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Mere exposure: Your community’s best tool

The familiar is comforting.  Fact.  Popularized by Robert B. Zajonc, social psychologist, in 1960s.

In one experiment, he even showed that you can be made to like chinese symbols you don’t understand just by looking at them a few times.  Here’s how that went down.

Seeing is liking

He took 12 chinese symbols, and started showing them to the subjects.  An “exposure” was two seconds of passively looking at the symbol, and the subject was exposed to each symbols somewhere between 0 and 25 times.  Then, Zajonc asked them to rate how positive the meaning  of that word was.  It turns out, the more you are exposed to a meaningless symbol, the more you like it.

liking via exposure

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Free business idea: myers briggs horoscopes

Selling horoscopes brings in scads of money, but they’re mostly bullshit.  The typical horoscope is generalized life advice, seemingly made relevant by the Forer effect.  Even if you believe in astrology, the majority of horoscopes peddled aren’t even accurate by astrological standards.

Myers Briggs is a psychological system for typing people into 16 categories on 4 axes.  Introvert/Extrovert, iNtuitive/Sensing,  Feeling/Thinking, and Perceiving/Judging.  I am Extroverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, and Perceiving, so in Myers Briggs Parlance I am an ENTP.  The type is also called the “visionary”, and other ENTPs include Steve Jobs, Richard Feynman, and Tony Stark.  Myers Briggs is not perfectly accurate, especially for people who are on the borderline (I am on the border between introvert and extrovert), but it is good enough to be psychologically useful.  And, anecdotally, I idolized all three ENTP examples before I knew I shared their type.

So, we have a personality test that is reasonably accurate and a large, profitable industry based on giving life advice.  What if we combined the two?  Gave advice that is specifically tailored to that personality type.  An ENTP (a visionary who gets excited by new ventures) would get told to make small bets before jumping off the deep end, while an ISTJ (a duty fulfiller who takes rules seriously) may get reminded that the most important rule is forgiveness.  So that’s the market:  people who want personalized daily advice.

The business part would be to give away one horoscope per week, then charge a small subscription ($5/month) to get one every day.  The costs would be advertising, web hosting, and writing.  Web hosting is ridiculously cheap, writing can be done by yourself, and advertising can either be foregone, or you can make sure that the advertising pays for itself.

Now go get entrepreneuring.

The Great City

It’s not real yet, but it will be, and it come surprisingly close to my ideal living space.   You can read the wired article on the web urbanist article for details.

Given that half of this map is green, you might be surprised to note that this will be six times denser than london.

Given that half of this map is green, you might be surprised to note that this will be six times denser than london.

My thoughts?

Obviously, they designers of this city have spent a great deal more time thinking about the design than I have, so I want to know their reason for making the city fit 80 thousand people.  My ideal living space is also a very dense urban core with surrounding green space, but each is much smaller.  I would like for each city unit to be small enough that you can recognize most of your fellow residents on sight, and have a sense of common identity.  80k is big enough for empathy fatigue to set in rather quickly.

It’s likely that the designers did not have the idea of a cohesive community  as a primary goal.  Their main goals were efficiency and a pleasant living area, which they have (theoretically) accomplished, stunningly so.  A fortunate side effect of this will indeed be a slightly better community, but not nearly as much as if they had made that one of their core tenets from the start.


This post is now hosted at my personal web site.

Willpower: rediscovering the greatest human strength (a book review)

*While reading this review, please sit by a bowl of m&ms (don’t eat them) and try not to think of a white tiger.*

This is a research book.  Solidly written, compelling, and extremely fact-based.  It doesn’t try to shock, and if you’ve been keeping up with the research in the field then there will likely be few revelations.  That’s not to say it’s bad… it’s an extremely compelling book, laid out logically in a way that will guide you gently into the world that the researcher occupies while masterfully mixing anecdote and data.

So if you’re at all interested in the science of willpower or how to make it seem like you have a lot more (more on that wording later), go read it now.  The rest of this piece is short summaries followed by reactions and observations.  Discuss in the comments.

Buy from amazon

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