The Power of Words: How Your Words Impact Those Around You

the power of words

the power of wordsMany people believe that the things they say do not have an impact on others. That is why they are so loose with their words and criticism. However, it is impossible to comprehend just how negatively a few choice words can be perceived by someone else. That is why it is always a good idea to be caring and considerate both with actions and words, especially towards the people that you care about.

Listen Instead of Constantly Giving Your Opinion

We all enjoy to talk and to have other people listen to us. If you are the type of person that likes to be the center of attention, it is likely that you will spend most of the time being the one who talks. In this case, those close to you will begin to feel as though their opinions do not matter to you. During a debate, discussion, or a general conversation about any topic, it is important to let the other person’s voice be heard. Even if you believe that you have a better understanding of the subject at hand, there is nothing wrong with allowing someone else to feel important.

Do Not Divulge Your Friends’ Secrets

Gossip is something that we are all prone to on occasion. Whether it is about the annoying next-door neighbor, or someone that you used to be friends with, some take pleasure in discussing the misfortunes of others. However, it is NEVER a good idea to gossip about your friends and family. Even if you believe that the topic being discussed is harmless, it is not up to you to speak for another person, especially when they are not there. If they have told you something, it is likely to have been in confidence. What is meaningless to you could bear great importance to another person. Instead of gossiping about others, focus on the good things in your life and look to make strides in both your professional and personal worlds.

Be Kind to Others

There are times when you will meet people who you believe are beneath you. These people may have physical flaws, or they may be struggling in their professional lives. While it is okay to form such opinions in your head, it is not a good idea to express them with words. Do not put down a person, no matter how well you think you know them. Make sure you’re kind to people who may be overweight, or may be struggling with other personal demons.

It is amazing the power words can have both on your brain and on the brain of your friends. Take care to use your words in a good way, so as not to bring down those around you.

Marshall McLuhan: How a Pre-Internet Academic Changed the Way We Think About the Web

Turning Heads – Utilising Psychology

The Internet, or rather the “Web 2.0″ or the “social web”, is the single most important communication invention of our time. Still, considering its seminal importance in all aspects of our lives, it is very important to consider its unintended effects and consequences. While there are many new books coming out now that do just that, from “The Net Delusion” to “The Shallows” to “The Information”, you may find it surprising that an academic, writing pre-1970, discussed the effects of the Internet ad nauseam, basically paving the way for Internet media analysis later down the line. Here are some of McLuhan’s basic ideas:

1. “The medium is the message.”

This is perhaps one of the best known of McLuhan’s sayings, one that catapulted him to fame after the publication of his book “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man”. What McLuhan essentially means here is that the “content” of a message is the least important thing to analyze, even though it is the most apparent. When thinking of the Internet, something that McLuhan conceptualized as “the global village,” we should look at how messages are transmitted in order to gauge how they affect our perceptions and behaviors.

2. “Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.”

This is an especially salient quote when we are talking about the Web as it exists today. While online schools are still in their infancy, the learning potential of the Internet is already being exploited through educational games for children, OpenCourseWare initiatives, and more.

3. “As technology advances, it reverses the characteristics of every situation again and again. The age of automation is going to be the age of ‘do it yourself.”

Can any one phrase apply to the Internet of the 21st century better than “do it yourself?” McLuhan suggested in many of his books that media could be grouped into two types

Incoming search terms:

  • www behaviourchangeandtechnology org

Increasing exposure to Internet-delivered interventions

Turning Heads – Utilising Psychology

Exposure is the basic premise that must be satisfied for an intervention to induce behaviour change. Generally, exposure to Internet-interventions is low. Thus, we need to develop exposure theories and strategies that are linked to effectiveness. Rik Crutzen et al. (2011) reviewed strategies that facilitate exposure to Internet-delivered health behavior change interventions among adolescents and young adults (age 12-25), where they examined what strategies that are used to facilitate exposure, on which theories these strategies are based, and what potential effects these strategies have.

Methods and Strategies

It is clear from the article that nine out of 17 studies reviewed utilized either targeted (i.e. specified audience) or tailored (i.e. personal) communication. Nine interventions utilized support facilities (e.g. discussion boards, peer support or professional support), five utilized interactive content, some utilized use of reminders and incentives, and a few interventions were embedded in a social context (e.g. implemented in school).

