Don’t look at your stock portfolio too often

Don't look at your stock portfolio too often

Here’s why.

In 1997 the founding figures of behavioural economics – Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky, Richard Thaler and Ariel Schwartz did an interesting experiment. They got participants to manage a small portfolio by investing in two mutual funds over a simulated period of twenty-five years. One mutual fund had a low average return but was fairly safe, didn’t vary much month-to-month and rarely lost money much like a bond. The other had a higher rate of return but also high variance, so that it lost money about 40% of the months muck like a stock fund. They divided the participants into groups that received information about the stocks going up or down in value – monthly, yearly and every five years. They could also change their allocations monthly, yearly or every five years. Participants started with hundred shares and could allocate them to any of the two mutual funds in any proportion. At the end of the simulation, participants were paid an amount proportional to how well the shares performed.

Since it was a simulation of a length of twenty-five years, people in the five-year condition got feedback and could change their allocations only a few times, compared with hundreds of times for people in the monthly condition.

Intuition says that the group that received information about the stocks every month and could change the allocation should have performed the best right? You guessed it. It’s wrong.

Participants who got performance information once every five years earned more than twice as much as people who got monthly feedback.

In the long run, the best returns came from investing more money in the higher return-higher variance stock fund, since it made up for the short-term losses. Occasional monthly losses were canceled out by the gains. But in the monthly condition, when people saw losses in the stock fund, they tended to shift their money to the safer bond fund, thereby hurting their long-term performance. They got more feedback, more information, but it was short-term, which created an illusion of knowledge – that the stock fund was too risky. But people who received information every year or every five years didn’t see the difference in variability. They only saw the stock fund outperforming the bond fund.

The same thing happens in real life investing as well. Brad Barber and Terrance Odean studied six years of trading records of 60,000 accounts from a brokerage firm and compared returns of those who traded frequently and those who traded rarely. Frequent traders think they have lots of knowledge and that they can anticipate the market. But the most active traders earned one-third less per year than the least active ones.

Sources: R. Thaler, A. Tversky, D. Kahneman and A. Schwartz – The effect of Myopia and Loss Aversion on risk taking: an experimental test – Quarterly Journal of Economics 112:647-661 (1997)

Barber and T. Odean – Trading is hazardous to your wealth: The common stock investment performance of individual investors – Journal of Finance 55:773-806 (2000)

The smartest thing on the idiot box

Behavioural Design on National Geographic channel

Behavioural Design is on National Geographic Channel.

Behavioural scientist Daniel Pink is doing a show called Crowd Control. Its a series of experiments that use behavioural science to solve public problems like how to get kids to not pee in the pool, how to get people to follow instructions in emergency flight landings, etc.

It’s on National Geographic Channel on Mon-Thur 10pm India time.

Because it’s a TV show, they’ve had to factor in the entertainment quotient. That’s why few of the solutions are not scalable. Nevertheless they make for some of the smartest ideas you’ll see on TV.

See the edited video clips of the experiments right now here.

Why rich people bargain with poor vegetable vendors

Why rich people bargain with vegetable vendors

We find this situation pretty much every time we go to the vegetable market (anywhere in India). But in reality its not just rich people who behave irrationally, it’s everyone. Two stalwarts of behavioural economics – Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky – explain such behaviour with the help of the following example in their paper “The framing of decisions and the psychology of choice” published in Science in 1981.

Suppose you have two errands to run today – to buy a new pen and a suit for work. At a stationary store, you find a nice pen for Rs. 250 (in the original paper the amounts are different and in $). You are set to buy it when you are told that the same pen is for sale for Rs. 150 at another store 10 minutes away. What would you do? Would you take the trip to save Rs. 100? Most people faced with this dilemma say they would take the trip to save Rs.100.

Now you are shopping for your suit. You find a luxurious gray pinstripe suit for say Rs. 5000. You are about to buy it when another customer tells you that the exact same suit is for sale for Rs. 4900 at another store 10 minutes away. Would you make the 10-minute trip? Most people say they would not.

What’s going on here? Is 10 minutes of your time worth Rs. 100 or not? Whether the amount from which this Rs. 100 will be saved should be irrelevant. But in comes the problem of relativity.

We make comparisons which are easy and available locally. We compare a cheap pen with an expensive one and this contrast makes it obvious to us that we should spend that extra time to save Rs. 100. At the same time, the relative advantage of the cheaper suit is very small, so we spend the extra Rs. 100.

