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What Mad Men do to spur action

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

When we think about communicating information correctly, we think that more information is better. But it’s not, says author and behavioral economist Dan Ariely. He offers an example.

In an experiment, participants were told about a little girl named Rokia, but in two different ways.

For the first group of participants, the leader described her statistical life—3 million children like her in Malawai are starving, even more across Africa.

The second group simply saw the picture of Rokia and heard some details about her daily life and the challenges she faced.

All the participants received $5 for being in the study.

On their way out, they were asked if they wanted to contribute some of the $5 to either alleviate starvation in ­Africa or to Rokia.  

“They gave much more to Rokia as an individual,” says Ariely. “They gave half as much to starvation.”

We tend to think that if we evoke people’s emotion plus statistical reason, we’ll get more.

“But what happens is our reasoning sort of overcomes our emotion and blocks it off,” says Ariely.

To evoke an emotional response that spurs action, do what the advertising industry does: Present one specific case, and don’t follow it up with a ream of statistical information.

— Adapted from Dan Ariely’s speech at Duke Uni­versity’s Health Sector Advisory Council summit.

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