All in all, it is clear that we have only begun to utilize the inherent possbilities in this rich medium called the Internet. As seen from the results, only six different strategies were used in the studies that were reviewed. Although a lot of variation can be found within each strategy and many strategies can be combined, we have yet to utilize the medium to its full extent with regard to designing health and behaviour change interventions.

Theory and Empirical Data

It appears that a wide variety of theories were applied to design the interventions. The basis for the selection of strategies was social learning theory, self-regulation theory, social norms, the transtheoretical model, information-motivation-behavioural skills model, and different theories of social support.

As Crutzen et al. (2011) point out, these theories are descriptive in nature where the aim is to describe behaviours or behaviour change. None of these theories are actually prescriptive. That is, inform the intervention designer exactly about how to design the intervention in order to induce behaviour change.

Of course, it is not difficult to imagine and design e.g. exercises, tasks, games, etc. that are based on these theories and that intend on inducing behaviour change, but it is not given that it will work in practice.

Furthermore, none of the interventions applied any specific theories of exposure facilitation or theories of dissemination and implementation which makes it even more difficult to study and improve exposure in future interventions.

Effectiveness of Strategies

It seems that support strategies are rarely used by participants. This effect may reflect that adolescents and young adults are rarely confronted with negative consequences of the target behaviours which Internet-interventions are designed for, resulting in low involvement and low motivation to comply.

Providing interactive content may thus be a great way of enforcing involvement in one’s behaviour change process. The results from the article showed that providing content in a more interactive way resulted in higher exposure.

Asking and answering questions, interactive quizzes and games, listening to audio, watching videos, etc. breaks the monotony of reading and requires a different kind of cognitive processing of content which may result in greater involvement.

Also, the use of reminders seems to increase exposure. Text messages, email reminders, proactive IVRs (interactive voice response), etc. may increase exposure by “pulling in” users and making interventions more attractive. However, the use of incentives to make people use the intervention may be feasible for studies, but would increase costs extremely in real-life.

Thus, finding new ways of providing incentives is important. It could for instance be to apply gaming principles to make interventions self-rewarding, but it may also be a matter of finding an appropriate business model and commercialize interventions.


The authors of the article concluded that there seems to be a few strategies that can be used to facilitate exposure more successfully. However, they were not able to link specific strategies to effectiveness. So far, I think the Internet is a rich medium which we believe has not been fully utilized in Internet-delivered interventions and that research on Internet-delivered interventions has yet to improve beyond conducting mere studies of program effectiveness. More experimental evidence is needed, more optimization and process research is needed, and exposure/dissemination/implementation research that is linked to effectiveness data.


Crutzen, R., de Nooijer, J., Brouwer, W., Oenema, A., Brug, J. & de Vries, N. K. (2011). Strategies to factilitate exposure to Internet-delivered health behavior change interventions aimed at adolescents or young adults: A systematic review. Health Education & Behaviour, 38, 49-62.


9 Practical Ways of Eating More Healthy

Turning Heads – Utilising Psychology

There is not one national healthcare system in the world that has the capacity or resources to follow up every nation’s person in need of help and support changing lifestyle behaviours. Thus, eating and physical activity behaviours requires that people take personal responsibility for their health and well-being. However, changing lifestyle behaviours is extremely difficult. There are two major reasons why it is so difficult.

First, approximately 70% of your body weight and size is determined by your genes which your body will attempt to maintain. This is not anything you can do much about. Second, the remaining 30% are largely determined by environmental factors that influence our eating behaviours outside our conscious awareness. The good news is that you can change the evironmental factors to work for us instead of against us. Here I show you 10 practical and scientifically proven ways of changing your environment so that you can eat more healthy without thinking about it.

1. Use tall and narrow (highball) glasses.

People tend to pour and drink a lot more juice, soda, liquors, etc. when using short and wide glasses. When people evaluate the volume of cylindrical shapes such as glasses, they tend to focus on height at the expense of width (i.e. the vertical-horizontal illusion). Consequently, we underestimate how much we think we pour onto our glasses. Short and wide glasses should only be used for drinking water. So, replace your shortest and widest glasses with taller and narrower and put them in front in your cupboard.

2. Use small serving aids.

Research has demonstrated how easily we are fooled by the size of serving aids. Put four spoons full of mashed potatoes on a large plate (e.g. 12 inches) and you will most likely underestimate the amount of food on that plate. Put the same amount of mashed potatoes on a small plate (e.g. 8 inches) and you will most likely overestimate the amount of food on that plate. This is the size-contrast illusion in practice. The same amount of food can seem a lot or little depending on the size of serving aids you use. The principle applies not only to plates, but all sorts of serving aids such as spoons, bowls, forks, etc. So, go back in to your cupboards and find the smallest serving aids you have and make them easily available for use.

