The role of the User Experience (UX) designer is growing in corporations around the world. UX Designers have a great deal of influence over how a customer CAN take an action. Relatedly, behavioral scientists are interested in addressing the issue of WILL a customer take an action. What if the two were fused?

In this episode, Jonathan Mann explores ways in which the UX designer and the behavioral scientist can merge into one, combining the CAN and WILL elements for more effective – and ethical – marketing messages. He relates his experiences from studies he performed at PayPal under the direction of renowned researcher Robert Cialdini, PhD. Their work applied the element of social proof to advertising that increased validation – the act of connecting a bank account to a PayPal account – with a dramatic effect. Millions of dollars of compounding annual revenue materialized after A/B testing a variety of messages.

Jonathan cleverly leverages The Year of the Shark and the terrific elephant & rider metaphor to drive home the important message that marketing will be most successful when it appeals to both the rider (the rational part of the brain) and the elephant (the emotional part of the brain).

In the grooving session, Kurt & Tim discuss the ethical application of such powerful tools and what songs we might use for priming in particular situations.

Special thanks to Stefani Simon, president of Inprela Public Relations, for hosting this event:


Jonathan Mann:

Jonathan’s Deck from the presentation:


Robert Cialdini, PhD:


Summer of the Shark Video:

Jonathan Haidt / Elephant and the Rider:

Ovid, Metamorphisis:

Discount Distance Congruity Effect (Coulter & Norberg):

Visual Depiction Event (Coulter):

Auditory Price Perception Effect (Coulter):


All definitions of Behavioral Science Principles including Present Bias, Availability Heuristic, Social Proof among others can be found at:

Cialdini Hotel Towel reuse:

Cialdini 6 Principles of Persuasion:


“Don’t Make Me Think,” by Steve Krug:

“People are People,” By Depeche Mode:



Kurt Nelson: @motivationguru and

Tim Houlihan: @THoulihan and

Check out the Behavioral Grooves website:

June 9, 2019

Grooving: On Scarcity

This episode is a discussion on the principle of scarcity. Kurt and Tim illuminate the power of this very fundamental effect in behavioral science with some real-world examples. Simply put, the scarcity effect is that people want more of those things they can have less of. It’s terribly powerful and is evident in many aspects of our lives.

“Sale ends tomorrow” is one of the strongest tools in a marketer’s handbook, and Kurt and Tim discuss that and others and the ways they impact behavior. We also talk about the implications of scarcity and how scarcity helps us prioritize and can actually increase focus in our lives.

This episode is the third in our series on the Principles of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, PhD. The other principles from Cialdini’s work have been discussed in previous episodes and you can check them out at the Behavioral Grooves website. The principle of Reciprocity was overviewed in episode #57 and the principle of Consistency was discussed through the lens of politicians and politics in episode #49. Please check them out if you’re interested in Cialdini’s Persuasion Principles.

Also, please leave us a quick rating and review. We benefit greatly from your support and you only have a few minutes left to do it today!


Principles of Persuasion – Robert Cialdini, PhD:

Stephen Worchel, Jerry Lee & Akanbi Adawole, (1975) “Effects of supply and demand on ratings of object value” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32(5), 906-914.

Sendhil Mullainathan& Eldar Shafir, (2013) Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, Times Books.

Tim Urban blog: Wait But Why?


Kurt Nelson: @motivationguru and

Tim Houlihan: @THoulihan and

Check out the Behavioral Grooves website:

Terry Esau is the founder of Free Bikes 4 Kids, a non-profit based in Minneapolis that collects and distributes tens of thousands of bikes to needy children every year around the holiday season. He’s not as well-known as some of our guests, but his story will engage even the savviest marketers and HR executives. Terry realized early on that growing the organization would require meaningful marketing, smooth operations, and a phalanx of well-trained volunteers. To streamline these functions, he turned to Kaizen / Lean analysis and employed a host of behavioral science tools, without all the terminology. As a result, he is maximizing the organization’s mission to bring FREE bikes to kids.

Terry is what we call an Accidental Behavioral Scientist. His work clearly demonstrates the application of foundational behavioral science principles, yet he is unaware of the principles by name or theory. He has applied behavioral science principles to how kids (and their parents) shop for their free bikes and how volunteers are vetted and trained. In roughly 8 weeks, more than 20,000 volunteer hours are put into the collection, repair and distribution of bikes in each city. And it all happens with remarkably high satisfaction for both the riders and the volunteers.

