On Democracy Now

by Charles Duhigg in Uncategorized

I was on Democracy Now yesterday, talking about Apple. (Click on the headline to watch.)

Why Americans started eating kidney and brains

by Charles Duhigg in Uncategorized
Offal Meats - Photo courtesy of Charles Haynes

Hungry? Photo courtesy of Charles Haynes

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

Social habits after 9/11

by Charles Duhigg in Uncategorized

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

Alan Krueger, and the economics of small wins (and losses)

by Charles Duhigg in Uncategorized

Obama speaking with Krueger - AP photo

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

My First Blog Post

by Charles Duhigg in Uncategorized

Let me be overwhelmingly honest: I have no idea what I am doing. However, there are a few things that I know a small amount about: the science of habit formation and patterns among individuals and organizations, writing, newspapers and investigative journalism. So, that’s what I’ll stick to writing about. For at least the first…Read More