Malcolm Gladwell’s ACR 2013 Talk: Summary, Science and Responses

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Malcolm Gladwell just gave a talk at the Association for Consumer Research. What did he talk about? How did it go? What scientific research did he cover? What are related research he did not cover? How did he handle questions and a somewhat “difficult” audience of behavioral scientists?

We will post a more detailed reaction soon that will feature editorials. But for those itching to know what he talked about and also interested in citation links related to what he said, here’s your summary fix.

What was his “hypothesis”?

Gladwell talked about topics not in his new book. He described the ideas as ‘provisional’ but they seemed highly polished. He mainly talked about how minorities (women, races) are kept out of the majority and his main hypotheses was that people excluded minorities by a) accepting some of them and/or b) being hyper critical of others. His illustrative hypothesis was that if and when Hillary Clinton is elected President she will be the only woman president for a long time.

What were the specifics of the “hypothesis”?

Gladwell argued that people feel licensed to be discriminatory against minorities because they tend to accept a few of them (e.g. have one female head of state, have one woman artist in a museum) and or do a few things for them (charity). He also argued they feel like they can be hyper critical of minorities.To help explain this point he defined two different types of minority tokens: the trouble token and the ideal token.

The trouble token he defined as the person that represents the minority and is thoroughly thrashed by the majority culture. His main example for this was former Australian head of state Julia Gillard who Gladwell says was uniquely ridiculed by the public in part because of her gender.

The ideal token he defined as the person that is accepted by the majority and allows the majority to feel “not sexists” or “not racist.” His main narrative example for this was artist Elizabeth Thompson who broke into the male dominated English art scene in the 1870s. However, her success did not lead to a drastic change in the gendered art community. There was also some discussion about Jews and how Nazis felt comfortable with prejudice and the Final Solution because they had previously been nice to small groups or individuals. In discussing the ideal token he cited “moral licensing” work about how favoring Obama licenses people to have anti-black attitudes.

How did he do?

ImagePretty fantastic actually. Rhiannon MacDonnell said it best on Twitter: “Really interesting and candid talk by Gladwell at ACR 2013. Great jock tackling a tough crowd with humility and humor.”

Gladwell did two things right: 1) He told great thought provoking stories and 2) he was upfront that he was proposing absolute “laws.” He cleverly joke about how his aims are different from the scientific community.

The ACR Co-Chairs Simona Botti  and Aparna Labroo should be proud to have brought such great entertainment with a side of thought provoking insights to ACR with Gladwell. In their introduction of the Gladwell session, it was obvious how excited the two were to have Gladwell, and by the end of the session that excitement was shared by arguably most of the audience.

But there was one thing…

Gladwell’s talk was extremely depressing.  He identified a problem and offered no solution. His talk ended with, “And I’m not certain we’ll ever have another Black President.”

Gladwell’s entire message was that people in the majority can oppress minorities and still feel good about themselves. His whole talk was about why and how this happened but the takeaway was there really is no hope. There was sliver of hope suggesting that if some how a significant portion of the minority can force their way in, things will get better. However, that was the only ray of sunshine.

Now, if you are in the successful class (like in many ways to audience at Palmer Hilton hotel conference featuring Malcolm Gladwell are), then his points seem insightful. But if you are in the minority or lower class then the results are just depressing.

How did he manage the whole criticism of the Gladwell style?

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Arguably quite well. He was humble. Saying his ideas in the talk were “provisional” and “I am just playing.” He joked about differences between his writing and scientific writing saying, “I am not going to submit that [his hypothesis on culture] to JPSP [The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology].”

He also talked about how though all the behavioral scientists in the room think it is obvious that things like culture affect outcomes, this is not the case for the general public always. He states that his books were to get people thinking about ideas that our field just knows to be true

Yale Professor Zoe Chance asked Gladwell a pointed question about balancing accuracy with storytelling. His response seemed very similar to a recent quote he gave in a Guardian piece, “If my books appear oversimplified, then you shouldn’t read them” and also expressed in an extended conversation with Duke Professor Dan Ariely.

