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MAUGHAN: Who’s the sucker? Go find the sucker.

*      *      *

DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

MAUGHAN: I’m Mike Maughan.

DUCKWORTH + MAUGHAN: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: How much does the way things are worded influence our behavior?

DUCKWORTH They’re manipulating what you’re thinking about.

*      *      *

MAUGHAN: All right. Angela, hello. Today we have a question from one Josiah Shields. Josiah says, “Greetings from England. I recently came upon the No Stupid Questions podcast and would love to hear your thoughts on the importance of semantics, especially in relation to the idea of priming as written about in the great Danny Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.”

DUCKWORTH: He’s so great, Danny Kahneman.

MAUGHAN: He is, and so is Josiah from England.

DUCKWORTH: And so is Josiah from England. Exactly.

MAUGHAN: Josiah continued his question, “How greatly do the specific words used in our speech affect its reception and the reactions of others? Can sentences with the same overall meaning receive vastly different responses depending on the exact words employed within them? If so, how can we utilize this to communicate more effectively?” Now, I love Josiah’s question, because I’ve spent a lot of time in tech, but I briefly spent time in politics as well, and people spend so much time on the exact word when they’re trying to get things across or things like that. Seems though like Josiah is basically asking us two questions: one is on the role of priming and the other on, on word choice and its impact. That said, why don’t we start with priming. Why don’t you, as the great — shall I call you a “disciple” of Danny Kahneman? I don’t know what to call you.

DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh. I do worship at the altar of Danny Kahneman.

MAUGHAN: Devotee?

DUCKWORTH: Yah, devotee, super fan, fangirl. I do think Danny Kahneman is the greatest living psychologist in the world. I don’t know that everybody would agree with me, but I think a lot of people would.

MAUGHAN: And the people that disagree with you are wrong.

DUCKWORTH: Should be smooshed. Yeah, no, I think they’re wrong. But Danny Kahneman did write a great book too. You know, Thinking, Fast and Slow. And in the book, Danny talks about priming research. And, essentially, what this phenomenon is is that you can experience a stimulus — you can see a picture, or an image, or you can read a word on a page, or somebody can say something to you, that primes you to do something that you’re not fully consciously aware of; you don’t realize that you have been primed. For example, in his book, I think he talks about if there are posters with eyes on them, like human eyes, that might subconsciously prime you to think about being watched by other people and that that might change, for example, how honest you are if you’re taking a test, like whether you do or don’t cheat. So, that would be priming because it’s influencing you without your conscious awareness.

MAUGHAN: Have you ever s — there’s this celebrity mentalist, his name is Lior Suchard.

DUCKWORTH: I have no idea. Actually, what is a mentalist? 

MAUGHAN: A mentalist, I think, just a nicer name for a magician who’s not pulling rabbits out of a hat, and this guy was on a talk show, and he had everyone in the audience draw on a piece of paper. And everyone in the audience, not seeing anybody else’s paper, drew a star. And then, he basically told them how he got them to draw a star. 

DUCKWORTH: Interesting.

MAUGHAN: And it was that he had primed them with all of these different things. And so he uses it as a performative mechanism to get you to come up with your, quote, “own answer,” which is basically what he made you think of.

DUCKWORTH: Interesting. You know, I do have a magician friend and she’s also a psychologist. Have you ever heard of the Magic Castle in L.A.? Wait. What? You haven’t heard of the Magic Castle? 

MAUGHAN: No. I have not.

DUCKWORTH: The Magic Castle is in Los Angeles. I haven’t been there, so I don’t know if it actually looks like a castle, but you can only get in if you’re a card-carrying magician. But anyway, what happens inside the Magic Castle, therefore, I can only tell you indirectly, because I’m not a magician. But my friend Barbara Mellers is such a card-carrying magician, and she’s also a world-renowned psychologist. So, she’s like just a great person to talk to about mentalists and magic. And one of the times that we got together recently was to go to a magic show on Broadway. Barb was the one, she was the instigator, she was like, “Oh my gosh, we should go see” — I think it was Derren Brown who was playing on Broadway. And we brought Danny Kahneman.

MAUGHAN: I have to say, this sounds fascinating, but also —.

