Archive for May, 2005

Tweet Connecticut state legislature’s decision to pass a law banning the sale of junk food in its schools represents a major milestone in the onslaught against big food, obesity and the negative impact on behaviour of junk food. While the state governor may veto the law, the real message is that public opinion can shift […]

Both Arsenal and Liverpool won close contests in football this week wearing red shirts, confirming, if only anecdotally, the research referred to in the last post. That both were decided on penalties, with the winning sides having fallen behind (Liverpool by 3 goals in the first half and Arsenal in terms of overall possession), may offer some further behavioural clues about success and failure the longer a contest is played.

However, the more interesting update on the red issue, was the chance intervention by a biologist who informs us that to represent the vervet monkey as a possible detractor from the “red indicates potency theory” may be wrong, and a fault either of the BBC, or the quoted academic.

The reason, we think, is to do with information framing. Our cognitive biases are manipulated by the way in which information is framed. The same information can have different effects on us, depending on how it is presented.

So a former air stewardess informed us this week of a scam the “trolley dollies” used to operate to make money out of organge juice sales, because they were rewarded on those but not other drinks. By stressing the word “orange” when the drinks were offered, they generated more sales.

Classically, the marketing imperative “hurry, while stocks last” induces a fear of hypothetical loss of a purchase we had no intention of making.

So to cut a long story short, it may not be just the blueness of the vervet monkey’s testicles that indicate his potency, but how that information is framed. The framing, the biologist informs, is his red arse!

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The field of sport is frequently offered as both a direct and metaphorical example of how to perform in business. It is therefore very interesting that evolutionary biology may give an advantage to teams wearing red shirts in evenly matched contests. This further confounds our ideas that skill alone should win out.

It is clear that some games, like knock-out football contests, can produce lucky results. The randomness of colour choice represents an additional maverick factor, alongside bad referees and other excuses that bad losers will bleat about.

The researchers at the University of Durham were building on findings that testosterone levels are reduced in players when playing away from home. The suggestion is perhaps that wearing red induces more testosterone production in the wearer, or suppresses it in the opponent.

They cite examples in nature where red is a sign of vitality and fertility.

However, others argue that this is not universally the case and that the vervet monkeys’ sexual vitality is defined by the blueness of its genitals.

Lead researcher Dr Barton is a Chelsea fan, and as students of bias, we can’t help wondering if this is a case of looking for a pattern in the statistics and finding it. He clearly has a sense of humour about this, and we recommend his approach: “as a Chelsea supporter, I would say that once you can control statistically for the unfair advantage of colour, we actually won the championship last year.” By contrast, Chelsea owner, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, coming from a colder climate, perhaps subscribes to the blue testicle theory, and so dispatched the losing manager.

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