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If I Ask You About Doing Something, Will You Do It?

A recent study by the ad agency BBDO Worldwide links habitual behavior to product brands. While the findings — that people adopt daily rituals like tooth brushing or midday snacking and typically stick to the same brands while performing them — aren’t very surprising, the methodology is impressive: nine months of ethnographic research in 26 countries, 2,500 hours of documented and filmed behavior, quantitative feedback from more than 5,000 people, and interviews with psychologists, nutritionists and sociologists.

Meanwhile, this marketing study by researchers at Duke, USC, and Penn, and published in the upcoming Journal of Consumer Research, asks people seemingly benign questions about something they plan to do in the future to see if simply asking the question makes them more likely to engage in said behavior. The researchers asked one group of college students over the course of several months how often they intended to skip class in the upcoming week, while another group of students was asked how often they intended to floss. The group asked about skipping class cut, on average, one more class per semester, than the other group.

This isn’t a huge effect — although, considering that there are fewer opportunities to skip a college class than there are to have a foul called against you in an N.B.A. game, it seems substantially larger than the race-based refereeing discussed here. (BTW, the Wall Street Journal‘s Numbers Guy has a followup to the N.B.A.’s counterstudy about race and foul calls.)