DUCKWORTH: It sounds like a bar joke.

MAUGHAN: Well, it sounds like a bar joke, and also, like, maybe no one can actually enjoy the magic, because everyone’s just thinking through all the psychology, and people are like, “It’s not that deep. Just enjoy it.”

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, just relax. Well, you know, I would have thought that when you go to a show as a magician that you would not be able to enjoy it. You know that expression “like a busman’s holiday”? Like, you’re not in a leisure context. You’re at work, right? But, wow, apparently magicians love going to other magicians’ shows, because that’s basically what happens in the Magic Castle. Magicians go, but they go and watch other magicians. And I asked Barb, can you figure out how the magician is doing all their tricks? And she said, “Sometimes I can figure out certain things that they’re doing, but other times — no idea.” So, it still feels magical.

MAUGHAN: That’s amazing, actually.

DUCKWORTH: So amazing. You know, just the other day, my friend Barb and I were talking about this paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which is a really great scientific journal. And it’s called “Influencing Choices With Conversational Primes: How a Magic Trick Unconsciously Influences Card Choices.” And this I did not realize, that a lot of magic card tricks are not sleight of hand. They’re getting you, as the unwitting collaborator in the magic trick, to do, or say, or think of certain things. They’re manipulating what you’re thinking about. And so, this paper was asking the question whether it’s actually true that magicians can get us to think things without our conscious awareness. And there’s even this video that goes with the paper. Actually, do you want to hear it? Can I just, like, play for you a little bit of the video? Hold on. It’s so cool. All right, I’m going to play for you a little bit of the manipulation in the condition that is priming you to think of the three of diamonds.

MAUGHAN: Well, now I know what I was supposed to be thinking of.

DUCKWORTH: Yes. I’m not a good magician.

MAUGHAN: Angela, that is the best priming of all time. “Mike, think of the three of diamonds.”

DUCKWORTH: Right, it’s a reverse, reverse, reverse, reverse psychology. I will never be let into the Magic Castle, that’s for sure. And by the way, I’m going to play it for you, but Mike, since we’re just having this conversation where you can’t see the little movie, there’s also these hand gestures that go along with it, and I’ll explain what they are in a minute, but just listen to this.

VIDEO: I’m going to try and transmit you the identity of this card. Don’t try and guess what it is, but just wait until you get it. Make the color bright and vivid. Imagine a screen in your mind, and on the screen there is a number low down in the corner of the card, and then in the top of the card, and then the things in the middle, in the center of the card. Then boom boom boom, the suits. Do you have it? 

DUCKWORTH: Okay, so that is the treatment condition. What you couldn’t see is the magician, in this case the lead scientist, she actually makes the shape of a diamond with her two hands. And then, when she says, “Think of the number,” she draws the number three in the air. And then, at different times, instead of pointing, she’ll, like, point with three fingers. So, you couldn’t see all that, but there was some language there too. Like, “Think of a color. Make it vivid.” Well, it’s hard to make black vivid. So, of course you’re going to think of red, which leads you to, like, hearts or diamonds — anyway, so, now listen to the control video. 

VIDEO: I’m going to try and transmit you the identity of this card. Don’t try and guess what it is, but just wait until you get it. Let the color come to your mind. Imagine a screen in your mind, and on the screen, the little number low down in the corner of the card, and then in the top of the card. And then the things in the middle, in the center of the card. The suits. Do you have it? 

DUCKWORTH: So, very similar, although she didn’t talk about vivid color.

MAUGHAN: Well, even in the first one, she said, “boom, boom, boom,” which is just three.

DUCKWORTH: Yes! “Boom, boom, boom.”

MAUGHAN: It’s so subtle, but “boom, boom, boom.” And you’re going to pick the three.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah! I think that is so cool. And the results show, and this is a quote, “A large number of participants chose the target card,” meaning the three of diamonds, “while reporting feeling free and in control of their choice. These results show that naturally embedding primes within a person’s speech and gestures effectively influence people’s decision making.” And by the way, the scientist was not, like, a brilliant magician. She was actually inspired by people like Derren Brown. It may have been, actually, Derren Brown’s trick. And so, they were basically taking this recipe from this, like, world-class chef, you know, and then —.