Terry is an avid bicyclist, and he is also a published author and speaker. However, he spent most of his career composing music for documentary films, television and radio advertising. He composed and produced music for over 2,000 TV commercials for clients including Target, McDonalds, Pepsi, Harley Davidson, Honda, Subway, Perkins, Golden Grahams and even Kitty Litter. He’s even has won a Clio award for his work in advertising.

In our grooving session, Kurt and Tim suss out the ways Terry leverages the endowment effect and uses choice architecture to guide kids and parents on the journey of getting a new bike. We also talked about the psychological effects that music has on the taste of food. Not just another rabbit hole, but a very interesting discussion!

We hope you enjoy the discussion with Terry Esau. If you would like to learn about how to bring Free Bikes for Kids to your city, please contact him directly:


Terry Esau:

Terry Esau email:  and on Twitter: @FB4K

Free Bikes for Kids:

Feed My Starving Children:

Kaizen / Lean:

QBP (Quality Bike Parts):

Guthrie Theater:

British Advertising Awards (Arrows):

The Current (radio):

“Differentiate or Die” by Jack Trout:

“This is Your Brain on Music” by Dan Levitin:


“The Service Profit Chain” by James Heskett:


Kurt Nelson: @motivationguru and

Tim Houlihan: @THoulihan and

Check out the Behavioral Grooves website:



Crosby, Stills & Nash:

Blood Sweat & Tears:,_Sweat_%26_Tears

Alice Cooper:

Amy Grant:

Keith Richards:


Roger Dooley is the author of Friction, his newest book that summarizes great examples of companies do good things to reduce friction for customers and some not-so-good things to increase friction. Roger is also the author of Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing

He is the founder of Dooley Direct, a marketing consultancy, and frequent speaker on the topics of marketing and neuroscience. Roger even has ties to Carnegie Mellon as he earned his engineering degree there then went on to complete his MBA from the University of Tennessee.

In this episode, we discuss how friction in the customer experience impacts loyalty and corporate revenues. We also talked about how corporate leaders could help employees be more engaged by reducing nonsensical friction in their daily work lives – like useless paperwork or the doubling of forms and data between separate systems.

We groove on experiences we’ve had where friction negatively impacts a positive customer experience. And we discussed how long it’s been since we bought a CD.

Let us know: when was the last time YOU bought a CD? 


Roger Dooley:

Follow Roger at @rogerdooley


William of Ockham, the Law of Least Effort:

Gartner Group:

Brian Massey at Conversion Science:

Chater, Nick and Loewenstein, George F., The Under-Appreciated Drive for Sense-Making (April 20, 2015). 

Teresa Amabile on The Progress Principle:

Four Drive Model:

Joshi Story:


Kurt Nelson: @motivationguru and

Tim Houlihan: @THoulihan and

Check out the Behavioral Grooves website:

Alex Imas is an assistant professor of economics in the Social & Decision Sciences department at Carnegie Mellon’s Dietrich College. His research dovetails perfectly into the department’s cross-disciplinary approach by blending behavioral and experimental economics, particularly how social concerns and emotions influence decision making and preferences.

His most current research examines the effectiveness of prosocial incentive schemes and how subtle changes in social norms can have large effects on behavior.

However, our conversation started with Alex discussing his findings with Sally Sadoff, from the University of California in San Diego, and Anya Samek from USC, on the effectiveness of loss contracts. Loss or clawback contracts are similar to incentives but instead of getting paid at the end of the work – contingent of successful achievement, the clawback or loss contract gives you money up front and you are forced to give it back what you don’t achieve the appropriate levels of performance. Many people would say they’d prefer a regular bonus structure – to get paid upon successful completion of their work – but Alex, Sally and Anya’s work found something different.

The loss contract proved to be a commitment device – it helped reduce shirking – and improved performance overall. Even people with a higher sense of loss aversion tended to benefit most from loss contracts. There are even some people who ended up preferring loss contracts. 

In our grooving session, Kurt and Tim discuss their real-world experiences with clawbacks: do they work and in what circumstances are they most successful?

With that, please sit back and enjoy our conversation with Alex Imas.


Alex Imas (CMU):

Alex Imas (Personal):

Carnegie Mellon University:

CMU Social and Decision Sciences Department:

"Do People Anticipate Loss Aversion?" (with S. Sadoff and A. Samek). Management Science, 2016.

“Enhancing the Efficacy of Teacher Incentives through Loss Aversion: A field experiment.” By Roland G. Fryer, Jr., Steven D. Levitt, John List, Sally Sadoff

Index funds:

Jack Bogle index funds:

 “Myopic Loss Aversion and the Equity Premium Puzzle,” Thaler & Benartzi.

