The Empathy Ceiling: The Rich Are Different — And Not In a Good Way, Studies Suggest

by Brian Alexander,  August 10, 2011 by MSNBC

Excerpt

Studies suggest the ‘Haves’ show less empathy than ‘Have-nots’… Their life experience makes them less empathetic, less altruistic, and generally more selfish…the philosophical battle over economics, taxes, debt ceilings and defaults…is partly rooted in an upper class “ideology of self-interest.”… rich people are more likely to think about themselves. “They think that economic success and political outcomes, and personal outcomes, have to do with individual behavior, a good work ethic”…
Because the rich gloss over the ways family connections, money and education helped, they come to denigrate the role of government and vigorously oppose taxes to fund it…There is one interesting piece of evidence showing that many rich people may not be selfish as much as willfully clueless, and therefore unable to make the cognitive link between need and resources…

Full text

The ‘Haves’ show less empathy than ‘Have-nots’

Psychologist and social scientist Dacher Keltner says the rich really are different, and not in a good way: Their life experience makes them less empathetic, less altruistic, and generally more selfish.

In fact, he says, the philosophical battle over economics, taxes, debt ceilings and defaults that are now roiling the stock market is partly rooted in an upper class “ideology of self-interest.”

“We have now done 12 separate studies measuring empathy in every way imaginable, social behavior in every way, and some work on compassion and it’s the same story,” he said. “Lower class people just show more empathy, more prosocial behavior, more compassion, no matter how you look at it.”

In an academic version of a Depression-era Frank Capra movie, Keltner and co-authors of an article called “Social Class as Culture: The Convergence of Resources and Rank in the Social Realm,” published this week in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, argue that “upper-class rank perceptions trigger a focus away from the context toward the self….”

In other words, rich people are more likely to think about themselves. “They think that economic success and political outcomes, and personal outcomes, have to do with individual behavior, a good work ethic,” said Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.

Because the rich gloss over the ways family connections, money and education helped, they come to denigrate the role of government and vigorously oppose taxes to fund it.

“I will quote from the Tea Party hero Ayn Rand: “‘It is the morality of altruism that men have to reject,’” he said.

Whether or not Keltner is right, there certainly is a “let them cake” vibe in the air. Last week The New York Times reported on booming sales of luxury goods, with stores keeping waiting lists for $9,000 coats and the former chairman of Saks saying, “If a designer shoe goes up from $800 to $860, who notices?”

According to Gallup, Americans earning more than $90,000 per year continued to increase their consumer spending in July while middle- and lower-income Americans remained stalled, even as the upper classes argue that they can’t pay any more taxes. Meanwhile, the gap between the wealthiest and the rest of us continues to grow wider, with over 80 percent of the nation’s financial wealth controlled by about 20 percent of the people.

Unlike the rich, lower class people have to depend on others for survival, Keltner argued. So they learn “prosocial behaviors.” They read people better, empathize more with others, and they give more to those in need.

That’s the moral of Capra movies like “You Can’t Take It With You,” in which a plutocrat comes to learn the value of community and family. But Keltner, author of the book “Born To Be Good: The Science of A Meaningful Life,” doesn’t rely on sentiment to make his case.

He points to his own research and that of others. For example, lower class subjects are better at deciphering the emotions of people in photographs than are rich people.

In video recordings of conversations, rich people are more likely to appear distracted, checking cell phones, doodling, avoiding eye contact, while low-income people make eye contact and nod their heads more frequently signaling engagement.

In one test, for example, Keltner and other colleagues had 115 people play the “dictator game,” a standard trial of economic behavior. “Dictators” were paired with an unseen partner, given ten “points” that represented money, and told they could share as many or as few of the points with the partner as they desired. Lower-class participants gave more even after controlling for gender, age or ethnicity.

Keltner has also studied vagus nerve activation. The vagus nerve helps the brain record and respond to emotional inputs. When subjects are exposed to pictures of starving children, for example, their vagus nerve typically becomes more active as measured by electrodes on their chests and a sensor band around their waists. In recent tests, yet to be published, Keltner has found that those from lower-class backgrounds have more intense activation.

Other studies from other researchers have not produced the clear-cut results Keltner uses to advance his argument. In surveys of charitable giving, some show that low-income people give more, but other studies show the opposite.