MAUGHAN: And then, ruining their trick forever, because now everyone —.

DUCKWORTH: Yes, I don’t know that you’re going to be picking the three of diamonds, you know, if you’re like, “I’ve heard that trick. I’ve read a study about it.” But, generally, I think this study is pretty clear evidence that, absolutely, if you’re exposed to certain language, certain gestures, you know, you are probably being influenced in ways that you’re not fully conscious of. That’s what priming is, really. 

MAUGHAN: What’s so interesting is when it comes to word choice — in tech, we talk a lot about A/B testing. So, on your website, for example, you’ll have two versions of the website. And it’s as simple as one will have the word “donate,” and the other will have “give.” And you can see massive changes in what people want to do. So, there was a company, for example — I’m sure a million companies have done this case study — but they had a button that just said “+cart” and another that said “add to cart.” And the one that said “add to cart” increased clicks by 49 percent. And the supposition was that customers were more likely to take action when directly prompted. So, “add to cart” was powerful language.

DUCKWORTH: It’s like an imperative, right? 

MAUGHAN: Yes, saying: “Do this.” I mean, that makes me think, for example, again, different, but a similar construct, which is: in sales, there’s this — you know, everybody loves things that rhyme. There’s this idea that you’re more likely to “choose” than “refuse.” And so, you never say to someone, “Hey, when can we meet again?” Instead, you say, “We can meet Monday at 4 or Wednesday at 3. Which is better for you?”

DUCKWORTH: It’s like when you tell your kid, “Do you want to go to bed at eight o’clock or do you want to go to bed at nine o’clock?” But you haven’t given them the option to, like, “No, I’m just going to stay up till I pass out.” You know, one of the things that some readers took from Thinking, Fast and Slow was the idea that priming was really important. But what then happened after Danny Kahneman published Thinking, Fast and Slow was that there was a huge controversy about whether it was true.

MAUGHAN: Wait, whether priming was true? Just go to a magic show, ladies and gentlemen.

DUCKWORTH: Well, that’s the thing. I mean, generally, I think, like, magic shows do show that priming has to exist at some level.

MAUGHAN: But wait, so what’s the big controversy?

DUCKWORTH: So, it turns out that some of the research that Danny had cited in his book, including, like, the eyes on the posters looking at you — and I think there’s also this other really famous study where you’re doing, like, crossword puzzles and, you know, there are other people who are also solving crossword puzzles, and they’re in a control condition. But if you’re in the treatment condition, you’re solving a crossword puzzle where the words are all associated with being old, like “Florida,” “retirement,” “gray.” So, the words are priming you to think about being old. And then the finding, that has subsequently been extremely controversial, is whether you start acting like an old person. So, in one of these studies, there’s a stopwatch, and they’re like, “Okay, the second part of the experiment is in a different room.” And you don’t know that you’re being timed, but after solving this crossword puzzle, like, do you walk like an old person slowly to the other room? You know and the finding, which again, has been very debated, is that, you know, after solving these crossword puzzles with words that make you think of old people, that you’ll start acting like an old person.

MAUGHAN: You know why I love this? In undergrad, I read a study or, or learned about it in a class — if you read “powerful” words, like “strong,” “mighty,” and “control” words, like “I’m in control,” “decisive,” stuff like that — that you presented yourself with more confidence in a meeting. So, I kid you not, I’m in Phoenix, Arizona. I’m about to go into my final interviews for what became my job. And I’m sitting in the parking lot in my car five minutes before I walked in, reciting to myself “powerful” words.

DUCKWORTH: I love this image of you in your car.

MAUGHAN: Because I, I had read this — I haven’t thought about this forever — and I wanted to, I guess, prime myself into going into that interview with confidence, with poise, with a decisive presence that I was who they wanted to hire.

DUCKWORTH: You know, it’s not entirely unrelated to power posing, which has been a topic of conversation on this podcast and otherwise — also super controversial. So people disagree.

MAUGHAN: They disagree as to whether it actually works?

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, they disagree as to whether, you know, standing like Wonder Woman is going to change how you act when you then walk into a meeting.

