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Lectures for a New Year: Turning Squares into Diamonds

Today, a lecture that's funny and a bit geeky around the edges. In this talk, adman Rory Sutherland tells a series of funny anecdotes about history, advertising, and the perception of value. That may not sound entertaining, but it really is -- it's a rollicking good time, and it's really smart stuff, without going over anyone's head. Alternating between historical examples and modern ones, Sutherland pokes fun at trends (for example, calling a shared plate of pub fries "Food 2.0"), but eventually gets to the heart of his point: advertising is largely concerned with creating intangible value, which actually is valuable, despite being highly notional. Further, intangible value (and thus enjoyment, or a sense of wealth) can be found in things you already have -- you just have to look for it.

The most hilarious part of this talk comes around the 13-minute mark, when Sutherland shows focus group footage of people eating Shreddies, a square Chex-like cereal that was in the process of being rebranded by rotating it 45 degrees to make "diamonds." Wonderful.

Topics: how to improve train travel with booze and models, placebo education, rebranding the potato, veiled prostitutes, smiling street signs, Prussian high-value iron jewelry, Warhol on Coke, the portability of food, contextual alcoholic drinks, a button to save money, rebranding Shreddies, and the nature of poetry.

For: students of history, and people who enjoy funny anecdotes.

Representative Quote: "Every country has a contextual alcoholic drink. In France it's Pernod: it tastes great within the borders of that country, but absolute shite if you take it anywhere else."

Further Reading and Viewing

Sutherland also gave a TED Talk called Sweat the Small Stuff, which is well worth a look; there's also a TED Q&A which contains some delightful profanity. He also has a book out, though actually purchasing it seems a bit tricky.

Transcript

TED provides an interactive transcript, as well as subtitles, downloads with subtitles, and so on. I watched this talk on the TED site via the "Download" button (which basically just leads to a much better-looking video).

Suggest a Lecture

Got a favorite lecture? Is it online in some video format? Leave a comment and we’ll check it out!

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Yale's Insanely Popular Happiness Course Is Now Open to Everyone Online
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Yale University's happiest course is giving people yet another reason to smile. After breaking registration records, "Psychology and the Good Life" has been repurposed into a free online course anyone can take, Quartz reports.

Psychology professor Laurie Santos debuted the class in the 2018 spring semester, and it's officially the most popular course in the university's 317-year history. About 1200 students, or a quarter of Yale's undergraduate student body, are currently enrolled. Now that a free version of the course has launched on Coursera, the curriculum is about to reach even more learners.

The online "Science of Well-Being" class is led by Santos from her home. Throughout the course, students will learn about happiness from a psychological perspective, including misconceptions about happiness and activities that have been proven to boost life satisfaction. "The purpose of the course is to not only learn what psychological research says about what makes us happy but also to put those strategies into practice," the course description reads.

Each section comes with readings, video lessons, and a quiz, as well as the chance to connect and brainstorm with classmates. After passing the assignments, students come away from the six-week course with a certificate and hopefully a broader understanding of the factors that contribute to a happy life. You can visit the course page over at Coursera to enroll.

[h/t Quartz]

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Overcome Your Fear of Embarrassment by Imagining People Reacting to Your Fart
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Everyone gets embarrassed occasionally, but not everyone reacts in the same way. Some people have a deep-rooted fear of embarrassment, and seek to avoid it as much as possible. You can't go your whole life without ever embarrassing yourself, though, unless you remove yourself from human company entirely. So if you are prone to feeling embarrassed and self-conscious, you have to learn to deal with it effectively. A new study spotted by Big Think suggests that a relatively easy trick can help minimize embarrassment. You just have to get outside of yourself.

The research, conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and UCLA and published in Motivation and Emotion, looked at the problem through a business-school lens—in other words, for people who are really worried about public embarrassment, that fear might affect what they buy. They might hesitate to buy something because they don't want to ask questions about it or don't want to be seen buying it, or they might buy even more of it to avoid embarrassment in the future (say, if it's Beano).

The research was aimed at people who are high in what psychologists call "public self-consciousness." These individuals are ultra-aware of how they appear to others, and are often very concerned with how people see them, so they try to avoid potential embarrassment as much as possible. They “tend to perceive themselves to be in the social ‘spotlight' and focus too much on the situation,” the study's authors write.

In three different tests, the researchers introduced embarrassing situations to UCLA students. First, they had students read a Beano ad involving a yoga student who lets out an accidental fart ("guaranteed to linger forever," as the copywriter put it), then answer questions about how much they identified with the farter in the situation and how they felt. They found that participants who were high in public self-consciousness tended to imagine themselves as the farter in the situation while reading the ad, rather than seeing themselves as an observer, and felt more embarrassed reading it than other participants.

In a subsequent test, the researchers asked students to read an ad about a study in which volunteers would be asked personal questions about sensitive issues like genital herpes. They then answered questions about how likely they would be to volunteer, how they would expect to feel during that type of interview, and how they expected the study administrators would react to them during that interview. They found that self-conscious people were more likely to say they would volunteer if they were asked first about how the people administrating the study would likely react to volunteers, forcing them to consider the outsider's perspective before they were asked if they would take part.

In the third test, the researchers recruited students to again consider embarrassing farts. Two ads for gas-prevention products each showed the same image of four people sitting on a couch together, with one guy sitting alone on one end and three women sitting on the other end. One ad read, "Rip. Accidentally passing gas in front of a crush is one of the most embarrassing experiences. Guaranteed to linger forever." Another added an extra twist: "Others will know what it's like. Put yourself in their shoes … would you giggle? Would you be horrified? Would you stare?"

Participants who read the first ad were more likely to say they would buy the gas-preventing product to keep them from experiencing the embarrassment of a public fart. If they read the second ad, they reported less interest in buying it.

In any social situation, it's probably a good idea to imagine that you are not the center of everyone's attention. For people who are prone to self-consciousness, that kind of thought pattern can be even more helpful than for most. While it's easy to default to thinking of yourself as the star of the movie of your life, it might be better to imagine what it's like to be part of the audience—one that's really, really rooting for you, farts and all.

[h/t Big Think]

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