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Invisibilia Season 2: Changing Social Norms Could Save Your Life

Employees serve clients in a McDonald's restaurant on Pushkin square in Moscow on Feb. 1, 2010. The restaurant was the first in Russia and opened on Jan. 31, 1990.
Alexander Nemenov
/
AFP/Getty Images
Employees serve clients in a McDonald's restaurant on Pushkin square in Moscow on Feb. 1, 2010. The restaurant was the first in Russia and opened on Jan. 31, 1990.

When McDonald's came to the Soviet Union in 1990, the company insisted that workers smile. That didn't come easy. But customers grew to like it — and workers did, too. What happens when you change a norm?

Editors' note: We're launching the second season of the NPR podcast Invisibilia by exploring norms — how they shape our lives, often without us realizing it, and what happens if we change them on purpose. On Morning Edition, Alix Spiegel finds out what happened when McDonald's told employees in the Soviet Union that they had to smile. Our health blog, Shots, looks into an oil company tried to prevent injuries and deaths on offshore rigs by asking roughnecks to talk about feelings. You can read that story in our Shots blog.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alix Spiegel
Alix Spiegel has worked on NPR's Science Desk for 10 years covering psychology and human behavior, and has reported on everything from what it's like to kill another person, to the psychology behind our use of function words like "and", "I", and "so." She began her career in 1995 as one of the founding producers of the public radio program This American Life. While there, Spiegel produced her first psychology story, which ultimately led to her focus on human behavior. It was a piece called 81 Words, and it examined the history behind the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.