Abby Sussman:

Paul Smeets:

Ashley Wilhans:

Please Kill Me, Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain.



Bob Dylan:

Phoebe Bridgers:

Bright Eyes:

Boy Genius:

Conor Oberst:


Soccer Mommy:

Run the Jewels:

Cardi B:

Tom Waits, “Jockey Full of Bourbon,”

On May 3, 2019, Kurt and Tim attended an invitation-only Science Symposium featuring a track on behavioral science at the San Francisco headquarters of human and food transportation giant Uber. During the one-day assembly, we sat in on presentations delivered by academic researchers from UCLA, University of British Columbia, University of California San Diego, Dartmouth, Cornell, Columbia University and Stanford, among others. We also heard from practitioners of applied behavioral sciences who work at Facebook, Morningstar, TruFit, Cerego, Ipsos, Maritz, and, of course, Uber.

Kurt and Tim were exposed to a massive amount of new research data, new insights into human behavior from both academic and corporate fieldwork, as well as exciting hallway conversations with people that we wanted to share with you. We nabbed a few quick recordings during the breaks and, regrettably, there are times when the background noise is pretty high. (Our apologies.)

We are grateful to Candace Hogan, a leader of applied behavioral science at Uber, for inviting us and we appreciate the effort that Uber is expending to integrate behavioral sciences with their business model and to share them with us.

Guests (in order of appearance)

Melanie Brucks, PhD student at Stanford University:

Elizabeth Kim, first behavioral scientist at Spotify:

Charlotte Blank, chief behavioral officer at Maritz:

Ingrid Paulin, senior behavioral scientist at Rally Health:

Shirin Oreizy, founder and president at Next Step:

Scott Drummond, brand builder at Next Step:

Joseph Reiff, PhD student at UCLA:



Wendy De La Rosa, principal at Irrational Labs:

Hal Hershfield, PhD, professor at UCLA:

Brad Voytek, PhD, professor at UCSD:

Russell Golman is an Assistant Professor of Behavioral Economics and Decision Sciences in the Social & Decision Sciences Department at CMU.  His pioneering, interdisciplinary work has been published in a wide range of academic journals, including Science AdvancesDecision, the RAND Journal of Economics, the Journal of Economic Theorythe Journal of Economic Perspectives, and the Journal of Economic Literature

In 2017 Professor Golman organized the Belief-Based Utility Conference at Carnegie Mellon with generous funding from the Russell Sloan Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Professor Golman was trained as a game theorist with a Mathematics Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.  But whereas game theorists usually assume that people making strategic decisions are hyper-rational, Russell wanted to acknowledge that real people are influenced by each other and sometimes make mistakes. They often care deeply about their beliefs, not just about material outcomes. And they rarely settle into an equilibrium in which everybody is static and content. 

Russell’s research interests expanded into behavioral economics and behavioral decision research as well as complex adaptive systems and social dynamics.  He took a postdoc in Social and Decision Sciences at CMU, where Herb Simon first conceived of the concept of bounded rationality 50 years earlier.  Professor Golman joined the faculty here in 2012.

We talked to Russell about information avoidance and curiosity and to what lengths people will strive for both. In our grooving session, Kurt and Tim discuss information avoidance from a corporate perspective and wonder, “what impact does a manager have when he or she avoids a difficult conversation?” We also talked about ways to reduce information avoidance in the working world and how incentives may help managers through tough situations.

We hope you enjoy this episode in our Carnegie Mellon series with Russell Golman.


Russell Golman:

CMU Social and Decision Sciences Department:

Carnegie Mellon University:


Golman, Russell, David Hagmann, and George Loewenstein.  “Information Avoidance.” Journal of Economic Literature, 2017, 55: 96-135.
Featured on The Academic Minute


Golman, Russell and George Loewenstein.  “Information Gaps: A Theory of Preferences Regarding the Presence and Absence of Information”  Decision, 2016, forthcoming.


Golman, Russell, George Loewenstein, Karl Ove Moene and Luca Zarri. “The Preference for Belief Consonance.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 2016, 30: 165-187.


GI Joe Fallacy:

Herb Simon:


Bluegrass music:

Great Blue Heron Music Festival:

Donna the Buffalo:

Jam bands:

The Pines:

The Cactus Blossoms:


Kurt Nelson: @motivationguru and

Tim Houlihan: @THoulihan and

Check out the Behavioral Grooves website:

Todd Fonseca is an executive in clinical research and communication for Medtronic and holds an interesting array of certifications including Certified Body Language Trainer. He is also the founder of the Anti-Networking Network Meetup and likes to ask meetup guests "What would be your superpower for an hour?" Needless to say, the interview brought interesting concepts to the floor and we had fun doing it.

