Interesting TED talk on texting. Main points: written language is different than conversational language (and evolutionary extremely recent). 100 years ago, public speaking meant talking like writing, which sounds weird, and has changed. And texting is more like conversation than writing.

For no particular reason, I decided to take Dan Ariely’s Coursera class on Irrational Behavior, reading, quizzes and all. Highly recommended, at least the lectures, because it’s fascinating. Humans are so odd and inconsistent in their behavior. One interesting phenomena is disgust. People find chocolates in the shape of dog poop disgusting and will not eat it, even though there’s inherently nothing disgusting about it. In studies, if you put wrapped snacks next to a wrapped tampon, never opened, never touching, people will find the snacks less appealing, just by proximity. But it’s all in the mind.

That reminded me of something I’ve never understood, why it’s OK for girls to wear guys’ clothes, but it’s not OK for guys to wear girls’ (unisex) clothes. Jieun has commandeered one of my (favorite) Facebook hoodies. And that’s totally acceptable. But once in college, I wore her oversized unisex iconic Jieun UCSD sweatshirt, and everyone found it gross. Why? It’s not like I was wearing a bra. Wasn’t a girly fit, or even a girly piece of clothing at all. Still, everyone thought it was gross. Why? Is it just that guys smell more than girls (i.e. Serra 1st floor vs. Serra 2nd floor) so the idea of a guy stinking up a girl’s sweatshirt is disgusting? I don’t fully get it.

Back to that Irrational Behavior class. I think the single most interesting guest lecture was Eli Finkel on The Delusion of Romantic Self-Insight. His first lesson is that if you ask people what they want (in this case for a romantic partner), it’s really different from how they actually behave. I think I first learned this at the best work offsite I ever went to (at Yahoo!) when we visited IDEO. We learned the same thing there, that asking people what they want is at best useless and at worst counterproductive, because people frequently don’t know so can’t verbalize it, or what they think they want is not what they really want (as revealed in behavior). So instead of doing conversational focus groups (of which I’ve become deeply skeptical), they would just go out and watch people, and their design was based on that.

One of their examples was looking at pizza cutters. When they watched people using them, they observed a few things, among them that the design of most pizza cutters made the angle of cutting a pizza awkward and difficult to get leverage on (you want to press down, but you’re forced to hold it at an angle), and the connection between the metal and wood, particularly the loop that connected the wheel to the handle, was difficult to clean. Based on that, they designed (for Zyliss) a pizza cutter that you can press down fully with your palm, and which fully disassembles for cleaning. I was so compelled that I immediately went out and bought that pizza cutter and we still use it.

Anyway yeah, so people don’t know what they want, even when they think they do. So Finkel found that when asking men and women about what they want in a romantic partner, men say they value physical attractiveness more than women, and women say they value earning potential more than men. And this is conventional wisdom – men care more about looks, women care more about being taken care of. But when they did some studies, and even did a meta-analysis on a ton of other dating studies, they found that these self-stated preferences were not accurate. Turns out in reality, men and women value things more or less equally, and physical attractiveness matters most. There was even no correlation between how strongly people said they care or don’t care about physical attractiveness (independent of gender) and how much it actually mattered.

That was fascinating to me. Women are wrong about what they say they care about in a romantic partner, and in practice, they care about physical attractiveness just as much as men. It’s a wonder I ever got married.

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