MAUGHAN: Can I be the non-academic here for a second? Because I am. I kind of don’t care. If works for me — and, like, I walked into that interview.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Tell me what happened. Did it work for you?

MAUGHAN: I think so!

DUCKWORTH: So, first of all I really want to say that power posing and intentionally trying to psych yourself up by saying positive words are different from “priming” in the narrow sense of, like, it’s supposed to be, like, without your conscious awareness. So, obviously if you’re sitting in your car and you’re like, “Okay, I’m going to psych myself up,” you know, like puff out my chest and go, like, stand like Wonder Woman, whatever, like, that’s not without your conscious awareness, because, like, you’re the one who’s trying to pump yourself up. So, I just want to make sure that we understand that, like, priming is so subtle — like in a magic show as the audience — but to your question of, you know, you don’t care why it works. You just care that it works —.

MAUGHAN: Like, if it works for you, then you should do it.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, I think with the power posing, the fiercest critics would say that it works for so few people that in general you could assume that it doesn’t work for you. But, like I said, there are people who completely disagree with that. And I think the priming research, you know, these crossword puzzles, like, “do you walk slower,” et cetera, one of the things that I think we now know is that there are probably really, really small effects that can happen that somewhat depend on the skill of the primer. If you are Derren Brown, a world-class magician, you’re going to be better at it than Joe Schmo. It also depends a little bit on the receiver. So, one of the things magicians do that I didn’t realize is that they’re not only saying things in a certain way, they’re not only using their body language and drawing your attention to certain things, but another reason why they’re so effective is they pick people in the audience who are going to, like, be more receptive to it. So, they get really good at, like, figuring out who will be easier to manipulate.

MAUGHAN: Who’s the sucker? Go find the sucker. 

DUCKWORTH: Yeah! now I kind of want to know — and this I don’t know — like, what do they look for? Is it me? 

MAUGHAN: That guy’s going to believe anything, go grab him.

DUCKWORTH: But my point is that there is an effect, but it’s, like, really small. And like I said, it depends on a lot of things, so you don’t always get it. So, I don’t know that we could say that what Danny wrote about is totally hokum. You know, it’s not, like, false or fake news. But it’s true, and I think Danny would be the first to say this — in fact, he has — that the results were exaggerated in his own head, and then he wrote about them in an exaggerated way. And he’s been — actually, I think a lot of people who do priming research are really mad at him because he came out and said — very Danny Kahneman style — like, “Hmm, this priming research is not at all what I thought it was.” So, is it possible to be influenced in a nonconscious way by something you heard or saw? I think the answer is yes, but maybe not as easily as you think. Maybe I think it takes a lot of skill for someone to do it. Like, somebody who’s, you know, only job is to do that, does it really well. And also maybe these effects aren’t as enormous as we may have thought. 

MAUGHAN: Right. Well, look, I think, Angela, you and I would both love to hear from listeners — your thoughts about how specific words affect behavior or experiences you have using specific words or having them used with you. Record a voice memo in a quiet place with your mouth close to the phone and email it to us at and maybe we’ll play it on a future episode of the show. And if you like the show and want to support it, the best thing you can do is use your words that matter to tell a friend about it. You can also spread the word on social media or leave a review in your podcast app.

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: what’s the difference between commending someone’s skill and admiring their talent?

DUCKWORTH: Don’t praise your kid or your employee for being a natural, for being talented, for being so smart. Don’t use words like that.

*      *      *

Now, back to Mike and Angela’s conversation about word choice.

DUCKWORTH: So, if we’re weighing in on the question, like, does language matter or are, you know, all the press secretaries in the world and the marketing and the branding teams just fooling themselves — I mean, come on, it has to matter. Right? Like, I most recently had this experience, or this research, that I am doing with Danny Southwick — not Danny Kahneman, but when I’m emailing people from my Gmail, oftentimes I get it wrong, because they’re both “Dannys.” But Danny Southwick was my Ph.D. student, and I, I know you know Danny.