Gladwell stated that he wants to inspire people and make them feel joyous about science. He sees himself (as he literally is) the child of an academic and pursues similar but not the exact same goals. From the buzz around ACR it seems Gladwell won over a lot of the Gladwell skeptics. He did this by clarifying that he isn’t trying to replace scientists nor does he want to propose absolute laws – he articulated perfectly and humbly that his goals are different.

Why the talk was interesting & uncomfortable

Gladwell articulated in his iconic style a question that has been on the minds of many moral psychologists: how can we feel good about ourselves when we do so little to actually help those in need?

For instance all of the conference members with enjoy a private party at the House of Blues in Chicago this evening and return late into the night to Palmer Hilton for a nice sleep and flight back—all compensated by their universities. All of us here at ACR arguably all engage in some degree of hypocrisy, claiming to care so much for the poor, the obese, and the irrational consumer, but we then go buy a $5 Starbucks with university funds.

Understanding this general psychological phenomenon and trying to grasp at what truly is the correct moral way to live in the world is something that came (intentionally or not) out of Gladwells speech – it’s a wonderful spark for empirical and philosophical work.

What science should Malcolm Gladwell read?

ImageIt was difficult to tell how much psychology Gladwell has read. He referenced work on moral licensing, but even how familiar he was with that topic was ambiguous. This did not stop him from making insightful and great points that he openly described as speculative.

However, if he does want to move more from speculation to more of a firm hypotheses for a future articles or a book, we have a few suggestions of what he should read more of. If you have any suggestions let us know on Twitter (@Indecision_Blog) or just leave a comment on this post. We’ll be updating this post with the ideas you share us here and also with more specific articles in the future to stimulate discussion amongst ourselves and maybe even to pass along to Gladwell. In sum, it is the belief of at least this author that Gladwell put together some fascinating hypotheses that may be worth exploring or relating to our work.

Moral licensing

Licensing is a more contentious topic than it sometimes seems. We suggest he keeps his eyes out for looming meta-analyses that should come out soon and check out work on when licensing does not occur such as in this study by Ayelet Gneezy and colleagues.

Moral self

His hypotheses seemed very similar to work by Albert Bandura on moral disengagement and Nina Mazar on the self-concept maintenance model. Both of these ideas were the center of Dan Ariely’s bestselling new book The Honest Truth About Dishonesty, so it was somewhat odd than none of these researchers in our field got a nod and instead only Effron and Monin got a tip.

Categorization theory

In discussing how people assign people to categories and code people as say “in-group” or “out-group” or how whites might decide where to code a black person as “black” or not has been extensively looked at the literature. This seemed fundamental to his discussion of the ideal token, but he did not discuss any of this work. Was this because of time or his lack of knowledge of it? Even just a short browsing on Psych Wikipedia for this topic might help.

Our Question! His Answer: Storytelling

Indecision Blog had the honor of asking Gladwell the first question in the Q&A (big thanks to co-chairs of ACR for this honor): we asked how can academia influence business persons and policy makers in the way Gladwell has.

His answer was simply that we need to tell stories. He made clear that the story has to be in the communication with businesses and policy makers. Gladwell described his answer as “obvious”, but we still think it’s not so obvious in our field all the time. (Full coverage as well as the full transcription of Gladwell’s answer to this question sometime soon.)

However, we will note that Gladwell started his ACR talk with a very long story before it became apparent what his hypotheses was and long before his talk got “scientifically interesting.” You could feel the tension in the room when Gladwell was just storytelling and before he delivered on the story in a way that seemed to satisfy the audience. We as researchers would probably have skipped the extensive opening narratives when communicating our ideas, but Gladwell says this is necessary. At the end when all the bread crumbs he laid out came together, it was hard to argue that his extensive storytelling did not help make his simple hypotheses seem more real and inspire his audience to actually do something about it.