3. Turn on the lights while eating.

Candlelit dinners and dimmed lights increases our consumption by increasing comfort and decreasing self-consciousness. The more we enjoy a meal, the longer the meal lasts. And the more time you spend eating your meal, the more often you end up eating a second portion, an unplanned dessert or having an extra drink. Also, soft or dimmed lights makes us less self-conscious which makes it harder for us to monitor and inhibit our consumption.

4. Turn of music and remove noise.

Listening to music we enjoy increases comfort just like dimmed lights. The same is true for slow and soft music. We stay longer, we feel more comfortable, we become less self-conscious, and we become more likely to eat more. More research is needed on noises and loud and up-tempo music, but it appears this too can lead us to overeat because we hurry to clean our plates and ignore signals of satiety.

5. Always eat at a table with no disturbances.

Very often we find ourselves eating at sports events, in movie theaters, grab a hot dog on the go, etc. One major problem with eating in such situations where there usually is no table, is that our attention is directed on something else than eating. Disturbances such as watching television, reading a book, talking on the phone, etc. while eating makes us less aware of how much we eat.

6. Always leave leftover food on the table until you are finished eating.

A group of researchers conducted a study in restaurants where some waiters cleaned their customers’ tables during the meal. Other waiters were instructed to let the leftover food stay on the table until their customers’ were completely finished with the meal. The result were that those customers who could see all the leftovers ate less. The results could be explained by the fact that those customers with leftovers on their tables did not have to rely on their memory – they could easily see how much they had eaten.

7. Consider how often you should eat with others.

Eating is very much a shared or social activity with friends and family. Friends and family are good for you, however, eating with others also increases our consumption. The duration of meals are extended and simply observing others can set consumption norms on what is eaten and how much. The effects can be dramatic. Meals eaten with only one other person present increases intake by appr. 30%. Consumption is incremental with increases in the number of people we eat with. Eat with 7 persons around the dining table and it is not unlikely that you will eat twice the amount of food that you would have eaten if you were to eat alone. Consider suggesting social activities with friends and family that do not necessarily involve eating.

8. Buy food in medium or normal sized packages and portions.

Both large- and small-sized packages and portions makes us eat more. Large-sized packages and portions increases consumption with about 20% for meal-related foods and about 30-45% for snacks. The more food we stockpile and have available, the more we eat. We also have a cultural tendency to “clean our plates” although we are far beyond the point of satiety. Ironically, small-sized packages and portions also make us eat more because we tend to think of small sizes as diet food(!). The problem is that the food that often comes in small packages and sizes is exactly the energy dense and unhealthy food we really should eat less of.

9. Organize and re-structure your food.

Cleverly designed research demonstrated how a bowl of assorted M&Ms can increase how many you eat. People who were given a bowl of M&Ms with 10 different colours ate about 40% more than people who were given only 7 different colours. Taste could not explain these findings as all M&Ms tasted exactly the same. The lesson to be learned here is that perceived variety suggests consumption norms. This means that you should try to separate and organize foods on your plate in clearly visible patterns, never buy assorted candy, avoid having more than two kinds of food on your plate at buffets and receptions, etc.

These practical tips mainly help you eating more healthy by eating lesser portions or less food that is bad for you. Try reversing these practical tips to eat more healthy foods. For example, if you want to eat more fruits and vegetables: cut them in small pieces, serve them in a large bowl, put the bowl easily available on the table in your living room and eat it in front of the TV. You can find references to the research mentioned in this post and read more about these practical tips in Brian Wansink’s (2004) great review of environmental factors that influence your food consumption.


Wansink, B. (2004). Environmental factors that increase the food intake and consumption volume of unknowing consumers. Annual Review of Nutrition, 24, 455-479.