“The research regarding income and helping behaviors has always been little bit mixed,” explained Meredith McGinley, a professor of psychology at Pittsburgh’s Chatham University.

Then there is the problem of Tea Partiers’ own class position. While they are funded by the wealthy, many do not identify themselves as wealthy (though there is dispute on the real demographics). Still, a strong allegiance to the American Dream can lead even regular folks to overestimate their own self-reliance in the same way as rich people.

As behavioral economist Mark Wilhelm of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis pointed out, most people could quickly tell you how much they paid in taxes last year but few could put a dollar amount on how they benefited from government by, say, driving on interstate highways, taking drugs gleaned from federally funded medical research, or using inventions created by people educated in public schools.

There is one interesting piece of evidence showing that many rich people may not be selfish as much as willfully clueless, and therefore unable to make the cognitive link between need and resources. Last year, research at Duke and Harvard universities showed that regardless of political affiliation or income, Americans tended to think wealth distribution ought to be more equal.

The problem? Rich people wrongly believed it already was.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2011/08/10-7

Reclaiming Our Imaginations from ‘There Is No Alternative’

by Andrea Brower, Friday, January 25, 2013 by Common Dreams

Excerpt

We live in a time of heavy fog. A time when, though many of us dissent and resist, humanity seems committed to a course of collective suicide in the name of preserving an economic system that generates scarcity no matter how much is actually produced. To demand that all have enough to eat on a planet that grows enough food, that absurd numbers of people do not die from preventable disease, that utter human deprivation amongst plenty is not tolerated, or that we put the natural laws of the biosphere above socially constructed economic “laws” — is presented as unrealistic, as the fantasy of idealists or those who are naive to the “complexity” of the world’s problems. If we create and recreate the world everyday, then how has it become so supposedly absurd to believe we might actually create a world that is honestly making the possibilities of egalitarianism, justice and democracy?

Capitalism — the logic of subordinating every aspect of life to the accumulation of profit (i.e. the “rules of the market”) — has become today’s “common sense.” It has become almost unthinkable to imagine coherent alternatives to this logic, even when considering the most basic of human needs — food, water, healthcare, education. Though many have an understanding of capitalism’s failings, there is a resignation towards its inevitability…

What sustains the tragic myth that There Is No Alternative? Those committed to building a more just future must begin re-thinking and revealing the taken-for-granted assumptions that make capitalism “common sense,” and bring these into the realm of mainstream public debate in order to widen horizons of possibility…

Full text

We live in a time of heavy fog. A time when, though many of us dissent and resist, humanity seems committed to a course of collective suicide in the name of preserving an economic system that generates scarcity no matter how much is actually produced. To demand that all have enough to eat on a planet that grows enough food, that absurd numbers of people do not die from preventable disease, that utter human deprivation amongst plenty is not tolerated, or that we put the natural laws of the biosphere above socially constructed economic “laws — is presented as unrealistic, as the fantasy of idealists or those who are naive to the “complexity” of the world’s problems. If we create and recreate the world everyday, then how has it become so supposedly absurd to believe we might actually create a world that is honestly making the possibilities of egalitarianism, justice and democracy?

Capitalism — the logic of subordinating every aspect of life to the accumulation of profit (i.e. the “rules of the market”) — has become today’s “common sense.” It has become almost unthinkable to imagine coherent alternatives to this logic, even when considering the most basic of human needs — food, water, healthcare, education. Though many have an understanding of capitalism’s failings, there is a resignation towards its inevitability. Margaret Thatcher’s famous words, “There Is No Alternative,” no longer need to be spoken, they are simply accepted as normal, non-ideological, neutral.

What sustains the tragic myth that There Is No Alternative? Those committed to building a more just future must begin re-thinking and revealing the taken-for-granted assumptions that make capitalism “common sense,” and bring these into the realm of mainstream public debate in order to widen horizons of possibility. We can’t leave this task to the pages of peer-reviewed journals and classrooms of social theory — these conversations must enter also into the family dining rooms and TV screens. Here are some thoughts on conversation starters:

Alternatives could never work. Does capitalism “work”? Even by its own indicators, as we’ve become more capitalist (i.e. neoliberalism), economic growth and productivity has actually declined.

