Behavioral Science Playlist: Others
By Aline Holzwarth
Illustrations by Matt Trower
We have joined together with other behavioral scientists to compile a playlist of over 5 hours of songs from a diverse range of genres that each, in some way or another, exemplify the principles of behavioral science. These songs are organized by the categories of the BEHAVIOR Framework (a mnemonic for remembering different behavior change strategies: Bias, Ego, Habits, Appeal, Visceral, Incentives, Others, Reminders), and will be released with their descriptions in the coming weeks, one category at a time.
The only thing we care about more than ourselves (see Ego) is what other people think of us. Humans are social animals who respond to social norms (perceived standards of group behavior) and signaling from others. If it seems like everyone else puts their cans and bottles in the trash instead of the recycling bin, we feel pressured to exhibit the same unfortunate behavior in order to fit in. We value reciprocity (we want to help those who have helped us), social support and accountability, and can be motivated by competition. The desire to be on top makes competition with others a compelling force. We can go to great lengths to impress our peers, but social comparison is not the only influence of others.
As Evan Nesterak muses, “Bless the Telephone” by Labe Siffre is a simple and sweet song about the joy of connection with someone you love. In our era of text messages and DMs, it also reminds me of the power in hearing someone’s voice.”
Aline Holzwarth makes a different connection to the theme of others, noting how true to experience Taylor Swift’s “The Man” is, where Swift (like Aline) wonders what life would be like if she were born a man. Would the same level of effort lead to comparatively outsized results? Research on gender inequality lends credence to Swift’s lyrics; when participants rate the quality of the exact same resumes that purportedly belong to a male or female, the same resume is rated much higher when people believe the applicant is a man. (How can organizations promote gender equality? Read this to find out.)
These displays of social others in music (and more) appear in the ultimate behavioral science playlist, a compilation of songs that demonstrate common behavioral principles. These songs are organized by the categories of the BEHAVIOR Framework (a mnemonic for remembering different behavior change strategies: Bias, Ego, Habits, Appeal, Visceral, Incentives, Others, Reminders).
In collaboration with behavioral scientists from eight cooperating organizations (Action Design, Behavioral Grooves, Habit Weekly, behavioraleconomics.com, ideas42, Behavioral Scientist, PeopleScience and Betterment), we are pleased to share the ultimate behavioral science playlist with you. We hope you enjoy it, and share it with one other person!
Listen to the Ultimate Behavioral Science Playlist:
Songs About the Behavioral Principle: Others
Bless the Telephone
"Strange how a phone call can change your day
Take you away, Away
From the feeling of being alone
Bless the telephone"
“Bless the Telephone” by Labe Siffre is a simple and sweet song about the joy of connection with someone you love. In our era of text messages and DMs, it also reminds me of the power in hearing someone’s voice.
"I'd be a fearless leader
I'd be an alpha type
When everyone believes ya
What's that like?
I'm so sick of running
As fast as I can
Wondering if I'd get there quicker
If I was a man"
In “The Man,” Taylor Swift wonders what life would be like if she were born a man. Would the same level of effort lead to comparatively outsized results? Research on gender inequality lends credence to Swift’s lyrics; when participants rate the quality of the exact same resumes that purportedly belong to a male or female, the same resume is rated much higher when people believe the applicant is a man.
"Don't go out much at all
I've never been the type to call
I realize to be happy
Maybe I need a little company
So now you know, you know it all
That I've been des-desperately alone
I haven't found the one for me"
Marina, like all of us, finds happiness through others. Her song “Happy” is especially powerful as it is the first song an album “Froot” that followed her very individualistic/fame/money album “Electra Heart.”
You're Somebody Else
"Well you look like yourself
But you're somebody else
Only it ain't on the surface
Well you talk like yourself
No, I hear someone else though
Now you're making me nervous"
Flora Cash wrote “You’re Somebody Else” with the idea of people looking at themselves in the mirror and seeing somebody that they didn’t recognize – the idea that the idealized self who we think we are changes throughout time and sometimes it happens without us even realizing it… interestingly, listeners have interpreted it in many different ways (from a family with Alzheimers to friends on drugs), and not necessarily interpreting at it as a song about self-reflection.
