You Talkin’ To Me? (VIDEO)

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For the second installment in our Science of Communication speaker series, co-sponsored by the Communications Network and Spitfire Strategies, Harvard behavioral economist Sendhil Mullainathan proved why when he talks, you should listen.

Mullainathan, whose work touches on how people’s brains process messages, has a sobering message for those of us whose jobs depend on getting people to listen, pay attention and–most important of all–act on what they’re hearing.

According to Mullainathan, a challenge facing communicators is that just because we have something important to say, people don’t always listen. Even if it is something people might want  or need to know about, they just might not be able to listen because we’re taxing what he calls their available “mental bandwidth.”  The more information we ask people to process or the greater the behavior change we’re hoping to encourage, the greater the strain on bandwidth. “It’s not as if we can communicate everything we want,” says Mullainathan, “and get them to listen to everything and there’s this free resource, the human mind, that’s going to absorb everything.”

So, what to do about that conundrum?

Watch the  video below of Mullainathan’s talk, held February 19 at the Ford Foundation, and the conversation that follows with NPR Science Friday’s Ira Flatow. You’ll hear lots of helpful insights and suggestions.

The Science of Communication series is jointly sponsored by the Communications Network and Spitfire Strategies. Go here for more information or to receive notices of upcoming events. Go here for a summary and video highlights of the first talk in our series, featuring Dan Kahan, Professor of Law and Psychology at Yale University. As a member of Yale Law School’s Cultural Cognition Project, Professor Kahan examines how our cultural values shape our beliefs and perceptions of risk.


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