Says Dan Ariely, “This is why it is so easy for a person to add $200 to a $5000 catering bill for a soup entrée, when the same person will clip coupons to save 25 cents on a one dollar can of soup. Or a person will find it easy to spend $3000 to upgrade to leather seats when he/she buys a new $25000 car, but finds it difficult to spend it on a leather sofa.”

Now if we can think broadly about which transactions could help us save a lot, and how else we could use that saved money we’ll be using our money and time better. As far as vegetable vendors are concerned, that money you saved by bargaining is relatively a lot for them.

First ever TEDx – Q&A for VJTI

First ever TEDx talk Q&A for VJTI

We were invited for the first ever TEDx – Q&A session for VJTI engineering students and makers, on 17th September 2014 at the VJTI campus (VJTI is one of the premier engineering institutes of India having received funding from The World Bank). A big thanks to TEDxGateway’s campus connect initiative. What an awesome time we had answering questions from curious minds at VJTI about Bleep, its future, human behaviour, behaviour change, Behavioural Design and the role of technology in Behavioural Design.

Students of VJTI were shown our TEDxGateway talk on Bleep and Behavioural Design immediately followed by a Q&A session that seemed like it would have lasted hours because the questions just wouldn’t stop from the enthusiastic crowd. But of course we had to have a maximum time limit of an hour. Here are highlights of the Q&A session.

Questions naturally began about Bleep and its future. We explained to students that Bleep being a product that solved a social issue and not an individual problem, is the responsibility of the Government of India. Which is why we aren’t selling Bleep to individual customers who we believe will hardly form any numbers. Plus Bleep won’t help car manufacturers sell more cars so they won’t install it voluntarily either. After some question and answers most seemed to accept our answer but some still seemed optimistic that Bleep could be sold to individuals. May be it was their optimism bias. May be one day we’ll be proved wrong.

Students asked whether Bleep could prove to be distracting and cause accidents in emergencies. We informed them that we had tested Bleep for over 3800 km and no accidents had occurred. We also told them that according to Jeff Muttart’s study (a traffic-accident reconstructionist) in emergencies people don’t use the horn and therefore Bleep will not go off and distract them further. Jeff Muttart has pored over hundreds of surveillance videos of real-life car crashes and near-crashes. His study shows that emergency horn use is not associated with decreased accident involvement. He found that drivers never steered and honked at the same time, and usually they didn’t honk at all. About half of emergency honks were meant to chastise and came only after the danger was over. The other half were just preludes to a crash. “It really didn’t serve any purpose at all. It was just, Hey, by the way, I’m going to hit you.”

(Muttart, J., “Factors that Influence Drivers’ Response Choice Decisions in Video Recorded Crashes,” SAE Technical Paper 2005-01-0426, 2005, doi:10.4271/2005-01-0426)

Someone asked “But what will happen to people’s honking behaviour once Bleep is removed from the car?” We told them that we haven’t done the post study, but we jokingly said, “First let Bleep come into our cars. Then we’ll see what happens if its not there anymore.”

The most interesting part of the session was the discussion about Behavioural Design and behaviour change. We sensed that the students found it to be a new, unique and intriguing concept. We spoke about irrational behaviour, difference in attitudes and behaviour, why we cannot solely rely on will power for behaviour change, why most educational campaigns don’t work, how we create false memories, why we use Behavioural Design and not work towards increasing people’s self-awareness and how collaboration between engineers and designers can design new products that facilitate behaviour change.

One of the curious students having read about People Power (click on the link to read about it) before attending the session, asked us to speak about the experiment. So we obliged and told them about how human behaviour is contagious. Like right there in the auditorium once the first student raised his hand to ask a question, seeing him one by one the others followed. Soon we were asked if we had solutions for littering, spitting, eve teasing, not talking on the mobile while driving and so on. May be one day we may.

Meanwhile we told them that we had a solution for another behaviour change. We spontaneously made an offer to VJTI students and makers that we’d be happy to hire a person who could help us create a product on a project that could potentially change an aspect of our behaviour. If you are an electronic engineer, maker and are interested to change human behaviour, email us with your work at anand@brief-case.co

Think you can predict your own behaviour – Part II

Think you can predict your own behaviour - Part II

We found this topic so interesting that we couldn’t resist a Part II. Hope you’re enjoying it too. So here goes another example which shows that intentions and attitudes are one thing, but behavior reveals something else.

