Brains and Pledge

There are number of trends that converge in this area of brains, behavior and social consequences.  While we will not focus much on it, the revolutions in research methodology are almost as profound as the discoveries in cognitive psychology (e.g., why focus groups are useless). We will have little to say about research methodology here.

TRAC Texts

We have six texts:

  1. "Connecting the Dots" (how to use PTV's core values when communicating with your viewers and members)
  2. "Is It Something We Have Done?" (deals with attitudes of members and lapsed members toward their stations with a focus on why they lapse)
  3. "How People Think" (a layman's view of how people actually think and how it applies to pledge)
  4. TRAC primer on why people view and why they become members.
  5. Current Article on core viewers and audience fragmentation
  6. Current Article on the Brain and Pledge Drives

Recommended Reading

The key text is How Customers Think by Gerald Zaltman (Harvard Business School Press). This book is a wonderful summary of the recent research. The discussion of research methods is equally enlightening (for example, pp 305 following). Pay particular attention to Zaltman's metaphor research. We also recommend the summary of the text sold by Audio-Tech Books.

How to actually talk with people/customers is dealt with by Kevin Roberts, in wonderful book with an awful title Lovemarks (Powerhouse Books). Roberts is often profound and insightful in a most entertaining and graphic way.  He takes the emotional connectivity to heights that would make any pledge producer proud.  In essence he applies Zaltman to brands and emotions.

A less graphic and more mundane approach is Emotion Marketing by Scott Robinette and Claire Breand from Hallmark Cards.  Very simple and linear. Highly recommended.

Intuition "The Power of Thinking Without Thinking"

Malcolm Gladwell's two books (The Tipping Point and Blink) are fine introductions to this area. The first book deals with social contagion and how people influence one another- that is how does one get to the tipping point that will change someone's behavior.  Blink deals with non-conscious thought (intuition, prejudice, and automaticity).  We recommend The Tipping Point from Audio Tech books but not Blink.  We also liked David Brooks' review of Blink in the New York Times.

While not all readers will like Dan Hill's Body of Truth (Wiley Publishing) he does a lot of interesting brand research on non-conscious thought. Just about any book by Steven Johnson deals with neuroscience and everyday behavior.  See for example, Johnson's Mind Wide Open (Scribner).

Heavier but nonetheless interesting texts in this area are How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker (Norton), it is huge and detailed. The Way We Think by Gillies Fauconnier and Mark Turner is tougher going but blends Pinker's work on language and thinking in a pragmatic manner.

Key Figures

By far the most influential text, a popular summary of all this psychological research is Timothy D. Wilson, Strangers to Ourselves (Belnap Harvard Press).  We recommend this most highly since Wilson has had great influence on Gladwell and others discussed here. Read the last chapter first then the introduction and chapter two. Then skip around.

Just about anything by Walter Freeman is also recommended.  See Societies of Brains and How Brains Make Up Their Minds especially. Most of us are not used to looking at behavior at the neurological level.

The role of oxytocin and other hormones on pledge behavior is enormous. Remember that oxytocin is secreted by both males and females and has many other social functions such as bonding. In recent experiments in Europe, oxytocin was shown to trigger trust and friendliness in strangers toward each other.

Freeman lays out how the body actually processes external events and converts them into impulses and the activation of hormonal reactions. When we talk about a pledge or donor high (euphoria) it is generally associated with oxytocin.  People literally get high from the hormones their bodies are secreting in response to the music or a pitch. See the research summary on music by William Benzon, Beethoven's Anvil. Highly recommended, very readable and deals nicely with complicated concepts.

Another recent approach to this same area has been the discovery of mirror neurons in the brain. We suggest you look at Robert Krulwich's story on NOVA's web site. ( The transcript is also available on the site.  The role of mirror neurons in pledge is poorly researched and deserves more study. 
For a non-technical discussion of mirror neurons and their role in the emergence of culture in human society see: They also reference the link to NOVA's mirror neuron story.
An English author, Robert Winston, has developed two BBC series that discuss much of this new cognitive research in an entertaining and engaging way.  Alas, the series appears not to have been shown here (I may be wrong though). His books are available from

Behavioral Economics: Why People Are So Stupid About Money

In our paper on "How People Think" we review the thinking of one of the pioneers in this field Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist at Princeton. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics 2002 for his work on how people think about money and how they make economic judgments. See
Behavioral economics has enormous implications for some areas of pledge, but the research literature is difficult to pull together. Alas, most of the books are one of two types: academic and full of mathematical formulas, or popular renderings focused on people's behavior in the stock market.  We are working in this area ourselves, attempting to translate this literature into English for our clients.  Meanwhile, for a taste of "lizard brains and mean markets", read a popularized treatment, Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes and How to Correct Them by Gary Belsky and Thomas Gilovich.

Meanwhile, there is an easy and fun way to dip your mental toes in the concepts. Go to and type in either "mental accounting" or  "behavioral economics" and you are on your way to understanding how these heuristics work. The key is to follow the links to the sub-concepts.  After a few sessions, you will have good notion of how people think about money.

Interesting Books and Fun to Peruse

Mapping the Mind by Rita Carter (University of California Press paperback edition is recommended). It is an astounding book that in clear and graphic detail reviews and discusses most of these concepts.  (Even the sidebars are fascinating.  For example, we especially liked the discussion of our "third eye", a reptilian proto-eye that we all process left over from evolution. It is that eye that allows batters to sense and see a baseball traveling 90 miles before it can be seen by our other eyes.) Highly recommended even if looks like a coffee table type of book. 

And for those who cannot get enough of this stuff, Wilson and Keil's The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences should keep you busy for a few months. The essays are all in "English" not technical.

And the book that started it all for most of us is that wonderful witty and lucid Antonio Damasio's Descartes' Error (Bard) the book that introduces the role of emotion in thinking and the embodied mind in medicine and philosophy.   Very nice read, great for plane trips.