MAUGHAN: I mean Danny was a professional athlete, a professional quarterback.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, so Danny Southwick was an N.F.L. quarterback, and improbably made his way through life to become a Ph.D. student under my supervision. And now he’s a professor at B.Y.U., but basically what Danny had in mind was the power of language. And, in particular, he remembered as a young football player that so often his coaches would use this one word that had so much freight with it, and it was “talent.”

MAUGHAN: Oh, yes, yes.

DUCKWORTH: Right? This is, like, Danny’s obsession. And we end up writing this paper called “The Trouble With Talent.” So, here’s what Danny said. When he was a young player, one coach would say to him, you know, “Danny, I’ve been doing this a very long time, and I’ve got to tell you: you have what it takes. You have the talent to make it in the N.F.L.” And not more than a few days later, another coach would come along, watch him practice, and he would say, “Danny, I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been doing this a long time, and you don’t have the talent that you need to succeed.” So, Danny, as a young player, was like, “What is talent?” And it was such a weighty word, because it brought connotations, right? So, what we ended up doing is a research study on this word, and one of the first things that Danny discovered is that over the last 20 years, the word “talent” has become increasingly popular in business. 

MAUGHAN: Wait. Really?

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, like, people don’t talk about “HR management” anymore. They talk about “talent management.”

MAUGHAN: Oh, oh, oh. But that doesn’t have the same — I mean, “talent management” is referring to people, not to the concept. 

DUCKWORTH: Well, interestingly, right? But, you know, one of the reasons why there was that shift — like, he actually did surveys of people who are human resources professionals, and he found that they like the word “talent” because it has these positive connotations.

MAUGHAN: All the employees are the “talent.”

DUCKWORTH: Right, and everyone wants to be thought of as the talent, so they think it’s really motivating, right? People don’t want to talk about “human resources,” because that makes them like fossil fuels. Right? And, you know, when Danny asked human resources professionals to even define talent, he got all kinds of definitions. So, let me ask you, Mike, what is your definition of the word “talent”?

MAUGHAN: I would define talent as an inborn ability or skill that is beyond other people’s capability in whatever environment.

DUCKWORTH: So, what Danny found in this research is that “talent” is a word that is semantically ambiguous. So, you just said to me, Mike, you’re like, “Oh, you know, I think of it as a skill, like kind of an innate thing that some people have and some people don’t.” So, “skill,” in our research — if we just say to people, define “skill,” they’ll say something about learning, they’ll say something about mastery. They very rarely say that it’s innate. They very rarely say that it’s genetic. We also found that, basically, this semantic baggage that comes with “talent,” it’s a bit of a mishmash, but “ “skill” rings clear as a bell. So, we think language matters, and I think this happens in companies, I mean, it certainly happened to me. I once gave a talk on grit for my book tour, and I was very nervous because I had never really given a book tour talk. I was like, what the hell is that? And I gave it, and I tried to do as good a job as I could. And I come off stage and somebody from my own publishing house was like, “God, Angela, that’s fantastic. You’re such a natural.” And I was thinking to myself, “How ironic. Maybe I’m not that good at giving a talk, because the whole point of my talk was about how there’s a lot of baggage with this idea of natural talent.”

MAUGHAN: I feel like the other idea behind “talent” versus skill — “even” with your kids, the instruction that I always hear is don’t tell them, “Oh, you’re so smart,” but, “Oh, you worked so hard,” or something that they can have growth mindset about.

DUCKWORTH: That’s right. And that’s research that actually all hinges on words. It’s definitely advice that leaders and parents now get with some frequency. You know, don’t praise your kid or your employee for being a natural, for being talented, for being so smart. Don’t use words like that. Instead, talk about what they did. Like, “That was a terrific memo you produced. I loved your essay. I loved the first paragraph. Like, you can say things about the process, as it were, but don’t say things about the person. But the research that that advice comes from is actually by Carol Dweck and her collaborators. And in these research studies, if you frame something as a skill, you can see that people assume that you can grow in it. If you frame something as a talent, they might not come to that same conclusion. So, I think language matters. Like I don’t want to overplay anything. I think that was one of the problems with priming. People were like, “Oh my gosh, it should be a sledgehammer.” And it’s like, “No, it’s more like a scalpel because you have to be trained to really get the effect that you want. But I do think language matters. I think language matters a lot.