Today’s globalized world is too complex to organize things any differently. Of course the world is complex — each of us is a bundle of contradictions and we need look no further than the dynamics of a single relationship to make a case for social complexity. But things are also quite simple — we live in a world where one billion people go hungry while we literally dump half of all food produced. Can we not come up with a productive socio-economic system that also meets people’s most basic needs? The gift of today is that we have the ability to reflect and draw-upon many forms, past and present, of non-capitalist social organization, and to creatively experiment with blending the best of these possibilities. The fact that we are more connected than ever before and have advanced so far technologically gives us more possibilities, not less.

Because of our “human nature,” we can only create economic systems based on competition, greed and self-interest. This is not only utterly pessimistic, but plain wrong. Again, we can start by remembering all sorts of societies that have existed through history. Then just look around and ask the question, what motivates you and the people you know? Fields as diverse as neuroscience and anthropology have mounted evidence showing humans’ incredible capacity for cooperation and sensitivity to fairness. We are actually all quite capable of anything; but it is up to us to decide how to use our capabilities, and of course that will be dictated by what our social systems encourage and teach us to value. If there is one thing that can be said about “human nature,” it is that we construct ourselves from within our societies and we are incredibly malleable.

Freedom is only realizable through a free-market. Attaching our values of freedom to the market is not only de-humanizing, but it also fails to recognize how one person’s “freedom” to economic choice is another’s imprisonment in a life of exploitation and deprivation. There is no possibility for freedom and emancipation until we are all free, and this will only come through a much richer and deeper conception of human freedom than one that is premised upon going to a grocery store and “choosing” between 5,000 variations of processed corn.

Capitalism is the only system that encourages innovation and progress. Progress towards what? And how does enclosing common knowledge through intellectual property rights, or excluding most of the world from quality education, or depriving half of humanity from the basic life-sustaining goods needed to function healthily, lead to greater innovation? Just begin to imagine the innovative possibilities of a world where all people had access to everything they needed to live, to think, and to contribute to the common good.

Things could be worse. Of course they could, but they could also be better. Does the fact that we’ve lived through bloody dictatorships mean that we should settle for a representative democracy where the main thing being represented is money?

Things are getting better. Can we really say that things are getting better as we head towards the annihilation of our own species? Sure, we may have our first black president and be making small gains in LGBT rights or in women’s representation in the workforce; but let’s not neglect the fact that capital is more concentrated and centralized than it has ever been and that its logic now penetrates into the most basic building blocks of life. I think we should give ourselves more credit than to settle for this “better.”

Change is slow. Slow is not in the vocabulary of the corporations who are stealing our common genetic heritage, or their buddies who are getting rich playing virtual money games that legally rob us all. The enclosure of our commons and the concentration of capital is not happening slowly. Whether we acknowledge it or not, change is happening — what is up for grabs is the direction of that change.

The best we can hope for is “green” and “ethical” capitalism. The logic of this belief is fundamentally flawed because it assumes that within capitalism, businesses can prioritize anything above the bottom-line. In actuality, businesses that commit themselves first and foremost to being truly and fully ethical and green will find it very difficult to stay in business. Of course there are great models of ethical business — worker-owned organic farms, for instance — but these cannot thrive and become the dominant norm when they are functioning within an economic structure that concentrates wealth and power in the hands of Monsanto. And while we should support these alternatives that exist within capitalism, we need to recognize that it’s way too little, way too late — structural change must (and will) happen, one way or another.

Getting rid of capitalism means abandoning markets as a tool of social organization. This is not necessarily true, although perhaps we would do best without markets anyways. Societies have existed that have used markets but restrained oligopoly capitalism, and many brilliant thinkers have envisioned a transition to a society structured by norms of equality and sharing where markets do play a role. I’m not advocating for or against any specific proposals here, but the point is that this assumption is historically inaccurate and we have barely begun to give serious thought to other possibilities.

People don’t care. People may be distracted by consumerism, may only have enough energy to struggle to pay their bills, may be fearful, may lack access to good information… but none of these things mean that they don’t care. Show anybody an image of a starving child who works in the cacao fields but can’t afford to eat (much less taste chocolate), and they will feel disgust. The charity industry is thriving precisely because so many people do feel implicated in the revolting manifestations of capitalism. But people’s sense of outrage has been channeled away from collective political action and towards ethical buying and holiday-time charitable donations. Without an honest and sophisticated society-wide conversation about the structural issues we are facing, people’s care is reduced to individual guilt and disempowerment.

