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Employing language as a successful means to brain intervention

DURING the second world war, the US government found itself wrestling with a meaty problem. It was trying to encourage citizens to eat offal so that better cuts of meat could be shipped to the troops abroad. But the message wasn’t getting through.
So the government recruited some serious brainpower: renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead and the father of social psychology, Kurt Lewin. Instead of telling people that eating offal was a patriotic duty, Mead and Lewin tried to understand their psychological resistance to eating it in the first place. They found that offal was stigmatised as the food of the poor, and also that people were unsure how to cook it. And so they launched a new campaign to rebrand offal “variety meat” and teach the public how to prepare it. As more people experimented with it, offal lost its stigma and became a dietary mainstay.
It may sound like a straightforward marketing campaign, but for today’s psychologists the initiative has gained near-legendary status. Many cite it as a forerunner to something they call “wise psychological interventions” – apparently simple actions that produce long-lasting changes in behaviour.

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