MAUGHAN: So, let me ask you this, Angela. What restaurant is associated with Colonel Sanders?

DUCKWORTH: Well, the restaurant that’s called KFC that used to be called Kentucky Fried Chicken?

MAUGHAN: Yes, and therein, my friend, lies the point.

DUCKWORTH: Therein, my little grasshopper. Because they rebranded as KFC. Right? Because they didn’t want to have “fried.”

MAUGHAN: Yes, because America was — and probably the world — was moving toward this more health-conscious idea. And if you have “fried chicken” in the name of your store, people don’t want to eat there.

DUCKWORTH: You know what else I think is like that? I think the SAT is like that. You know, the college entrance exam?

MAUGHAN: Yeah, have they rebranded?

DUCKWORTH: So, I believe that the SAT stood for the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

MAUGHAN: Right, that’s what I thought it stood for.

DUCKWORTH: But you know, the idea that you were going to be told your aptitude when you’re like 16 years old, and whatever. Like, anyway, then it was just like, let’s just call it the SAT. but I think that was an intentional rebranding to move away from, you know, the semantic baggage, if you will, of the term “Scholastic Aptitude Test.” So, that sounds very KFC-like.

MAUGHAN: Angela, I would love to ask you one final question.

DUCKWORTH: Yes, go ahead.

MAUGHAN: I feel like one thing we have done in language is try to distance ourselves from responsibility sometimes. In the sports world, there’s a really interesting phenomenon. When your favorite team wins — do you know what most people say after a win?

DUCKWORTH: No, I don’t.

MAUGHAN: They use the phrase, “We won.” Like, “We won tonight.” But if the same team loses, do you know how people phrase it?

DUCKWORTH: Oh, “They lost.”

MAUGHAN: “They lost.” 

DUCKWORTH: Oh, interesting.

MAUGHAN: Because we want to associate ourselves with the win and distance ourselves from the loss. And I know that when someone is trying to lose weight, often they are coached not to say, “Oh, I can’t eat that,” but rather, “I choose not to eat that.” In other words, saying that it’s my choice. Not something forced upon me. Or, in our cultural language, we usually say something like, “Oh, I lost my temper.” But it’s like, “Oh, I lost my keys. I’m not responsible for that. I didn’t do anything wrong. Like, I just lost my keys. It just happened” — versus saying, “I got upset.” Right?

DUCKWORTH: I will say this. There is this term called “psychological distancing,” and it’s the idea that just like we can be physically distant from something, we can also be psychologically distant from something. And I do think — for example — when you say, “The Eagles lost last night. They didn’t do very well,” you are creating psychological distance between you and your favorite team. If you say, “We lost last night, we didn’t play well,” then you’re closer. So, I do think we use language in these intentional ways to either bring us closer to or farther away from things psychologically. And one of my favorite scientists on this topic is Ethan Kross, and he’s a very close collaborator. And because I’ve worked with him for so many years, I’ve learned so much about pronouns from Ethan. And absolutely, when you use a first-person pronoun — like if, for example, I tell you, Mike, that “I had a really terrible day yesterday, and I was feeling this, and I did that, and then this happened to me,” right? That’s all first person, “me.” That’s the language I’m using. If I say, “Yesterday Angela had a terrible day, and this happened to her, and then she did that,” that’s a kind of It’s a weird way of talking, but it is a way to psychologically distance myself. And, you know, he has all these great clips that he plays for his classes, like LeBron James speaking about himself, I think without a lot of conscious awareness but in the third person. You know, “LeBron James had to make a choice, and LeBron had to do what LeBron had to do.” So, I do think that language can create psychological closeness. I think it can create psychological distance. I think all words have connotational baggage — you know, it implies freedom, or implies individuality or, you know, it has a positive vibe, or a negative vibe, or a judgy vibe. And I don’t want to overstate anything, but, you know, if the question is does what we say matter in a causal sense, right? Does it have force? I think the answer is yes.

MAUGHAN: I think the answer is absolutely yes. 

DUCKWORTH: So language matters!