People won’t stop consuming, plus all the poor people want what the rich people have. Of course they do! Doing away with capitalism doesn’t mean resorting to primitivism, or abandoning all of our washing machines, or leaving the poor destitute. While of course there are limits to the earth’s resources (fossil-fuels in particular), this doesn’t mean that we can’t organize a productive, equitable and sustainable social order that includes many of the comforts of modern life and excitements of technology. We need not abandon desire with capitalism. In fact, getting rid of capitalism gives us the best chance of having time to organize a sustainable system of consumption before it is too late — staying hooked into capitalism may actually be the quickest route to primitivism.

Capital’s enclosure of our commons — our common resources, genes and even intellect — has been accompanied by an enclosure of our imaginations. We need to re-claim and re-orient what it is to be “realistic” from the falsehoods of There Is No Alternative. This is not a call for pure imaginations of some future utopia. It is not a fantastic plea for a sudden and complete dissolving of all the social structures that currently pattern our lives. Instead, it is a call to take what is already going on all around us, all the time — cooperation, sharing, empathy — and let these aspects of our humanity that we most cherish guide our future. To begin to re-direct and re-structure our social systems towards the things we most desire and value — caring for and cooperating with one another, true participation and democracy, human freedom and free time, peace and co-existence — and in doing so, to watch these things begin to flourish.

If it is naive to believe that we can structure society to reward goodness instead of greed and prioritize people instead of profit, then I’m fighting until the bitter end to maintain my naiveté! Things become possible when we believe they are possible; so let’s start believing.

Andrea Brower is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Auckland. She has been very active in alternative food and global social justice movements, and spent several years co-directing the non-profit Malama Kauai in Hawaii, where she is originally from.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/01/25-2

Beware Stubby Glasses

By DAVID BROOKS, New York Times, January 10, 2013

If you want to deter crime, it seems that you’d want to lengthen prison sentences so that criminals would face steeper costs for breaking the law. In fact, a mountain of research shows that increases in prison terms have done nothing to deter crime. Criminals, like the rest of us, aren’t much influenced by things they might have to experience far in the future.

If a police officer witnesses the death of his partner, it seems that you’d want to quickly send in a grief counselor. In fact, this sort of immediate counseling freezes and fortifies memories of the trauma, making the aftershocks more damaging.

If you want to get people to vote more, it seems you’d want to tell them what a problem low turnout is. In fact, if you want people to vote, tell them everybody else is already voting and they should join the club. Voting is mostly about social membership and personal expression.

These are three examples of policies and practices that are based on bad psychology. The list of examples could go on and fill this page. That’s because we spend trillions of dollars putting policies and practices into place, but most of these efforts are based on the crudest possible psychological guesswork.

Fortunately, people in the behavioral sciences are putting policies to the test. I know of groups at Duke and Penn that are applying behavioral research findings to policy issues. Eldar Shafir of Princeton has edited a weighty new book, “The Behavioral Foundations of Public Policy,” which is a master compendium of what we know.

One of the things we know is that seemingly trivial changes can have big effects. People who are presented with a wide variety of choices of, say, yogurt, will eat more than people who are presented with a small array of choices or no choice. People who were randomly given a short, wide 22-ounce glass, poured 88 percent more juice or soda into it than people who were offered a tall, narrow 22-ounce glass, but they believed they only poured in half as much as they actually did.

Sometimes the behavioral research leads us to completely change how we think about an issue. For example, many of our anti-discrimination policies focus on finding the bad apples who are explicitly prejudiced. In fact, the serious discrimination is implicit, subtle and nearly universal. Both blacks and whites subtly try to get a white partner when asked to team up to do an intellectually difficult task. In computer shooting simulations, both black and white participants were more likely to think black figures were armed. In emergency rooms, whites are pervasively given stronger painkillers than blacks or Hispanics. Clearly, we should spend more effort rigging situations to reduce universal, unconscious racism.

The research is also leading to new policy approaches. The most famous involve default settings. Roughly 98 percent of people take part in organ donor programs in European countries where you have to check a box to opt out. Only 10 percent or 20 percent take part in neighboring countries where you have to check a box to opt in.

