the same location every year allows the vacationer to notice changes more easily than if you lived there every day. Koen’s annual visit to a seaside resort reveals many examples of behavioral science. He points out what happens to surrounding businesses when a patisserie closes, how the cost of street parking in the downtown area affects traffic and shopping, and how reputation and risk (and their relative efficiencies and costs) go together in a small village by the sea. These examples are microcosmic examples of how our we behave in global markets.

Of course, we ended up with a conversation about music in which we talked about jazz and discussed the altered chord as a way to break up the predictable sounds of common tonality. Koen’s actively involved in music and revealed how music is a terrific metaphor for real life, especially in what he called “symphonic jazz.” In symphonic jazz, Koen describes how two disciplines collide to allow space for both a meaningful and agreed-upon direction with coordination of the various people who will do the work (the symphonic side). And it also fosters space for improvisation while the work is being done (the jazz side).

We even had the opportunity to integrate a brief discussion of religion, Richard Dawkins and the irreverent cartoon series South Park around the Atheist War storyline.  Definately one of the best podcasts we did in 2018!  

We hope you enjoy this as much as we did.


Caroline Webb is an overachiever. Oxford, Cambridge, Levy Economics Institute, McKinsey & Associates, Carnegie Hall performer, Davos World Economic Forum speaker. It’s an inspiring list of accomplishments. Even with all of those remarkable feats, our discussion focused on Caroline as the author of How to Have a Good Day, a terrific how-to guide that has been published in more than 60 countries.

In our discussion, we covered how the book is written – with lots of juicy details in the narrative supported by end-of-chapter bullet points – and how critical that format is to the way the reader comprehends it. Frankly, the format makes it easy to read and to grasp and to put into action. It’s written in a very purposeful manner and it pays off: the author’s effort translates into the reader’s ease of application.

A central theme to the book is the Personal Why. Caroline discussed with Kurt and Tim how important it is to set up your personal WHY for work so that your daily efforts have meaning. Caroline gave great examples of how we can find our personal WHY in virtually every job. We talked about why it’s important to have a Devil’s Advocate in your life to question and challenge from time to time. The Devil’s Advocate can help keep our deliberate (a.k.a. System 2) thinking engaged, so we don’t rely on our low-calorie automatic (a.k.a. System 1) thinking all the time.

Caroline comes from a long line of musicians but rarely has a chance to talk about that history, so we found it extra fun to engage her in a romp down Music Lane. She admitted that one of her most common interview questions is spurred by her comments in the book about using Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” as a priming mechanism. But reminded us that’s just ONE song!  In fact, she has dozens of different priming soundtracks for different effects and different situations. We even brought our priming discussion back to socks. Go figure. The musical discussion went off in the direction of piano at an early age and even a baccalaureate in music and ending up with a chat about the Cecilia Chorus and performing regularly at Carnegie Hall, right in her new hometown of New York City.

She shared with us how she took an economics course in secondary school and was tricked into liking it because the professor made it more of a course on human behavior, philosophy and politics than a course about supply and demand curves. The human behavior aspect of the course became more prevalent as she moved through her amazing career and was one of the many catalysts she experienced to write the book.

Across her career, Caroline has worked in a wide variety of corporate and governmental settings but in recent years, she’s moved away from the heavy lifting of policy work. Today, most of her work focuses on individuals and she spoke to the joy she finds in working with all sorts of teams. Her focus on individual, specific goals gets reinforced regularly with feedback that getting clear on what you want to accomplish could be one of the most important things you can do in your life.

Once you have a clear design for what you want to accomplish, she encourages us to create daily hacks to make each day a good day. It’s in the regular application of small tweaks that we find the days get better and add to the creation of a better life – at whatever situation you’re in. And she’s quick to admit to using her own advice.

We ended our discussion with an energetic dive into the peak-end effect. Fortunately, our memories are not digital video recorders that capture every single thing. We simply come away with the highlights – but which ones we remember can be influenced by how we process them. Even though not every moment in every day is wonderful, we can find things that we did well or worked well to add to our memories. “I remembered my umbrella today!” is a simple acknowledgment that can reinforce our good-day approach and positively impact our memories. We can also use the peak-end effect when ending a meeting with a short reflection on the one thing that went well during that meeting. Or end our workday with a reflection on what one thing worked well, didn’t go haywire, or simply went as planned. And we could even end our day – before we sleep – with gratitude for our situation, whatever that may be. Personal gratitude is something Caroline does not want us to overlook.

It’s worth noting that when we talked about How to Have a Good Day, Caroline said that it was the hardest project she’s ever taken on. In fact, it is literally the result of her lifetime’s worth of research and experience. She even admitted that she doesn’t see another book – at least like this one – in her future. We agree that How to Have a Good Day is rich with wisdom beyond the bullet points and we recommend it to our listeners.


In this grooving session, Kurt and Tim discuss books that they believe every behavioral science nerd should (yes: should) read. Kurt was limited to 5 picks, but didn't stay in the lines, and Tim was also limited to 5 picks and did stay in the lines. (#justsayin) We began the conversation with 4 classics that are simply must-reads, then dug into our individual lists. After brief reviews on our collective top 10, we highlighted several books (and an article) that are undeniably instrumental to our fascination with behavioral sciences. Listen to the podcast to get the discussion; however, to save some time searching, below are the titles (with links) we discussed.

Classics: Influence (Robert Cialdini), Nudge (Thaler & Sunstein), Predictably Irrational (Ariely), and Thinking, Fast & Slow (Kahneman). 

