Ep 204: The Psychology of Fundraising

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How do you use psychology persuasion techniques to get people to contribute to your cause? That’s what I discuss in this episode of The Psych Files – the psychology of fundraising. I’m trying to help my friend raise money and in doing so I employed a number of persuasion strategies to get people to help him out and I’m sure these ideas will be helpful to you as well. We’ll look at how Robert Cialdini‘s ideas can be applied to fundraising and we’ll look at other topics you may have studied in a psychology class: goal setting, bystander apathy, and the need to generate excitement in order to persuade people to part with their money (social contagion). I’ll also look at the ethics of all this. Is it okay to use these strategies on people? When is it not okay? Hopefully an interesting and useful episode up ahead. [Read more...]

Ep 188: Psychologists Are Keeping You From Getting the Flu

Didn’t get the flu this past winter? Thank a psychologist. What? Well, it could be that a psychologist was involved in helping health care professionals to do what they know they need to do (but sometimes don’t): wash their hands. The issue here is persuasion and motivation: how to we get people to do something – and keep doing it? Health care workers like doctors and nurses can fall prey to the availability heuristic: they can easily remember times when they didn’t wash their hands and they didn’t get sick so they might develop an “illusion of invulnerability“. How do psychologists get involved to solve this problem? Listen to this episode and find out.

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Ep: 167: The Fat Trap – How Not to Get Discouraged About Difficulty Losing Weight

Guess What? Bad news: if you’ve ever been overweight and you’re trying to lose weight it’s even harder than you think. Yikes. Pretty de-motivating. As psychologist Matthew Edlund wrote recently, Weight: Why Simple Answers Won’t (Can’t) Work. However, let’s see what motivational psychologists would have to say about this. How to keep from throwing up your hands at the whole effort.


Resources on the Difficulty of Losing Weight

  • The Fat Trap by Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times, December 28, 2011.
  • Episode 126 (video): SuperNormal Stimuli: Is This Why We’re Overweight? There are many reasons why it is difficult to lose weight, but have you considered how supernormal stimuli might be one of them? In this episode I discuss some of the ideas in the books Waistland and Supernormal Stimuli by Dierdre Barrett. Is it possible that the old saying Everything in Moderation might just be wrong?
  • Episode 57: Expectancy Theory, Goal Setting and Getting in Shape
  • . Trying to get in shape and lose weight? What’s the psychology behind getting in shape? Well, first forget the psychobabble. I examine two established theories of human motivation – goal setting and expectancy theory. Join me for a different perspective on weight loss, exercise and fitness.


Ep 152: How Do You Change Your Behavior? Interview with Scott Milford

Behavior ModificationHow does Behavior Modification work? Find out in this episode as I interview Scott Milford, author of the Behavior and Motivation website. If you’re about how to apply Psychology to everyday life then this is the guy to show you how he does it. In this episode we talk about how to get kids to practice the piano, but you’ll quickly see how this approach could be applied to all kinds of other life challenges. Scott developed his approach over many years of working with young people both at the piano and with at-risk adolescents in school. See how Psychology can be put to work!
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Episode 142: How To Make Jobs More Satisfying and Motivating

Do you have a dull job? Wonder how it can be made more motivating? That’s the challenge – how can we make jobs that are typically not much fun (like an assembly line job) more interesting to do? There is a lot of research on this important topic (check out The Five Drivers of Happiness at Work from the Wall Street Journal).

And Dan Pink wrote a good deal about this in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (you can hear him talk about work motivation in this interview called Dan Pink on the Modus Operandi of Motivation). This is one of the challenges facing I/O psychologists and in this episode I discuss the Job Characteristics theory by Hackman and Oldham and apply it to assembly line jobs in China where your iPhone is made and where a record number of suicides have occurred over the past few years. Can we use job redesign to make such jobs more tolerable?


1 Million Workers. 90 Million iPhones. 17 Suicides. Who’s to Blame?

5 Characteristics of Jobs that Affect Motivation

  • Significance: do the workers feel that the work they do every day is important in the grander scheme of things? To some workers it’s clear that their daily work is important (say, nurses), while others (say, assembly line workers who put together cell phone components) may not feel that their work is important. However, you can help cell phone assembly line workers get a connection to the significance of their work by reminding them of how important cell phones are to the global connections they enable between people and the role cell phones play (through photos and messaging) in changing the world. Here’s an article on the important role that leaders play in helping their employees find meaning in their work.
  • Identity: as opposed to putting one tiny piece onto something that other people put tiny pieces onto, it’s important for workers to be able to identify a whole task that they themselves created. Is there a way to redesign a job so that workers can put their names on something and say with pride, “I created that”?


  • Variety: nothing kills motivation faster than monotony. How can you increase the variety of things that workers do? How can you let them tap into their skills or build new skills so that work can include some variety from day to day?
  • Feedback: employees need to know how well they’re doing their jobs. This helps with imparting a sense of pride as well. Feedback can come from a car that rolls off the assembly line and works perfectly (low defects) or it can come from a boss who tells the worker how well he/she is doing.
  • Autonomy: many employees benefit from having some say in how things are done. What aspects of the job can be supervised or redesigned based on input from employees? What decisions can they make on their own?