Weapons of Influence, Part II

Turning Heads – Utilising Psychology

There are many ways of making people say “Yes”. Yes to buy a book, yes to vote for a political candidate, yes to do things to preserve the climate, and all the other yes’s in the world. According to Goldstein et al. (2009) latest book, there are at least 50 scientifically proven ways to make people say that one word. While some ways of making people say “yes” are well known and widely applied, others are less known. Here we present a few of the less known and perhaps surprising strategies of persuasion:

1. Sometimes all you have to do is just to ask.

We often underestimate the likelihood that the recipient will comply with our requests (Flynn & Lake, 2008). It is important to recognize this because it can potentially lead to productivity losses and prevent accomplishing your goals. Moreover, holding a correct impression of how many say “Yes!” may not only increase staff motivation, but by applying the simple principle of requesting what you want, you appear open and honest. If openness and honesty does not persuade people into doing whatever you want them to do, at least it does not create much resistance.

2. More options promote indecisiveness. Indecisiveness

Startup and small businesses often offer only few options and products. If successfully managed, the business will grow and attract new customers which open up the possibility for expanding the product portfolio. Most people usually consider having more choices to be a good thing. However, as research shows, and as many businesses often painfully have experienced, this is not always a good business idea. An abundance of choices most often overwhelms customers and leads to indecisiveness (i.e. fewer purchases).

3. Be the first to throw out the anchor.

During negotiations, the first meetings or first few minutes in a meeting, the parties often dance around the table reluctant to be the first to present their offer. Is this the right strategy for achieving the highest bid? No. Research shows that the one that first puts the bid out on the table achieves superior outcomes (Galinsky & Mussweiler, 2001). Why? The first offer “anchors” the negotiation and the parties tend not to move that far away from the anchor. Remember, though, that the first offer should be realistic!

4. Humor people. Dilbert

Humor brings people closer together and helps establish relationships (Kurtzberg et al., 2009). Moreover, humor seems to make people put down their guard in negotiations by proposing less extreme offers. In business, the possibility for using humor is very limited and not all people find all jokes, cartoons, and other fun stuff equally humoring. So attempts at making people laugh and come in good mood should be made with caution, however, there is no doubt that interaction with users and business outcomes can become more effective when using humor.

5. “I don’t mean to sound rude, but…”.

Have you ever found it difficult to say something and tried to get ahead of the situation by saying things like “I trust you will manage this situation, but don’t forget to…”? Well, guess what? Research shows that if you do say such things, you are going to be perceived as someone who doesn’t trust his co-workers or rude (see El-Alayli et al. 2008). In fact, it is better just to say things as they are: “Manage the situation and remember to …” or even better “I trust you will manage this situation.”

What are some of the practical implications of these principles?

First of all, if you want someone to participate in online projects, it can be more cost-effective just to ask people politely if they would like to join than spending a lot of time and effort finding clever ways to persuade them. No one really likes to be persuaded – they like to think it was a self-determined choice. Second, if you want users to start using or buying your online product, be selective about which products you wish to push. It is much easier for users to make a decision to buy or use products from a small sample than the entire range of your products. Third, as long as you are sensitive to what price people are willing to pay, you should not have to be afraid of displaying the price of your products. Most e-commerce sites already do this, however, a few do not. There is nothing that turns a buyer off more than seeing a price tag that is way beyond imagination at checkout. Do not quite know what people want to pay? Well, talk to them and find out what they are willing to pay – sometimes you will be happily surprised. Fourth, try using a bit of humor. Consider e.g. including a non-offensive and appropriate cartoon in your electronic meeting notice. Humor gives people something to talk about, loosens up the atmosphere, and brings people closer together. Fifth, avoid startups like “I don’t mean to sound rude, but…” when chatting with people regardless whether they are close and personal friends or professional relationships. It is very likely that you end up being perceived exactly the way you want to avoid being perceived. The same rule applies online as offline.


El-Alayli, A., Myers, C. J., Petersen, T. L., Lystad, A. L. (2008). “I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but…” The effects of using disclaimers on person perception. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 130-143.

Flynn, F. J., & Lake, V. K. B. (2008). If you need help, just ask: Underestimating compliance with direct requests for help. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 128-143.

Galinsky, A. D., & Mussweiler, T. (2001). First offers as anchors: The role of perspective-taking and negotiator focus. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 657-669.

Goldstein, N. J., Martin, S. J. & Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive . New York: Free Press.

Kurtzberg, T. R., Naquin, C. E. & Belkin, L. Y. (2009). Humor as a relationship-building tool in online negotiations. International Journal of Conflict Management, 20, 377-397.


How could strategies which aim to improve dissemination of and exposure to Internet-delivered interventions be tested on effectiveness?