Kurt's Top 5 Picks: Thinking in Bets (Duke), Driven (Lawrence & Nohria), The Willpower Instinct (McGonigal), Change Anything (Patterson, et. al.), and Work Motivation (Latham). 

Tim's Top 5 Picks: Exotic Preferences (Loewenstein), The Art of Choosing (Iyengar), How We Decide (Lehrer), The Invisible Gorilla (Chabris & Simons), and Sidetracked (Gino). 

Mentions: Blink, Tipping Point, and Outliers (Gladwell), Drive (Pink), Power of Habit (Duhigg), The Righteous Mind (Haidt), Stumbling on Happiness (Gilbert), The Happiness Advantage (Achor), Pre-Suasion (Cialdini), The Art of Thinking Clearly (Dobelli), Priceless (Poundstone), Brain Rules (Medina), Rebel Talent (Gino), Emotionomics and Body of Truth (Hill), Sway (Brafman Brothers), Freakonomics (Levitt & Dubner), Descartes Error (Damasio).

Article Not To Miss: “Labor Supply of New York City Cab Drivers: One Day at a Time,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, pages 407-441, May 1997 (Camerer, Babcock, Loewenstein & Thaler).

Please feel free to leave a review and if you want, call it one of the best podcasts of 2018 (or not)!  


 Annie Duke’s latest book, Thinking in Bets, Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts, is a masterful mash-up of her life as a researcher, poker player and charitable organization founder. In it, she explores new ideas on how to make better decisions.  Our interview with her expanded beyond the book and we talked extensively about probabilistic thinking and having people hold us accountable for our decision making. As expected, our interview covered an eclectic mix of behavioral biases, sociology, language development and, of without fail, music.

  We noted some remarkable researchers including Anna Dreber, Phil Tetlock, Barb Miller, Stuart Firestein and Jonathan Haidt. We went deep into Annie’s personal history with her mentor Lila Gleitman and their work on Syntactic Bootstrapping, with the help of Donald Duck. Our music discussion included Jack White, Willie Nelson, Jonathan Richman, Prince, Alex Chilton and the Violent Femmes. If you find any of these names unfamiliar, we urge you to check them out.

  We used the movie The Matrix and the blue pill/red pill metaphor for looking at the world as accurate vs. inaccurate, rather than right or wrong. We discussed how tribes can offer us distinctiveness and belongingness but also confine us with the tribe’s sometimes negative influences. We also examined learning pods and how they can be used to keep our decisions more in line with reality.  Read the rest of this entry »


Sarita Parikh is the Senior Director of Consumer Experience and Strategy at GED Testing Service, a business that helps adults use education as a path to a better life. The GED, or General Education Development, is a series of tests administered in the United States and Canada to give credentials to those who don’t matriculate through high school the same footing as those who did.  

We talked about how completion rates are low. They hover around 20%, so there’s plenty of room to grow; however, the factors influencing completion are complex. Making the tests easy to find and removing cost were not enough. Social issues and self-identities needed to be addressed to positively impact completion rates. In this episode, Sarita shares her frustrations in developing interventions that failed and how a new model that she and her team developed is finally driving improvements in completion rates. We discussed the myths that are commonly held about people taking the GED and that part of the conversation was simply mind-blowing. Of course, we talked about music. Sarita’s complex musical tastes range from Beyoncé to Vampire Weekend. (PS: Have you ever visited either of these websites? You’ve GOT to check them out!) So, we urge you to take a listen to Sarita as she shares her secrets to applying behavioral interventions at scale.

Finally, we’d love it if you’d forward this episode (or any of your favorite episodes) to a friend. You’ve probably got someone you like to talk to about psychology and behavioral sciences…please share this with them to grow our community.

Behavioral Grooves 


Bri Williams is an Australian pioneer in the application of behavioral sciences. She was an early follower of Dan Ariely, BJ Fogg and Richard Thaler, but soon believed the business community needed something more than a framework: they needed tools. She founded PeoplePatterns to turn the esoteric philosophies of behavioral science into practical applications for business leaders. In our discussion with Bri, we discussed her model that uniquely focuses on three key elements for removing barriers to behavior change: apathy, paralysis and anxiety. We talked about priming and Lou Carbone's work on the origami of toilet paper along with Bri's incredible observations of nudges in the world. Bri's most recent book, "Behavioural Economics for Business," was highlighted and, of course, we went down some rabbit holes! In our musical discussion, we touched on one of Kurt's favorite bands (a secret you must listen for), as well as a classical guitar busker in Sydney named Santos Bocelli. (Love that street music vibe!) In our grooving session, Tim mentioned an emerging EDM artist, Pauline Herr. Her fresh and melodic approach is thoroughly engaging. 

We hope you enjoy the discussion with Bri and please share this episode with a friend. It goes a long way in expanding the community of behavioral science nerds!

Behavioral Grooves 


Priming is a technique whereby exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a subsequent stimulus without conscious guidance or intention. In other words, it’s a subconscious influence on our behavior. And it’s powerful.

In this grooving session, Kurt and Tim discuss the power of priming and how the socks you wear can influence your day. We discussed how replicability of many studies has been a challenge for several research projects; however, the effects of priming are no less robust.

We talked about the amazing research that Gary Latham, PhD and his colleagues conducted on how a watermark on a tip sheet had dramatic effects on the results achieved. Amazing stuff.

CONTEST ALERT! If you’d like a free pair of Einstein “Today I am smart!” priming socks, share this episode on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook with: #IWANTSOCKS. We’ll pick randomly to identify 3 winners and we’ll be in touch by the end of the September.

Behavioral Grooves 


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