It is well known that people don’t always ‘speak their minds’, and it is suspected that people don’t always ‘know their minds’. For example, if we ask a smoker “How much do you smoke?” A smoker who smokes 4 packs a day may purposely report smoking only 2 packs a day because he may be embarrassed to admit the correct number. But a smoker who smokes 4 packs a day may report smoking only 2 packs because he honestly believes he only smokes about 2 packs a day. (That’s why we never ask questions about behavior. We observe it.)

The unwilling-unable distinction is like the difference between purposely hiding something from others and unconsciously hiding something from yourself. Project Implicit makes it possible to penetrate both of these types of hiding. Renowned scientists Brian Nosek, Mahzarin Banaji and Tony Greenwald have developed a test called the Implicit Association Test (IAT).

In IATs conducted between July 2000 and May 2006 on racism, they found about 5 lakh people out of approx. 7.3 lakh that took the IAT, had an automatic preference for White people compared to Black people. Only about 1.3 lakh people were neutral in their preference and remaining 1 lakh preferred Black people compared to White people. The same people may claim they’re not racists, but their behavior suggests otherwise. Its possible people try to keep unsavory attitudes to themselves, but research suggests that people are actually successfully hiding it from themselves.

Take the test here and see the results for yourself.

When I took the race test I got a result stating – Your data suggests a slight automatic preference for Black people compared to White people. I blame it on Rihanna.

What did your test reveal?

Illustration: Janelle Penny Commissiong (born June 15, 1953), a former beauty pagent titleholder. After winning the Miss Trinidad and Tobago title, she went on to be crowned Miss Universe in 1977.

Think you can predict your own behaviour?

Think you can predict your own behaviour?

Your answer is most probably a yes, right? You may even be saying how stupid it would be, if I couldn’t even predict my own behavior. But as with most posts on behavior, you may be surprised to know the difference between intention and behavior.

One of the studies by Ji and Wood titled ‘Purchase and consumption habits: Not necessarily what you intend’ tested if participants could predict their own consumption of fast food, how much they watched TV news, and how often they took the bus over a week. Each person was asked how much he or she intended to carry out each of these three behaviors over the coming week (intention). They were also asked how often they had performed each behavior in the past (habit). Importantly, over the next 7 days their actual behavior was recorded.

The results showed that when the habits were weak, the intentions tended to predict behavior. So if you didn’t watch TV news that much, your intention for the coming week, was likely to be accurate (whether the intention was to watch more, less or the same). So far we seem to be right in predicting our own behavior.

Here’s the interesting part. When the habits were strong, the intentions tended to predict behavior less. So if you were in the habit of visiting fast food restaurants, it didn’t matter much whether you intended to cut down or not. Chances are that your habit would continue irrespective of your intention.

It gets worse. Participants, who had the strongest habits and were the most confident in their predictions, were the least successful at predicting their behavior. Ouch. So much for our perception of self-control.

Says Jeremy Dean, author of popular blog www.psyblog.co.uk, “When we perform an action repeatedly, its familiarity seems to bleed back into our judgments about their behavior. We end up feeling we have more control over precisely the behaviors that, in reality we have the least control over.”

When you think about the things you might do on a weekly basis in the same context – visiting a restaurant or meeting up with friends – it feels as if these decisions are highly intentional. But the research suggests that we have less intentional, conscious control over these types of behaviors than we would like to think. That’s why our intentions fall weak in the face of habits, and need Behavioural Design to change them, rather than campaigns aimed at increasing motivation.

Source: M.F. Ji and W. Wood titled ‘Purchase and consumption habits: Not necessarily what you intend’ – Journal of Consumer Psychology 17, no. 4 (2007): 261

Ads aimed at changing behaviour are a waste of money

What an ad. Funny. Entertaining. Beautifully scripted. Well directed. Brilliantly acted. Excellent choice of music. Award-winning. And totally ineffective.

The ad not only acknowledges that bullying happens, but it also reinforces that bullying will continue to happen. Just that those who get bullied will get their revenge, even though its after 30 years.

Leave alone the fact that it got the psychology completely wrong, how exactly are such ad campaigns that get produced in hundreds every year in every country supposed to work? In this case, do the ad makers expect the bullies to remember (at the time of bullying) that their targets may seek revenge after 30 years and therefore not indulge in bullying now?

Or another example of an award winning ad seen by millions of people around the world – Smoking Kid. How many people do you think have quit smoking after viewing this ad?

Ever wondered why we hear so much talk around us, but see little change happening? So many promises, agendas, quotes, speeches, videos, ads, so much inspiration (gas) which seems powerful and emotional in the spur of the moment, but eventually leads to nothing. It’s because mere awareness rarely leads to action. We’re ruled by something that’s far more powerful than the inspirational or entertaining or factual messages we’re exposed to – habits.