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ACR 2013 Doctoral Consortium: Contradictions are Part of the Point

ImageOn Thursday, October 3, 2013, a lot of information was shared at the Doctoral Consortium.  Interestingly, some of the advice contradicted one another: contradictions occurred between and across sessions. As an attendee or someone who just read the tweets, you might be wondering, “What’s a grad student to make of speakers giving different opinions?”

Indecision Blog caught up with Consortium Co-Chair Derek Rucker after day to talk about the themes and goals of the day. The full video interview will be coming soon but we wanted to post a few quotes to help clarify some things.

What did you hope the students got from today?

Rucker: “As a Ph.D student you are at a particular graduate program with a limited set of faculty… The big thing here is exposure to different thoughts, and different ideas, and different ways of doing things.”

How should students deal with hearing contradictory information?

Rucker: “One of things I want students to get is that there are different ways to approach research. Sometimes these are represented as contradictions – Faculty A says do it this way and Faculty B says do it that way. But instead, with many great minds in the room you see that there are different paths to success.”

 “For instance students that just listened to talk that discussed, ’Should I do more field experiments or should I start with theory?’ whereas probably both are paths to success. You can come to [ACR] and say, ‘Wow there are some real luminaries in the field. What’s their style? Which ones resonate with me? Which ones don’t? [At ACR] you get this nice exposure to different ways of reaching the same goal.”

Across the Consortium

At many places across the Doctoral Consortium, Rucker’s sentiments were shared. At the Consumer Culture Theory session, the researchers talked about connecting with “what vibrated with you.” At the “What I was Glad I Did/What I Wish I Would Have Done Differently” session, the speakers openly contradicted each other. But the contradictions were not mean – instead they openly laughed about the contradictions. Likewise the journal editors talked about differences and even used a funny metaphor (to varying degrees) of “too hot, too cold, and just right” to describe the journals’ unique characteristics and goals.

However, that doesn’t mean you should just run free without worries as there are definitely poor ways to do things and internally inconsistent ways to approach things. Doing things in a certain way means you will have to sacrifice something else – life and research come with trade-offs, so don’t let cognitive dissonance convince you otherwise. The point simply is that there are different ways to do great things and if the consortium seemed contradictory to you, you should know that it was, in fact, one of points of consortium: to let help you connect with a great path that works for you.

Special thanks to the co-chairs and all the panelists who took time to talk to Indecision Blog and provided us with your materials. 

N.B. Blogged and edited semi-live so mistakes and typos may have slipped in! 

Quotes, Tweets & Tidbits from the ACR 2013 Doctoral Consortium

Over the next few weeks, we will be rolling out full coverage of the ACR 2013 Doctoral Consortium which will will include full slides from presenters and topical summaries. However, we wanted to provide a few great lines either as direct quotes or paraphrases from the Doctoral Consortium. These are the ideas we found that most people were buzzing about.

The Short and Sweet Slides from the Kathleen Vohs Talk

Kathleen Vohs gave straightforward advice. Rather than give the “mile high” view (which she did a little bit) she got straight to business on what little specific things lead to success. Click here for the link to her slides. Lots of great information that will take you very little time to read.

Top Indecision Blog Tweets from Consortium

A few more that didn’t make twitter … 

@nomlogic – (paraphrased) There’s a difference between “taste” and “value” feedback. When you represent ideas to people you get “taste” feedback most often. “Taste” feedback is based on whether they like it or it fits with their preferences rather than “value” feedback which is about whether the idea is fundamentally flawed.