Turning Heads – Utilising Psychology

It is recommended (Crutzen, De Nooijer, Brouwer, Oenema, Brug, & De Vries, submitted) to conduct experimental research in more controlled settings to increase evidence-based insight into effectiveness of strategies regarding dissemination of and exposure to Internet-delivered interventions, before applying these strategies in practice. Advantage of such a controlled setting is the minimisation of possible confounding effects. Disadvantage of these experimental settings, however, is the isolated way in which strategies are tested on effectiveness, which is less comparable with real-life implementation.

Even if strategies are immediately applied in practice, there are appropriate designs, such as a time series design (Chen et al., 2005; Murry, Stam, & Lastovicka, 1993), to test effectiveness of these strategies. In such a design, strategies are first applied separately. Subsequently, combinations of several strategies are applied. Intervention use is monitored during the whole period to determine which strategy or combination between them is most effective. Although this design is more sensitive to confounding effects (e.g. changing environment), strategies are tested in a less isolated way and this could give more insight into effectiveness regarding dissemination and exposure in real life.

If all methods described above are inapplicable due to limited resources, one could test the effectiveness of dissemination strategies by simply asking visitors where they came from and how they heard about the intervention (Gordon, Akers, Severson, Danaher, & Boles, 2006). Although this method is based on self-report and therefore less objective, it is easily applicable and less time consuming. Yet, this method remains a last resort (when all else fails).

Dissemination and exposure do not only depend on the intervention itself, however, but also on its users. There is evidence that the acquisition of skills to use a website may influence its adoption (Paswan & Ganesh, 2003). It has also been shown, however, that Internet self-efficacy is not a significant predictor of exposure (Steele, Mummery, & Dwyer, 2007). If familiarity with a website increases, then perceived usability influences loyalty to the website (Casal

When is dissemination of an Internet-delivered intervention successful?

Turning Heads – Utilising Psychology

Before determining if an Internet-delivered intervention has been disseminated successfully, one should first determine when an intervention is successfully disseminated. This is not as straightforward as it may seem. Absolute figures may cause unrealistic optimism, since thousands of visitors are not uncommon for websites in general. Relative figures, on the other hand, may cause unrealistic pessimism, since they may be very low if one relates number of visitors to Internet penetration rates. To estimate the reach of a recruitment approach and the generalisability of results, it is important to report the target group, the number exposed to recruitment, the number who respond, the number eligible, and the number who actually participate (Graham, Bock, Cobb, Niaura, & Abrams, 2006). Furthermore, one should determine a final target in advance. There is, however, no

What is the future of digital interventions for health behaviour change?

Turning Heads – Utilising Psychology

The digital environment (e.g. Internet, mobile phones, smart phones) that is now an integral part of our daily lives is becoming an increasingly important means of sustaining the health of people worldwide, whether by providing access to a wealth of information, by linking geographically dispersed communities of peers and professionals, or by supporting self-management of health and illness. The Internet is therefore rapidly becoming both a medium and a focus for health psychology research.

The Internet can be used as a source of naturally occurring observations and data, as in the qualitative study by Rodham, McCabe, and Blake (2009) of Internet communication between people with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. It can also be used to give people personalized feedback about their health risks, as in the study of predictors of online diabetes risk test taking by van Koningsbruggen and Das (2009). Perhaps most significantly, it provides a cost-effective means of making automated behavior change interventions widely available, such as the stress and alcohol reduction programmes deployed in two papers in a recent issue of Psychology & Health (Crutzen et al., 2009; Fridici, Lohaus, & Gla

Utilising exposure measures of Internet-delivered interventions

Turning Heads – Utilising Psychology

Evidence from efficacy trials indicates that exposure rates to Internet-delivered interventions are low (De Nooijer, Oenema, Kloek, Brug, De Vries, & De Vries, 2005), and they may be even lower when these interventions are implemented in real life rather than in a research setting (Evers, Cummins, Prochaska, & Prochaska, 2005). Exposure of individuals to the intervention content, through use of the intervention, is necessary since attention is a prerequisite to establish desired behaviour change (McGuire, 1985). Therefore, it remains important to assess exposure to Internet-delivered interventions.

There are several measures to assess exposure to Internet-delivered interventions, such as frequency and duration of visits, but there is no gold standard. Each exposure measure relates to a different aspect of exposure (Danaher, Boles, Akers, Gordon, & Severson, 2006). One can visit an intervention very frequent, for example, but only for a short period of time. Duration of visits, on the other hand, does not necessarily give a clear picture of participants