But billions of money still gets spent on messaging and education to change behavior – not just by the government but also by the private sector. Such communication may succeed in creating an illusion of efficacy by changing attitude/intention, but has proven to be a highly ineffective way of changing behavior – whether of consumer, shopper, employee or public behavior. Truly, old habits die hard.

In the UK, for example, in the 1970s and 80s, the government spent millions on ads educating people to wear seat belts on TV, radio and billboards. Streff and Geller estimated that by the end of the 80s, 80-90% of British people saw these ads 8-9 times each. One would assume that showing people being launched head-first through their windscreens would make people respond. Turned out that most of the people weren’t responding, until in 1983 when the law changed along with strict policing, that most people started wearing them.

In India too, billions are wasted on behaviour-change advertising, whether it’s the ‘Swatch Bharat’ campaign or ‘Save fuel, save money’ campaign or tax payment campaigns. Regards public behavior the government has the option of making certain behaviors compulsory and punishable by law. But even when it is compulsory by law, we in India find ways of overcoming them for several reasons. For example we don’t wear helmets, seat belts, break traffic signals, sit on top of running trains, evade taxes, etc. Advertising isn’t making any difference.

The private sector does not have such legal recourse. So companies use awareness and education to change behavior, which meets with the similar ineffective outcomes. Take for example billions being spent on advertising to get Indians to change behavior and adopt products like mutual funds, breakfast cereal, mouthwash, etc. Or take the example of Colgate wanting Indians to brush at night. How many hundreds of crores and number of years do you think Colgate will take to get Indians to brush at night if it relies on advertising? While advertising is a time and money draining solution, Behavioural Design is about simple, scalable, small tweaks/nudges that make a big difference to big problems. Eg. Bleep – horn reduction system and so many other examples you would find on this blog.

It’s time for CEOs, marketers and policy makers to shed their old habit of relying on ineffective solutions like advertising and awareness-based campaigns and adopt Behavioural Design to change behavior effectively. It‘s the scientific way to change human behaviour.

Source for UK numbers – F.M. Streff and E.S. Geller – Strategies for motivating safety belt use: The application of applied behavior analysis – Health Education Research 1, no. 1 (1986): 47-59

Get more work done from home

Get more work done from home

Working from home means no pressure of deciding what to wear to work, no skipping breakfast due to hurrying up, no traffic jams, no wasting fuel, no pollution, no wasting time, no wasting money, no late-punching into office, no unnecessary meetings, no pointless brainstorms, no fake smiles, no sucking up, no monkey business. On the contrary working from home means having personal space, being at ease, improved focus and concentration, better ideation and greater creativity.

Christine Durst, founder and CEO of Staffcentrix and author of two books on the subject of telework, says the benefits start with basic cost savings from travel, real estate and utilities to areas such as recruiting and retention — and, yes, productivity. (Since 1999, Staffcentrix has designed and delivered a variety of training programs for such clients as the US Department of State, Air Force, and Army).

Durst says that telework programs can reduce absenteeism and tardiness, and even curb stress-related illnesses. But the one thing she hears again and again from remote employees is that they simply get more done.

Yet very few companies encourage their employees to work from home. We understand its natural for employers and bosses to wonder if you are really working or dozing off at home. But as long as you deliver quality output in the timeframe agreed, should it matter?

However like any other change, it’s going to be met with resistance by your company. So in order to lower the resistance, we think companies could do with 3 helpful interventions. One, companies need to have a clear formal policy on remote working, so that all employees know what’s appropriate and what’s not. Two, they need to provide employees with proper tools for remote working (laptop, internet connection & mobile) not just to ensure smooth work, but also so that managers can communicate with employees in a variety of ways and three; they could start a pilot by choosing result-driven individuals with good communication skills (and perhaps no kids), working remotely for 1 day per week and test it, rather than rely on conventional ways of decision-making i.e. over-analyzing whether it’s a good idea or not and not testing it.

Do also read Richard Branson’s take on it here.

Behavioural Design talk at TEDxIIMRanchi

Behavioural Design talk at TEDxIIMRanchi

After TEDxGateway, the next Behavioural Design talk is at TEDxIIMRanchi on 2nd Feb, 2014.

Again, lots of interesting speakers.

We’re sure what we learn from other speakers and the audience will help us improve our knowledge and also this blog.

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