Amna Kirmani – “Is that a good idea, I don’t know but it will get published,” talking about how A) sometimes you don’t know whether something is good until down the line and B) some unimportant things get published.
Amna Kirmani – talked abut how important it is to make your audience guess to see what will happen and make them realize that the findings are not immediately obvious. Everything looks obvious in hindsight.
Kathleen Vohs – “I like to collect methods.” She does so by reading broadly and often.
Consumer Culture Theory Panel – Talked about getting videos into JCR and communicating through graphic novels, art, and poems.
N.B. Blogged and edited semi-live so mistakes and typos may have slipped in! 

4 ACR Sessions to Get Excited About

ImageThere’s a plethora of things to get excited about at this ACR, but here’s a few to prime your appetite for consumer science.

We asked the chairs to write about their session and explain not only the research but let us know why we should be excited and why it’s important.

If you would like to be featured as a “Session to Get Excited About” at a future conference, email us a description of your session following the examples below. (indecisionblogging@gmail.com )

 #1 Social Goals and Word of Mouth

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Chair: Hillary Wiener

Details: 11am, Friday, Salon 12

Amazon reviews of everything, angry tweets seen by thousands of people, and viral ads. What do all of these things have in common?

They are all examples what marketers call “word-of-mouth,” or conversations that consumers have about products or experiences with companies.

Word-of-mouth has always been known as a powerful advertising method, but we know surprisingly little about what drives word-of-mouth and what consumers are trying to achieve by talking about products or experiences.

The first paper in this session introduces a framework for understanding word of mouth, after which three other papers show that consumers can fulfill important social goals–the need to make friends, the need to appear competent, and the need to be happy–by having conversations about products and experiences

#2 Beyond Reciprocity: Examining the Interplay Between Money & Relationships


Chairs: Avni Shah & Kathleen Vohs

Details: 3:30pm, Friday, Salon 3

If one could wish for two gifts that would substantially improve life, having money and strong close relationships would be ideal candidates.  Money and relationships, while being able to improve life’s outcomes, do so by dramatically different routes and mechanisms—and yet have significant overlap as well.  This session peers into the consequences that money and close relationships have for one another –and in doing so reveals some thought-provoking patterns for scientific understanding and consumer welfare.

This session features cutting-edge research in the psychology of money and relationships, and seeks to answer two important questions: 1) How can individuals’ close relationships influence their perceptions of and decision-making with money? 2) Conversely, how can decisions about money influence the behavior and perceptions within relationships?  This session explores two fundamental areas of research in consumer research and seeks to understand the theoretical and practical implications to aid consumer well-being.

#3 Consumers’ Prosocial Motives & Decision-Making

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Chairs: Leif  Nelson and Minah Jung

Details: 8am, Friday, Salon 3

Putting this session together, I learned about what matters to people psychologically in doing something good for society and unrelated people.

The first paper by Yoeli et al. shows that social forces can be more effective than a monetary incentive in stimulating energy-conservation behavior. The second paper featuring my research, looked at how people responded to an opportunity to be generous in a transaction setting in which customers can pay any price they want and a portion of their payment goes to charity. We found that people were much less likely to engage in a pay-what-you-want transaction when any portion, large or small, went to charity. Potential customers simply opted out of the transaction.

In the third paper, Inbar et al. found that people were nice and generous often because they prefer being fair and like to balance out what they did not earn by giving it back to the world at large. The fourth paper by Barasch et al. differs from the other papers in that it looks at how observers perceive the emotional intensity of a prosocial actor. They found that people gave credit to a person who felt good after being generous to others because they perceived the positive emotion as a signal of sincerity or authenticity in charitable giving.

All these findings come with their own little complications, which we’re excited to share with you at ACR this year or one day in print.

#4 From Encoding, to Protecting, to Retrieving: Understanding the Interplay between Social Identity & Consumer Memory 

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Chair: Amy Dalton

Details: 3:30pm, Saturday, Salon 12

I was excited to organize this session because I think that these papers, collectively, have something important to contribute to both the memory literature and the social identity literature.

