Posts tagged “horse meat”

Teasing apart meaning

Economists are talking about repugnance, a crucial, complex, and culturally varied driver of what people will and won’t do, comfortably.

And last week a woman in Ohio whose ad to sell a horse mistakenly appeared under the heading “Good Things to Eat” in a newspaper’s classified section received dozens of calls, some expressing outrage and others from people interested in turning it into dinner. (In Europe and Japan horse meat on a menu would stir no more comment than macaroni and cheese would in an American diner.)

“It’s very hard to predict what’s repugnant and what’s not,” Mr. Roth said. Paul Bloom, a professor of psychology at Yale, agreed. He conducted a two-year study to try to get at why people consider athletes who take steroids to be cheating, but not those who take vitamins or use personal trainers. He and his team offered different possibilities: What if steroids were completely natural? Or were not at all harmful? Or were only effective if the athlete had to work harder than before?

The only change that caused the interviewed subjects to alter their objections to steroids was when they were told that everyone else thought it was all right. “People have moral intuitions,” Mr. Bloom said. When it comes to accepting or changing the status quo in these situations, he said, they tended to “defer to experts or the community.”

Often introducing money into the exchange – putting it into the marketplace – is what people find repugnant. Mr. Bloom asserted that money is a relatively new invention in human existence and therefore “unnatural.”

We’ve written before about how people naturally slip from one idea to the next; our structures for organizing information are not like an Excel spreadsheet. This necessitates a triangulation approach to trying to get at what somebody’s mental models might really be and move beyond monolithic statements like “Steroids are bad!” The example of pulling apart the possible objections to steroids (fairness? composition? safety?) is right on. We might also take the reverse approach and frame it as a participatory-design thought-exercise: “You’re the executive of a pharmaceutical company and you want to find a way to make steroids acceptable to the general public. What could you do?” By looking at what people might change, we can reveal (sometimes more easily) what is stopping them from adopting something now. These barriers are crucial design opportunities that producers must understand and address.


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