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Effective Leafleting

[Washington Post - opinion]

Everyone knows that America has an obesity problem. But when I read about a recent medical study suggesting that getting fat is socially contagious -- that if your friends gain weight, you become much more likely to -- I was skeptical. It seemed an illogical form of bandwagon behavior:
So, as I said, I was skeptical. However, I soon came to understand that the study is probably right. I came to understand this because, on the very day that the report was issued, I learned something interesting about human nature from my friend Bruce Friedrich. We met for a morning of leafleting.

"Leafleting" is not a typical way that friends get together, unless your friend happens to be Bruce, who is always working, and whose work consists of informing most everyone in the world, often via leaflet, that they are bloodthirsty monsters. Bruce is a national spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the in-your-face animal rights organization that believes it is immoral to consign fully sentient beings to nightmarish lives of immobility, fear and pain just because we like to eat them instead of eggplant.
Bruce and I were outside the Metro station, handing out what has proved to be PETA's most effective leaflet, promoting vegetarianism through the testimonials of famously vegetarian celebrities, including Paul McCartney, Pamela Anderson, Kim Basinger and Mr. T.

This fact alone illustrates two principles of human behavior: The first is that for completely illogical reasons, humans are impressed by the endorsement of celebrities, even if those celebrities are, say, Pamela Anderson, who, according to her Wikipedia entry, is primarily known "for her large breast implants."
"If the first person takes a leaflet," he said, "everyone else will want to see what that guy got. No one wants to miss out. But if they see that the first person rejects it, everyone behind him becomes too good for it." I experimented a little. The theory proved true close to 100 percent of the time. No one had any idea what was on that leaflet, whether its message would appeal or repulse; there was no empirical way to judge its value except by the actions of an equally ignorant person in front of you.

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