This episode was produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation:

In the first half of the show, Angela references a priming experiment that Daniel Kahneman describes in his 2011 bestselling book Thinking, Fast and Slow. She says research showed putting eyes on a poster influenced whether people cheated on a test. Her takeaway is generally correct, but the details are wrong. The experiment was conducted in an office kitchen at a British university where staffers could help themselves to beverages by dropping money in an “honesty box.” Over a period of ten weeks, an image of either flowers or eyes was posted above the box. On average, researchers said that staffers contributed almost three times as much money to the box on “eye weeks” than they did on “flower weeks.”

Angela also got a detail incorrect in the study about how words associated with aging can prime people to move slowly. The research on what is now known as “the Florida Effect” was conducted by psychologist John Bargh and his colleagues on undergraduates at New York University. The students were not asked to do crossword puzzles, as Angela said, but rather instructed to form four-word sentences from a set of five words — those in the experimental condition were given words like “forgetful,” “bald,” and “wrinkle.” Later, Angela says that you can only enter the Magic Castle if you’re a card-carrying magician. We should note that you can also enter if you’re invited by a member, or — depending on the private club’s availability — if you stay at the Magic Castle Hotel, which is located next door.

Finally, Mike says the restaurant formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its name to KFC because the company wanted their brand to be more in line with an increasingly health-conscious world. According to the fact-checking website Snopes, this is incorrect; the real reason for the change was financial. In 1990, the Commonwealth of Kentucky trademarked its name, and thereafter, any organization using the word “Kentucky” for business purposes would have to pay licensing fees. Instead of paying up, the fast-food chain changed its name. That’s it for the fact-check.

Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear some thoughts about our episode on long-term relationships.

Art CAMPBELL:  Hi this is Art Campbell calling from San Diego. I was married to the love of my life — best friend and wife — for 45 fiery but steadfast years. I say “fiery” because we were somewhat legendary among our friends as having arguments in the middle of dinner parties and one of us walking out, usually me. And then, after she died in my arms of lung cancer a few years ago, she had given me permission to read her diaries, which I did — thousands of pages — and I realized there that despite the fact we were both in 12-step programs, both of us had become codependent with each other, which is to say we were not interdependent. We each looked to each other to fill the holes in our souls, and it made us irrationally angry when the other person couldn’t satisfy those needs which we often could not even fathom ourselves. So, that’s the point. I’d just like to make the distinction between codependency and interdependency. Love your show. Thank you a lot for having it. Bye. 

Somya BANSAL: Hello, Angela and Mike. When I was listening to this episode, I couldn’t stop smiling because it reminded me of a previous NSQ episode on borrowing someone’s personality. I remember that episode so distinctly, because I had just broken up with my boyfriend of four years at that time, and I was asking myself: Who am I? How did I change so much for a person? And, more importantly, how do I become okay with the fact that I did change? You mentioned in that episode that it is okay to borrow a part of someone’s personality if you feel a sense of autonomy in doing so — that it was your decision to make that change in yourself. So, now I think one of the many secret ingredients for a long, happy relationship is autonomy of thought.

That was Art Campbell and Somya Bansal. Thanks to them and to everyone who shared their stories with us. And remember, we’d love to hear how you think language influences behavior. Send a voice memo to, and you might hear your voice on the show!

Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: What’s the point of I.Q. testing?

MAUGHAN:  If I speak Spanish at home and this test is in English and I’m freaking four years old — like what?!

That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.

*      *      *

No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and The Economics of Everyday Things. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. Lyric Bowditch is our production associate. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne. We had research assistance from Daniel Moritz-Rabson. Our theme song was composed by Luis Guerra. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Thanks for listening!

MAUGHAN: I’m just going to refer to our dear old friend, Shakespeare.

DUCKWORTH: Will. Or Bill.

MAUGHAN: Bill, yeah, no, we’re very close. My good buddy, Billy Shakespeare.

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  • John Bargh, professor of psychology at Yale University.
  • Derren Brown, mentalist.
  • Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University.
  • Daniel Kahneman, professor emeritus of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University.
  • Ethan Kross, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
  • Barbara Mellers, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Daniel Southwick, visiting professor of psychology at Brigham Young University and former N.F.L. quarterback.
  • Lior Suchard, mentalist.



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