Memory is an important topic to explore because consumer decisions are largely memory-based. But most work takes a ‘cold cognition’ approach to studying memory and, as a consequence, little is known about social factors that are important to marketers, like social identity. The work we’re presenting tries to fill this void.

From a social identity perspective, this session is interesting because most social identity research thinks about social-identity-related consumption in terms of product/brand preferences and choice, and doesn’t think about how memory factors in.

The papers in our session will show that memory affects product preference, product disposal, and product evaluation.  Also, this relationship is bidirectional: memory affects social-identity-related behaviors, and social identities affect memory.

The last thing I’d like to mention about this session (and why I’m excited about it) is that the papers flow well together. Of course they are all about consumer memory and social identity, but each paper looks at a different aspect of memory. The result is that the session will present a nice overview to the audience about the different ways that memory can be important from a social identity perspective (i.e., social identities affect encoding, memory protection, and memory retrieval).

Some content has been edited with permission by the Indecision Blog staff. For more on each session see the ACR program here.

 

ACR Film Festival – Overview and interview with the hosts

Editor’s note: this week we will be covering the annual conference of the Association for Consumer Research in Chicago. Our roving reporter Troy Campbell will be live blogging and tweeting to provide us updates from the conference. In the run-up to the conference, he speaks to the famed ACR Film Festival hosts.
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There is something inspiring and something really memorable about Association for Consumer Research conference selected films. I’ve long forgotten even seeing some talks (not your talk of course, I remember it in breathtaking detail), but I have never forgotten at least an image or two from each film I’ve seen.

For those unaccustomed with the film festival format at academic conferences, it features a few films, none longer than 30 minutes (with one exception this year) followed by questions. Accordingly the festival often feels like a normal session just with video instead of talks. The topics are usually very related to topics one would see in experimental journals like Journal of Consumer Research, with topics like health and identity. The film festival can be best described as watching the most high quality and thought provoking journalism imaginable. I hope that description does not sit wrong with those in the film festival community, because I mean as the utmost praise.

To give you a taste of what’s on offer, watch this quick trailer for one of the talks this year. Even if you are not at ACR this year, you can watch all the trailers here and get a sense of the main hypotheses and topics of the videos. You can also reach out to the film-makers with questions and click through on the videos to Vimeo to see the entire cuts of the films right now.

Recently, I had chance to interview Professors Marylouise Caldwell and Paul Henry, the hosts of this years ACR. They make a great case for why, even if you are a hardcore experimental researcher, the film festival is great place to stop by.

What is the goal of the film festival?

[Caldwell and Henry] To have a really great film festival experience.  We encourage folks to attend sessions that from their own perspective are likely to offer rich visual and/or tantalizing research realms.

What are the topics this year?

This year there is plenty on offer, our films ranging from explorations of conflicting consumption ideals in Cuba, how contemporary consumers are dealing with excessive boredom in the face of an interminably technologically stimulating world, what happens when aesthetically gifted consumers move from consumption to production and how their struggle with maintaining feelings of individuality and authenticity, how material objects enact amazingly forceful agency even in mundane settings to how various performances manifest and evolve in both marketplace and leisure-based settings.

What do you want students to get from your session?

We think the film festival facilitates looking at the world of consumption in a different way. Sometimes it transports us out of the halls of academe into places that we have never been, other times we suddenly have flashes of recognition and identification with other consumers that have eluded us up until now, often we experience emotions and sensations that allow us to appreciate consumer behaviour from a radically different perspective and finally we can sometimes sit back and appreciate just how the dynamic and stimulating our field of study can be.

Now for a personal question: What is one thing you love about the ACR conference?

The sheer intellectual stimulation, excitement of meeting and talking with like-minded others and the tremendous generosity of presenters and their audiences during post seminar discussions. 

One more personal question: Are you excited about anything specific for this ACR?

Chicago, Chicago, Chicago – what a wonder town! Plus catching up with many old friends and making new ones, especially film-makers new to our field.