In one clever program, dieters were told to phone in their weight to a nurse daily. Every day they called, they got an encouraging text and a lottery ticket, with a chance of winning a small amount. These dieters lost three times more weight than people who didn’t get tickets. Another ingenious program automatically diverts some money into your savings account every time you buy a state lottery ticket.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s government in Britain has gone furthest in implementing these sorts of programs. Personalized text messages were found to be six times more effective in getting people to pay fines than warning letters. If you tell people what percentage of their neighbors has already paid their taxes, you are more likely to get late filers to actually pay than if you nag them another way.

My problem with these efforts is that they are still so modest. What about the big problems? How do we get people to restrain government commitments now so that debt down the road won’t be so ruinous? How do we calculate the multiplier effects of tax cuts or spending increases among different subgroups of the population, or under different emotional conditions? How do we rig the context of budget negotiations so participants can actually come to a deal? How are people in different cultures likely to react to drone strikes? How do we structure sanctions against Iran to cause the greatest psychic humiliation?

These are the big questions, and most of our policies rely on crude folk psychology from a few politicians. But there’s hope. As Brian Wansink notes in Eldar Shafir’s volume, the 20th century saw great gains in sanitation and public health. The 21st century could be a great period for behavior change.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/11/opinion/brooks-beware-stubby-glasses.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130111&_r=0

Beware the Smart Campaign

By ZEYNEP TUFEKCI, New York Times, November 16, 2012

“I AM not a number. I am a free man!” was the famous cry of prisoner Number Six, who could never escape his Kafkaesque village on the 1960s television show “The Prisoner.” This is a prescient cry for an era when numbers follow us everywhere. Jim Messina, the victorious Obama campaign manager, probably agrees that you are not a number. That’s because you are four numbers.

The Obama campaign assigned all potential swing-state voters one number, on a scale of 1 to 100, that represented the likelihood that they would support Mr. Obama, and another number for the prospect that they would show up at the polls. A third metric evaluated the odds that an Obama supporter who was an inconsistent voter could be nudged to the polls, and a fourth score estimated how persuadable someone was by a conversation on a particular issue (which was, of course, also determined by crunching more numbers).

Mr. Messina is understandably proud of his team, which included an unprecedented number of data analysts and social scientists. As a social scientist and a former computer programmer, I enjoy the recognition my kind are getting. But I am nervous about what these powerful tools may mean for the health of our democracy, especially since we know so little about it all.

For all the bragging on the winning side — and an explicit coveting of these methods on the losing side — there are many unanswered questions. What data, exactly, do campaigns have on voters? How exactly do they use it? What rights, if any, do voters have over this data, which may detail their online browsing habits, consumer purchases and social media footprints?

How did Mr. Obama win? The message and the candidate matter, of course; it’s easier to persuade voters if your policies are more popular and your candidate more appealing. But a modern winning campaign requires more. As Mr. Messina explained, his campaign made an “unparalleled” $100 million investment in technology, demanded “data on everything,” “measured everything” and ran 66,000 computer simulations every day. In contrast, Mitt Romney’s campaign’s data operations were lagging, buggy and nowhere as sophisticated. A senior Romney aide described the shock he experienced in seeing the Obama campaign turn out “voters they never even knew existed.” And that kind of ability matters: while Mr. Obama did win decisively, the size of his lead in four states that determined the outcome, Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Colorado, was about 400,000 votes — or about 1.2 percent of the eligible voters.

The confluence of marketing and politics goes back a long way. A blizzard of direct mail engineered by political consultants is credited with defeating President Harry S. Truman’s national health care proposal after World War II. The new methods, however, are not just better direct mail. Noxious TV ads and slick mailers are like machetes compared with the scalpels of social-science-based big-data. The crude methods may still work to soften the ground and drown out other voices, but in the end they are still very big sticks. Sometimes they kill the patient — just ask swing-state voters about the TV ads they were bombarded with.

The scalpels, on the other hand, can be precise and effective in a quiet, un-public way. They take persuasion into a private, invisible realm. Misleading TV ads can be countered and fact-checked. A misleading message sent in just the kind of e-mail you will open or ad you will click on remains hidden from challenge by the other campaign or the media. Or someone who visits evangelical Web sites might be carefully shielded from messages about gay rights, and someone who has hostile views toward environmentalism may receive messages stroking that sentiment even if the broader campaign woos the green vote elsewhere.

