The New York Times Magazine published an excerpt from my book. If you would like to read it, you can find it here (or, if you would rather read it on this site, there’s a copy of it here.) There were a bunch of comments about the story, which are here. There were also a…Read More
Fast Company was kind enough to review the Power of Habit (http://bit.ly/y4FUOE). Mighty kind! Thanks!
How the Science of A.A. Explains Whitney Houston’s Death It’s easy to forget, given her scandal-tinged life and tragic death, how incredibly talented Whitney Houston was. She holds the world record as the most-awarded female act of all time, with over 415 major recognitions during her career. She is the only artist to chart seven…Read More
I was on Democracy Now yesterday, talking about Apple. (Click on the headline to watch.)
In 1980, a woman promised her dying sister to change how Americans thought about breast cancer. Thirty years later, the result – the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation – is one of the nation’s largest non-profits, and one of the most successful triumphs in public health marketing and changing health habits. Now, Komen…Read More
Imagine, for a moment, that a friend comes to your desk and asks for advice: they want to change their smoking and exercise habits. What should they do? Would your habit advice be different if they were a woman than if they were a man? For the last 30 years, the traditional answer has…Read More
In 2006, two researchers in Wisconsin noticed a weird pattern. A number of cities had recently banned smoking in public places, such as at bars and restaurants. The laws were amazingly effective at cutting down on the number of people using cigarettes. Simply making it harder to smoke meant that fewer people puffed away.
But, for some reason, drunk driving fatalities seemed to increase wherever smoking bans were put in place. What, the researchers wondered, was going on?
The researchers’ first hypothesis was that smokers were driving longer distances to find bars in other cities where it was legal to puff. Or, that smokers were driving to obscure parts of town to find bars that ignored the law, or had outdoor seating where smoking was allowed. This reflects a basic axiom: for the drunk driver, the length of your drive matters almost as much as how many drinks you’ve consumed. That’s why rural areas have so many drunk driving deaths. Intoxicated people who have to drive 30 or 40 minutes after leaving a bar are far more likely to fall asleep at the wheel than a drunk with a three minute commute. When the researchers looked at data from states that had recently implemented smoking bans, the data seemed to support their hypothesis. Bans = longer drives = more deaths. Case closed, they figured.
But a few years later, someone else noticed another strange pattern. By then, smoking bans Read More
A few people have emailed me to ask about a reference in my last post to the post-WWII era, when Americans started eating more organ meats, like kidney and tongue.
Here’s how I describe what happened in my (forthcoming) book:
In the early 1940s, the U.S. government began shipping much of the nation’s domestic meat supply to Europe and the Pacific theater to support troops fighting in WWII. Back home, the availability of meat began to dwindle. By the time the U.S. entered the war in late 1941, New York restaurants were using horsemeat for hamburgers and a black market for poultry had emerged. Federal officials became worried that a lengthy war effort would leave the nation starved of protein. This “problem will loom larger and larger in the United States as the war goes on,” former President Herbert Hoover wrote to Americans in a government pamphlet in 1943. “Our farms are short of labor to care for livestock; and on top of it all we must furnish supplies to the British and Russians. Meats and fats are just as much munitions in this war as are tanks and aeroplanes.”
Concerned, the Department of Defense recruited dozens of the nation’s leading sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists– including Margaret Mead and Kurt Lewin, who would go on to become celebrity academics – and gave them an assignment: figure out how to convince Americans to eat organ meats. Get housewives to serve their husbands and children the protein-rich livers, hearts, kidneys, brains, stomachs and intestines that were left behind after the steaks and pork loins went overseas. Read More
I’ve always been fascinated by how peoples’ habits change in the wake of major events, particularly in unexpected ways. After WWII, for instance, Americans started eating more organ meats, like kidney and tongue. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, people in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi started buying more expensive brands of beer, but less expensive brands of toilet paper. And that small shift in buying habits persisted for almost two years.
And, of course, lots of things changed after September 11th. What’s fascinating is also how much things stayed the same. In this New Yorker post, Steve Coll describes how his family shifted (and how it didn’t):
My kids belonged to Washington’s Code Blue generation. We all assumed that another attack was quite possible, one in which my wife and children would evacuate toward the mountains to the West, and I would go into work in the city, and try to find them later.
Each family car had maps marked with back-road routes to Hagerstown, Maryland, on the assumption that the main highways would be gridlocked. We had no particular connection to Hagerstown, but it was a town I had passed through as a child, on the way to visit relatives in Western Pennsylvania, and it seemed a safe but manageable distance away. … Read More
Earlier this week President Obama announced that Alan Krueger will be leading his economics team. Not much of the coverage has focused on Krueger’s awesome (but not terribly important) work on Rockonomics, the economics of the rock industry.
Coverage has, however, mentioned Krueger’s recent studies of how peoples’ habits change as they spend more and more time unemployed. In a paper published earlier this year, Krueger and a colleague interviewed 6,025 unemployed workers every week over half-a-year. The results are kind of fascinating. For years, economists assumed that the longer people are unemployed – and the smaller their savings become – the harder they look for a job. Desperation, economists assumed, breeds effort.
Kruger found the opposite: “The amount of time devoted to job search declines sharply over the spell of unemployment,” he wrote. The longer someone is out of work, the less and less time they spend each day looking for a job – after 12 weeks, in fact, their efforts have fallen by a third. The unemployed also start sleeping more the longer they’re out of work – particularly in the morning.
Of course, this isn’t surprising to anyone who has ever looked for a job. Unemployment is soul crushing. But there might also be another factor influencing this malaise: As small losses begin accumulating in someone’s life, their habits start changing. Read More