A strange way of running an office. One thing we now know about the Julia Gillard way of running things is that she doesn’t really have a clue about what her staff are doing. That free-styling is the order of the day was clear enough in the episode of the Aboriginal embassy protest.

A press secretary, the Prime Minister assures us, acted on his own and without higher authority in getting a message about Tony Abbott to the organisers of the Aboriginal embassy 40th anniversary celebrations. And when things went pear shaped and the solo press secretary fessed up to his superiors they in turn waited 24 hours before letting their boss know what had gone wrong.

And now we have learned via Four Corners that there was nothing exceptional about this kind of behaviour even when it came to Ms Gillard’s staffers, when she was Deputy Prime Minister, participating in plots to topple a Prime Minister. Her senior adviser, she would have us believe, started work on the speech for her to deliver immediately after the coup without her knowledge and two weeks before she had decided there would be one.

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Strange freelancing indeed.

If Kevin Rudd was a control freak when it came to what his staff said and did — as his press secretary assured us on that Four Corners program was the case — then Julia Gillard is the complete opposite.

I don’t know which management method is better — or should that be worse!

The verdict of the market. The markets are reflecting the media pressure when it comes to the Labor leadership. In the last week the Crikey Labor Leadership Indicator has gone from there being a 57% chance that Julia Gillard will be gone by the time of the next election to 66%.

She should be a compulsory case study for cabinet colleagues. Tanya Plibersek, the federal Health Minister, has a wonderfully soft spoken forcefulness when interviewed on television. Her appearance on the ABC’s Lateline last night should be studied by her Cabinet colleagues who think that raising your voice is an essential part of winning an argument. It was a first-rate performance by a politician of increasing stature.

The one on the right is right. So much for the power of reason where decisions are based on absorbing information and, after weighing it carefully, a thoughtful decision is made. Now the psychologists are telling me that the shape and size of my body might be the real influence!

Certainly whether I am left or right handed seems to be relevant to the process.

According to new research reviewed in the December issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, one way our bodies appear to shape our decision-making is through handedness.

Cognitive scientist Daniel Casasanto of The New School for Social Research and his colleagues explored whether being right-handed or left-handed might influence our judgments about abstract ideas like value, intelligence, and honesty.

Through a series of experiments, they found that, in general, people tend to prefer the things that they encounter on the same side as their dominant hand. When participants were asked which of two products to buy, which of two job applicants to hire, or which of two alien creatures looked more trustworthy, right-handers routinely chose the product, person, or creature they saw on the right side of the page, while left-handers preferred the one on the left. These kinds of preferences have been found in children as young as 5 years old.

The press release summarising the research (the paper itself is behind a paywall) asks why should our handedness matter when it comes to making such abstract evaluations?

It all comes down to fluency, according to Casasanto. “People like things better when they are easier to perceive and interact with,” he says. Right-handers interact with their environment more easily on the right than on the left, so they come to associate “good” with “right” and “bad” with “left.”

This preference for things on our dominant side isn’t set in stone. Right-handers who’ve had their right hands permanently handicapped start to associate “good” with “left.” The same goes for righties whose “good” hand is temporarily handicapped in the laboratory, Casasanto and colleagues found. “After a few minutes of fumbling with their right hand, righties start to think like lefties,” says Casasanto. “If you change people’s bodies, you change their minds.”

“Since about 90 percent of the population is right-handed,” says Casasanto, “people who want to attract customers, sell products, or get votes should consider that the right side of a page or a computer screen might be the ‘right’ place to be.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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