Professors of Social Psychology grad students,

Share this webpage with your graduate students to make Mental Engineering show preparation a class project.


Each segment of ‘Mental Engineering’ is five minutes long. Ideally, the first half of each segment is about the psychology of the commercial and the second half is about culture. Each segment ends with a frivolous ‘exit question’.


Watch many times (Host John Forde watches each commercial 10+ times)

  • Watch with the sound off.
  • Listen with your eyes closed.
  • Read the transcripts.
  • Watch in slow motion, use still frame, study the background.


Email 50-200 words to us about each commercial. tell us how you think the commercial works and what it might mean. Consider how your input might fit onto the cue cards: Question, funny, lesson or other. Email your analysis to, CC your professor.


of Host John Forde’s cue cards (one for each comm)
  • 1 (question about Psych of the ad)
  • 2 (question about culture)
  • L (lesson: Soc Psych Mechanism, econ lesson orr other)
  • N (note = something interesting)
  • F (fact)
  • Q (quip = funny)
  • EX (exit question)
  • EA (John’s exit answer)
  • N (next commercial)


  • Monday T-12 days = 8 new comms posted on our website:
  • Wed T-10 days = transcripts of the comms online (often helps)
  • Tuesday T-4 days = Social Psychology input due (this is your deadline)
  • Wednesday T-3 days = Show prep by John: organize & finalize
  • Saturday T-0 = Taping


April 23 803-4
May 6 805-6
May 13 807-8
May 27 809-10
June 10 811-12


Our big claim is our mission: to make the most public show on television. Our little claim is still pretty cool: we make the most successful cable access show in American history. Similar Public TV shows have budgets of $40,000/epsiode. We have no budget. We spend about $300 per show. Wish we could pay you, but we can’t.


  • Who is it aimed at?
  • What is ommited?
  • Is there a plot?
  • Is there a key moment?
  • Which emotion are they aiming to use?
  • Which dynamic: personal, interpersonal, family, or group?
  • What do the images suggest?
  • Is the goal change or stasis of the viewers habits?
  • How far does this message go: attention, memory, attitude, behavior?
  • Who is the target demographic?
  • Are there implicit assumptions about gender, race or age or other?
  • How does this fit on a luck -effort -ability attribution matrix?
  • How does it address human hungers?; for freedom, belonging, atttention or other?
  • Does it use staging and cueing?
  • Does it innoculate?
  • Does it bolster or damage self esteem?
  • Is there a political dimension?
  • Is there a religious dimension?
  • Do they use distraction?
  • Is there a euphamism?
  • How could we inject some mischief?

Which theory of personality: Instinct, Incentive, Intellect or Imitation?

Which Myth:

  • Corporations are businesses
  • We are the customers of Commercial TV
  • People are thinking machines
  • Politics is narrowly about govt


  • Who says what to whom
  • situational versus dispositional
  • Social comparison; membership and reference groups
  • Affiliation needs
  • reflected glory
  • Fundamental attribution error
  • Authoritative status
  • Are the characters aspirational or relational?