The interview with Todd included short discussions on the placebo effectsituational awareness, and a lengthy discussion of Paul Ekman PhD's work on microexpressions. The seven key microexpressions (Happiness, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, Contempt, Fear and Surprise) are foundational to human communication and found to be universal - in other words, they exist among people everywhere on the planet. Our conversation delved deep into the identification and application of them. 

We grooved on the themes of the importance of having these microexpressions in our communication toolbox and talked about music from the Oh, Hello's and Robert Finley, an artist recently produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. 

Julie Downs, PhD is an associate professor of psychology in the Social and Decision Sciences department at Carnegie Mellon’s Dietrich College and fits perfectly into the cross-disciplinary culture of the group. Her interests have spanned anthropology to healthcare to economics and her zest for each of them is undeniable.

Our discussion with Julie started with some of her latest research on how to help women make the proper vaginal insertion of an HIV-prevention drug. While scientists at the University of Pittsburgh are developing the medicine, Julie is focused on the behavioral aspects including the proper way to apply it because the efficacy of the drug relies on proper application. The drug is extremely low-cost, doesn’t require refrigeration, and can be kept private in otherwise touchy situations with sexual partners.

We also discussed making decisions in an increasingly complex world of what to eat. Fast food is readily available, it’s cheap and easy to acquire for working parents with a hungry family. However, recent research on fast food consumption reveals the calorie counters on the food menus are not having a positive effect on what gets ordered. Julie is working to figure out solutions that make the calorie counts salient with an online ordering app.

In our grooving session, we chat about the concept of friction and how that applies to product development and communications AND we talk about insights we can take from a food ordering app that has a special calorie counter built into it and use those insights in our work.

So, sit back and enjoy another episode in our Carnegie Mellon series with professor Julie Downs.



Julie Downs:

Carnegie Mellon University:

CMU Social and Decision Sciences Department:




Sahel Desert:



The Beatles:

Louie Prima / Jungle Book:

Ella Fitzgerald:




Kurt Nelson: @motivationguru and

Tim Houlihan: @THoulihan and

Listen to Behavioral Grooves:

George Loewenstein, PhD is the Herbert A. Simon Professor of Economics and Psychology in the Social and Decision Sciences Department in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University and is the director of the Center for Behavioral Decision Research.

George received his PhD in economics from Yale but was always interested in topics outside of the field. At one point, he considered switching from economics to another major but was advised to remain: “We need you here,” he was told by a sage researcher. We’re glad he did.

George may not be a household name, but he is a rockstar in the world of behavioral science. Nobel laureate Richard Thaler dedicated his last book, Misbehaving, to George, along with their colleague Colin Camerer. George’s insights into behavior and decision making are legendary and he is recognized as one of the founders of behavioral economics, in part because he was literally at the table when the field was named “behavioral economics.”

During his career, George has indulged his curiosities in research projects that span an incredibly wide variety of topics including risk, confidence, the effects of feelings, emotions, wanting and enjoying sex, sequencing, preferences, bargaining, incentives, privacy, healthy behaviors, investing, empathy, and sympathy…to name but a few. George’s work has been cited nearly 100,000 times in published articles and peer-reviewed papers. He’s not only remarkably curious, but he’s also remarkably productive. His book of essays titled Exotic Preferences is a terrific read and provides some insight into this extremely talented man.

We were excited to have George as a guest because his comments can be so insightful that they can be pondered for hours, and because he is so rarely recorded (and we are grateful to Linda Babcock for her support and participation in our conversation). We focused on some new work George is doing on the subject of boredom with a graduate student, Amanda Markey. We were surprised to learn that their work is breaking ground as there is no comprehensive functional theory for boredom.  And in the category of not knowing where a conversation might go, we compared individual experiences of boredom (and flow).  

In our grooving session, we discussed some of the implications of boredom in the workplace and ways you could make meetings more successful. We also touched on the temporal nature of attention and George’s comment to “use it or lose it.” Finally, we returned to a favorite topic whether it’s a good idea to listen to music while we work.

We hope you enjoy this rare recorded conversation with George Loewenstein.



George Loewenstein:

George’s H-Index:

Linda Babcock:

Exotic Preferences:

Carnegie Mellon University:

CMU Social and Decision Sciences Department:

Center for Behavioral Decision Research:

Richard Thaler, PhD:

Colin Camerer:

Amanda Markey:


Kurt Nelson: @motivationguru and

Tim Houlihan: @THoulihan and

Listen to Behavioral Grooves:

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