What I really worry about, though, is that these new methods are more effective in manipulating people. Social scientists increasingly understand that much of our decision making is irrational and emotional. For example, the Obama campaign used pictures of the president’s family at every opportunity. This was no accident. The campaign field-tested this as early as 2007 through a rigorous randomized experiment, the kind used in clinical trials for medical drugs, and settled on the winning combination of image, message and button placement. I agree that his family is wonderful and his daughters are cute. But an increasing role of “likability” factors, which we now understand better how to manipulate, is not good for democracy.

These methods will also end up empowering better-financed campaigns. The databases are expensive, the algorithms are proprietary, the results of experiments by campaigns are secret, and the analytics require special expertise. The Democrats have an early advantage partly because academics and data analysts tend to be Democrats. Money will solve that problem. This will shift power in both parties even more toward the richer campaigns and may well be the final nail in the coffin of public financing for presidential campaigns.

What is to be done? Campaigns should make public every outreach message so we at least know what they are saying. These messages can be placed in a public database like campaign contributions so the other side can be aware of, and have the right to respond to, false claims. Political access to proprietary databases should be regulated to provide an even playing field.

I’m not claiming that the Obama campaign used these methods to mislead. However, the fact that the winning campaign’s “chief data scientist” was previously employed to “maximize the efficiency of supermarket sales promotions” does not thrill me. You should be worried even if your candidate is — for the moment — better at these methods. Democracy should not just be about how to persuade people to vote for one candidate over another by any means necessary.

Zeynep Tufekci is a fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/17/opinion/beware-the-big-data-campaign.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20121117

Academic ‘Dream Team’ Helped Obama’s Effort

By BENEDICT CAREY, New York Times, November 12, 2012

Late last year Matthew Barzun, an official with the Obama campaign, called Craig Fox, a psychologist in Los Angeles, and invited him to a political planning meeting in Chicago, according to two people who attended the session.

“He said, ‘Bring the whole group; let’s hear what you have to say,’ ” recalled Dr. Fox, a behavioral economist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

So began an effort by a team of social scientists to help their favored candidate in the 2012 presidential election. Some members of the team had consulted with the Obama campaign in the 2008 cycle, but the meeting in January signaled a different direction.

“The culture of the campaign had changed,” Dr. Fox said. “Before then I felt like we had to sell ourselves; this time there was a real hunger for our ideas.”

This election season the Obama campaign won a reputation for drawing on the tools of social science. The book “The Victory Lab,” by Sasha Issenberg, and news reports have portrayed an operation that ran its own experiment and, among other efforts, consulted with the Analyst Institute, a Washington voter research group established in 2007 by union officials and their allies to help Democratic candidates.

Less well known is that the Obama campaign also had a panel of unpaid academic advisers. The group — which calls itself the “consortium of behavioral scientists,” or COBS — provided ideas on how to counter false rumors, like one that President Obama is a Muslim. It suggested how to characterize the Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, in advertisements. It also delivered research-based advice on how to mobilize voters.

“In the way it used research, this was a campaign like no other,” said Todd Rogers, a psychologist at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a former director of the Analyst Institute. “It’s a big change for a culture that historically has relied on consultants, experts and gurulike intuition.”

When asked about the outside psychologists, the Obama campaign would neither confirm nor deny a relationship with them. “This campaign was built on the energy, enthusiasm and ingenuity of thousands of grass-roots supporters and our staff in the states and in Chicago,” said Adam Fetcher, a campaign spokesman. “Throughout the campaign we saw an outpouring of individuals across the country who lent a wide variety of ideas and input to our efforts to get the president re-elected.”

For their part, consortium members said they did nothing more than pass on research-based ideas, in e-mails and conference calls. They said they could talk only in general terms about the research, because they had signed nondisclosure agreements with the campaign.

In addition to Dr. Fox, the consortium included Susan T. Fiske of Princeton University; Samuel L. Popkin of the University of California, San Diego; Robert Cialdini, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University; Richard H. Thaler, a professor of behavioral science and economics at the University of Chicago’s business school; and Michael Morris, a psychologist at Columbia.

“A kind of dream team, in my opinion,” Dr. Fox said.

He said that the ideas the team proposed were “little things that can make a difference” in people’s behavior.