The Power of Social Norms
Margaret Bolton, Jonathan Cloughesy, Darius-Aurel Frank, Arianna Kirk, Jianna Torre, Michelle Zong
"When we're faced with a difficult decision, it's hard to know what to do
So we search the environment around us, for any sign of a social cue
Many of our decisions, are informed by the social norm
The psychological sciences, has evidence we all conform"
“The Power of Social Norms” describes the famous field experiment that got us thinking about how descriptive and injunctive norm messaging can be used, or misused, to promote pro-environmental behavior change. This song (and video) was submitted to the American Psychological Association’s “shorts” video competition in 2019.
"I never meant to cause you any sorrow
I never meant to cause you any pain
I only wanted one time to see you laughing
I only wanted to see you laughing in the purple rain"
Gotta have some Prince! In “Purple Rain,” Prince imagines a world of bliss where he can bathe in the purple rain with his lover, free from constraints. Of course, the scene he imagines versus what he does may not be the same, illustrating a classic intention-action gap.
Down in it
Nine Inch Nails
"So what what does it matter now
I was swimming in the hate now I crawl on the ground
And everything I never liked about you
Is kind of seeping into me
I try to laugh about it now but isn't it funny how everything works out
I guess the jokes on me, she said"
Trent Reznor takes the concept of who we are and how our personality is shaped by those we surround ourselves with in “Down in It” – in this version, being pulled down in it and how “everything I never liked about you is kind of seeping into me.”
"I can see you struggling
Boy, don't hurt your brain
Thinking what you're gonna say
'Cause everything's a game
Always trying to calculate
Trying to look smart but not too smart
To threaten anything they say"
In her song “Brain,” artist Banks describes a boy’s struggle to manage the image that others have of him. One can feel the pressure he puts on himself to maintain a positive impression as he calculates his responses and behavior to match his ideal image.
People are Strange
"People are strange when you're a stranger
Faces look ugly when you're alone
Women seem wicked when you're unwanted
Streets are uneven when you're down"
In “People are Strange,” The Doors take a simple idea that people are strange, when they are strangers, highlighting how we habitualize our own culture and habits so that anything outside of that feels off.
"We don't have to fight no more
This isn't the time to be tumbling on the floor
We just have to walk through that door together"
In “Together,” Kaytranada stresses the importance of social support, and the benefit of solidarity with others. If we could just come together as one, life would be so much easier!
As the Romans Do
"They like to see pictures
They like captions
They like songs with lots of 'oohs'
That's how you do...do as the Romans do"
When in doubt, do as the Romans do! Theo Katzman’s “As the Romans Do” highlights the activities we engage in to fit in, from particular purchases (“bought a Tascam reel and a cast iron pan, flask of Tequila, a fountain pen, a sexy typewriter, from way back when”) to experiences (“rode the F train just to see Second Avenue, where the bath house was bumpin’ the dubstep blues”).
People are People
"People are people so why should it be
You and I should get along so awfully?
So we're different colors, and we're different breeds
And different people, have different needs
It's obvious you hate me, though I've done nothing wrong
I've never even met you, so what I could I have done?
I can't understand
What makes a man hate another man?"
Depeche Mode’s classic from the 80’s, “People are People,” highlights how our emotional System 1 thinking judges people by a number of surface features and that we need to take a deeper, System 2 thinking to overcome in-group/out-group biases.
The Stove & the Toaster
The Hold Steady
"Let's just say they owe me a favor
I did something for 'em what it is doesn't matter
Here's what's important: it's gonna be easy, it's gonna be simple
Put it up to his temple, he's expecting our call
Yeah they know our intentions
They approve of our methods
They consider us partners"
In the criminal yarn spun through “The Stove & the Toaster,” the situation grows increasingly dire for the participants as the details and pitfalls of this doomed plan are unveiled. At the heart of the inciting incident is the behavioral principle of reciprocity, wherein we feel an inherent motivation to help those who have helped us in some way. In this story by “The Hold Steady,” it’s an instinct that probably should have been ignored.
You Ain't Gotta Lie (Momma Said)
"I could spot you a mile away
I could see your insecurities written all on your face
So predictable your words, I know what you gonna say
Who you foolin'? Oh, you assuming you can just come and hang
With the homies but your level of realness ain't the same
Circus acts only attract those that entertain
Small talk, we know that it's all talk
We live in the Laugh Factory every time they mention your name"
People sometimes lie in order to fit in. “You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said)” by Kendrick Lamar is a case study in this phenomenon, with Kendrick chastising a friend who lies to impress.