Friday, August 16, 2013

4 Minute Hoax: Investigating Methods of Emotional Manipulation

First, an apology - It's been 8 months since I last posted, and I've had dozens of ideas but never put pen to paper, so to speak. I'm trying to change that now, and getting myself on a new schedule. I was shocked today to look at the dusty dashboard and saw that I've been getting a steady stream of pageviews even without new contents.
So y'all are awesome.

I'm jumping in to this head first, so to speak, and starting up a new blog with a skeptical eye to weight loss fads. My weight issues are a major part of who I am, and I've always tried to approach the subject with rationality. What's intriguing is just how much effort is invested by the dieting industry to alter human behavior. Today I accidentally stumbled across the 4 Minute Abs Hype video that has started to make its way around the internet.

I'm both an economist and an actor. I've met with many a quizzical eyebrow to that combo so I'll explain that the unifying element is the study of choice. Both economics and character studies are about understanding HOW and WHY people act as they do - getting into their skin, so to speak. As an actor, I invest myself into living through emotions, as an economist, I study how people manipulate them.
From that angle, this video hits all the right notes.

It starts with the claim of being the common "average" guy. This works in two ways - 1) since he's not a professional, he's immediately covered his own ass and 2) there is a distinct subliminal penchant to dislike authority figures (see climate changeevolutionGMO scaresvaccinations & autism, etc.) Jumping straight to the "I'm no expert but..." is just another version of the *suspenders pulled* "I'm not a big city lawyer" method of persuasion. For those not convinced by the appeal of the commoner, they thrown in scientific authority later.
The whole thing is narrated over a solitary hand drawing in black Sharpie on a literal tabula rasa, inviting the viewer to superimpose themselves onto the generic narrator. When it starts by telling you to keep eating steaks and drinking beer, they know you've already been drawn into the promise of easy and effortless weight loss.
The professional narrator (seriously, who talks like that? Certainly not a guy who sits in on business conferences...) talks about how much time, effort, and money he poured into the pursuit of perfection, the sudden discovery, and how much of a bargain his book is... But you have to hurry, or you won't be able to get it. This cycle of generating empathy, epiphany, and then pressure is the way ALL good pitches work. It makes you eager to buy, which is why EVERYONE - scammers, schemers, and dreamers - tries to use it.
The 10 minute video quotes two studies - both supposedly claiming to support this "breakthrough" 4 minute exercise regimen. You will often find people misquoting studies to lend an air of authority, and they tell you to "look it up" because they KNOW the vast majority won't follow through, and the ones that will are likely too skeptical to fall for their claims. If it takes more than a couple clicks to find the material, people give up midway and assume the claim is reputable.
43(7):814-8: - This study is related to the concept, but states that an high intensity intermittent training (HIIT) program works better than a longer endurance training (ET) program. Basically, sprinters get lean faster, marathon runners slow down their metabolism to conserve energy. Makes sense. But NEITHER of them have anything to do with exercising for only 4 minutes a day, 12 minutes a week. HIIT involves extended workout periods where you push yourself followed by resting periods. This is closer to the "muscle confusion" principles behind p90X, insanity, boot camp, and other "extreme workouts."
We already know that extreme workouts can and do work for weight loss, but so does manual farming.
JAMA. 1995;273(15):179-184: The "Harvard Study" that they quote has literally NOTHING to do with this regimen. All it says is that people who are physically active are less likely to die of a heart attack. Nothing new there. 

4 Minute Abs bears all the signs of an earnest attempt to manipulate the viewer and extort money without providing any real proof. The websites that "review" this product do so exclusively and read like a press package, not a person.
If they can't quote a real clinical study and won't show proof a la before and after photos, I'm very much inclined to label this as a fraud or scam. 


  1. i am a trained PhD scientist and tried to review the so-called literature he quoted. its all BS and a scam do not buy his product!

  2. I watched the video and sniffed something fishy. This 4-minute abs organization is a slick online marketer. In addition to the press releases passing as user comments, there's even a website, something like that virtually serves the same purpose. At that, I changed my search to "4-minute abs" + fraud. All glowing comments until yours; the first critical assessment. You're 7 pages in on that Google search, which suggests these marketeers have hired a service to push down or eliminate negative input about the company.* I can't for the life of me remember the name of businesses that provide this adjustment, but it's apparent their services have been employed by 4-minute abs. Thanks for the research. I'm bookmarking your blog. *Somewhere during the search I found a model complaining that his image had been displayed as someone who'd used the product ( he hadn't) at the age of 55 years ( he was 40).