For example, Dr. Fiske’s research has shown that when deciding on a candidate, people generally focus on two elements: competence and warmth. “A candidate wants to make sure to score high on both dimensions,” Dr. Fiske said in an interview. “You can’t just run on the idea that everyone wants to have a beer with you; some people care a whole lot about competence.”

Mr. Romney was recognized as a competent businessman, polling found. But he was often portrayed in opposition ads as distant, unable to relate to the problems of ordinary people.

When it comes to countering rumors, psychologists have found that the best strategy is not to deny the charge (“I am not a flip-flopper”) but to affirm a competing notion. “The denial works in the short term; but in the long term people remember only the association, like ‘Obama and Muslim,’ ” said Dr. Fox, of the persistent false rumor.

The president’s team affirmed that he is a Christian.

At least some of the consortium’s proposals seemed to have found their way into daily operations. Campaign volunteers who knocked on doors last week in swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Nevada did not merely remind people to vote and arrange for rides to the polls. Rather, they worked from a script, using subtle motivational techniques that research has shown can prompt people to take action.

“We used the scripts more as a guide,” said Sarah Weinstein, 18, a Columbia freshman who traveled with a group to Cleveland the weekend before the election. “The actual language we used was invested in the individual person.”

Simply identifying a person as a voter, as many volunteers did — “Mr. Jones, we know you have voted in the past” — acts as a subtle prompt to future voting, said Dr. Cialdini, a foundational figure in the science of persuasion. “People want to be congruent with what they have committed to in the past, especially if that commitment is public,” he said.

Many volunteers also asked would-be voters if they would sign an informal commitment to vote, a card with the president’s picture on it. This small, voluntary agreement amplifies the likelihood that the person will follow through, research has found.

In a now classic experiment, a pair of Stanford psychologists asked people if they would display in a home window a small card proclaiming the importance of safe driving. Those who agreed to this small favor were later much more likely to agree to a much larger favor, to post a large “Drive Carefully” sign on their lawn — “something no one would agree to do otherwise,” Dr. Cialdini said.

Obama volunteers also asked people if they had a plan to vote and if not, to make one, specifying a time, according to Stephen Shaw, a retired cancer researcher who knocked on doors in Nevada and Virginia in the days before the election. “One thing we’d say is that we know that when people have a plan, voting goes more smoothly,” he said.

Recent research has shown that making even a simple plan increases the likelihood that a person will follow through, Dr. Rogers, of Harvard, said.

Another technique some volunteers said they used was to inform supporters that others in their neighborhood were planning to vote. Again, recent research shows that this kind of message is much more likely to prompt people to vote than traditional campaign literature that emphasizes the negative — that many neighbors did not vote and thus lost an opportunity to make a difference.

This kind of approach trades on a human instinct to conform to social norms, psychologists say. In another well-known experiment, Dr. Cialdini and two colleagues tested how effective different messages were in getting hotel guests to reuse towels. The message “the majority of guests reuse their towels” prompted a 29 percent increase in reuse, compared with the usual message about helping the environment. The message “the majority of guests in this room reuse their towels” resulted in a 41 percent increase, he said.

Salespeople have known the value of such approaches for a generation, and political campaigns have also used them before this election. Social scientists began offering their services to Democrats back in 2004, when President George W. Bush’s campaign was attacking the Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry, as a flip-flopper and making the label stick.

Dr. Fox and others got an audience with someone in the Kerry campaign, but the meeting didn’t lead to any active consulting, he said. The group circulated a paper outlining its members’ expertise and proposals and in 2006 got a meeting with some senators, including Hillary Rodham Clinton and Harry M. Reid.

Consortium members said they knew of no such informal advisory panel on the Republican side. Efforts to contact the Romney campaign were unsuccessful.

The researchers said they weren’t told which of their ideas were put to use, or how. But sometimes they got hints. Dr. Fiske, the Princeton psychologist, said she received a generic, mass-market e-mail from the Obama campaign before the election.

“It said, ‘People do things when they make plans to do them; what’s your plan?’ ” Dr. Fiske said. “How about that?”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 14, 2012

An article on Tuesday about the role of social scientists in President Obama’s re-election campaign omitted a word from the title of the book by Sasha Issenberg that examines data-driven campaign strategies. The book is “The Victory Lab,”  not “Victory Lab.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/13/health/dream-team-of-behavioral-scientists-advised-obama-campaign.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0