Finally, here’s one more trailer, because the text in the trailer is just hilarious.

The Conference Survival Guide

Two of the biggest conferences of the season for InDecision readers are coming up soon: The Association for Consumer Research (ACR) and the Society for Judgment and Making’s (SJDM). We will be live blogging and live tweeting them, as well as providing pre and post coverage of the conferences, so keep an eye out for updates and exclusives with conference researchers and speakers. In preparation for these conferences we prepared a comprehensive “Conference Survival Guide.”

Speakers: Avoid The 4 Sins of Conference Presentations

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  1. Saying too much
  2. Showing a long and useless literature review
  3. Failing to remind your audience of the designs and terms of your research
  4. Showing off your methods and analysis rather than the substance of your findings (we aren’t quantitative economists after all)

Full detailed article here.

Manage Your Worries

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Can’t figure out what talks to go to? Finding you are losing interest in your own topics but love that trendy talk on virtual reality or green psychology? Just generally feeling lost?

Don’t worry: our expert panel has you covered here.

Remember to Do the 4 Things We Vow to Do After Conferences (But Rarely Do)

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  1. Read the full program
  2. Email that new contact
  3. Focus on your new inspirations
  4. Talk more with peers

Full article here.

How to (Not) Network

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Students: remember conferences are as much about peers as they are about professors. Peers are important, as we explained a little while ago on the blog.

“Off the record” many professors have been said that they hate it when people blindly come up to them at conferences and just grill with them with questions. Of course, not everyone does this and if you come up with good questions it can certainly sometimes work, but there are many professors who hate “networking antics,” so be careful how and who you approach.

Many successful professors have also told us they spent conferences staying up late chatting research and partying with peers not professors and these academics turned out more than just fine, so if you’ve got mad networking game, then go for it. But if it’s not your style, don’t worry: it’s not the end of the world.

One additional strategy for networking is walking around with someone who actually knows people – maybe that assistant professor you get along with so well at your school could help you?

Pay Attention to Twitter

And not simply because we will be live tweeting and blogging the conferences we cover, but because other people will be too—some of which you may already know. Twitter has now reached a critical mass in Academia such that twitter has become a useful tool and a source of entertainment. Remember, you don’t need to tweet, just follow people on twitter or type in the conference hashtag to look at what’s up.

For reference check out the top tweets from the Association for Psychological Science 2013’s conference. For ACR 2013, the hashtag is:  #ACR2013 and the conference handle is @AConsRes

Go to the Big Talks

g3Why? Because sometimes they are always topical and good or bad, everyone will be talking about them. If you get lucky you might even get a repeat of ACR 2011 when a panelist literally turned to another panelists and said, “Maybe no cares about your type of research.”

Sometimes they can be truly fantastic and as energizing as a rock concert: we are all still tingling from Michelle Pham’s 2013 Society for Consumer Psychology lunch speech on the “7 Sins of Consumer Psychology”, which we’ve published in its entirety here. While it’s not quite the same magic as being in that electrified San Antonio room with the amazing Pham, it’s almost as good. If you don’t believe us, you can always watch this video of the speech instead:

Be A Positive Open Attendee  

According to Professor Mike Norton, a person should never respond to another’s talk by saying, “Isn’t that just cognitive dissonance?”. Instead, Norton suggests “always be trying to build on people’s ideas.” The mindset he believes you should be in is, “That’s really cool and you know what else you could do is X.” More from Mike in the video below:

Remember: Many People Want to Help You

Here, Professors Leif Nelson and Simona Botti speak about how you should just ask people and professors for help if you need it (and watch until end for funny bit).

People in the field are likely to help you because they are nice. Alessandro Peluso even has a 2013 ACR presentation that shows people enjoy giving advice, so ask away.

Remember, feel free to ask us anything at InDecision and we will hazard an answer or direct you to someone who can better answer the question. Remember, we are one big team of researchers and teamwork should be part of our daily lives.