Here’s what I found interesting this week. Plus commentary.
1. Amazon Alexa only rarely used for shopping. The Amazon Alexa voice interface device is primarily used to “answer simple questions about the weather, set timers and play music and radio stations.” Via Charles Arthur on twitter, of the 1 million who’ve tried shopping with Alexa, 900k didn’t try again. The news here is analysts believed that the number was higher. It’s a success, but not a common way to buy stuff. At least for now. Related, Fred Wilson says he uses voice interface for finding shows on AppleTV, and in his car to text or call someone. He ends: “So while voice imput has not taken hold in our life where text input works reliably and conveniently, it has taken hold where text input is not reliable, convenient, or safe. What this tells me is the path forward for voice input technology, which has gotten very good, is in applications that are not mainstream yet but can get mainstream by solving the data input problem.”
Loss aversion, the idea that losses are more psychologically impactful than gains, is widely considered the most important idea of behavioral decision-making and its sister field of behavioral economics. To illustrate the importance loss aversion is accorded, Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics, wrote in his 2011 best-selling book, Thinking Fast and Slow, that “the concept of loss aversion is certainly the most significant contribution of psychology to behavioral economics.”
However, as documented in a recent critical review of loss aversion by Derek Rucker of Northwestern University and myself, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, loss aversion is essentially a fallacy. That is, there is no general cognitive bias that leads people to avoid losses more vigorously than to pursue gains. Contrary to claims based on loss aversion, price increases (ie, losses for consumers) do not impact consumer behavior more than price decreases (ie, gains for consumers). Messages that frame an appeal in terms of a loss (eg, “you will lose out by not buying our product”) are no more persuasive than messages that frame an appeal in terms of a gain (eg, “you will gain by buying our product”).
People do not rate the pain of losing $10 to be more intense than the pleasure of gaining $10. People do not report their favorite sports team losing a game will be more impactful than their favorite sports team winning a game. And people are not particularly likely to sell a stock they believe has even odds of going up or down in price (in fact, in one study I performed, over 80 percent of participants said they would hold on to it).
To be sure it is true that big financial losses can be more impactful than big financial gains, but this is not a cognitive bias that requires a loss aversion explanation, but perfectly rational behavior.
Overall I found the write up convincing. But I’m leery when a single paper claims a field of research is bunk. So I would’ve liked to see more commentary on the paper. For now it’s in the “big, if true” category.
3. Workplace wellness programs don’t work. This one is solid, if unsurprising. Corporate wellness programs that encourage you to go to the gym, exercise, eat well, etc don’t work. That is, they don’t make you healthier. The best bit is they analyzed the data using a randomized controlled trial, and nada. No effect. But when they re-analyzed it like an observational trial (which is far more common and cheaper), voila, they did get an effect. Quote:
If we look only at the intervention group as an observational trial, it appears that people who didn’t make use of the program went to the campus gym 3.8 days per year, and those who participated in it went 7.4 times per year. Based on that, the program appears to be a success. But when the intervention group is compared with the control group as a randomized controlled trial, the differences disappear. Those in the control group went 5.9 times per year, and those in the intervention group went 5.8 times per year.
Of course this begs the question. Maybe the goal of wellness programs is not to make people healthier. Instead it’s to make people loyal to their employer. If so, these programs might be working great. Expect more in the future.
4. Twitter stuff I thought interesting.
Loitering autonomous cars. Heh.
China’s national museum has removed Deng Xiaoping in good old fashioned Orwellian style. Click through if you want to see the entire thread, it’s pretty good.
John Gruber’s take on the latest Magic Leap news is entertaining.
Mark Witton is a big fan of the pterosaur Arambourgiania. Link to BBC article. Mark Witton on twitter, his blog, his patreon. Since I’m not sure about image rights, I saw that Witton retweeted the tweet below. So I’ll embed to show you Witton’s image. Love this pic.
Colima volcano. Similarly, this was retweeted by Sergio Tapiro. So I’ll embed. Incredible photo. Translation of the tweet: For 14 years, photographer Sergio Tapiro took more than 300.000 photos of the Colima volcano. Then he finally erupted. “This image is a gift that nature has given me. When I saw the camera screen I was surprised, I didn’t believe it.”
Finally, let’s end with the always excellent xkcd. On his site, Randall Munroe says it’s ok to embed if you link back, so here you go. And that’s all for this week.