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 TEDxGateway, Mumbai

Behavioural Design talk at TEDxGateway

Friends, I’m speaking at TEDxGateway on Bleep and Behavioural Design.

There are lots of interesting speakers lined up. So come over to NCPA, Mumbai on 8th Dec 2013 to listen and discuss some stimulating ideas and thinking that could change the way you view the world.

All the information is here – www.tedxgateway.com.

Hope to see some of you there,

Anand & Mayur.

How Michael Phelps’ coach trained him

How Michael Phelps’ coach trained him

We know how Phelps long torso and relatively short legs gave him an edge over others. But here’s perhaps a not-so-well-known insight into how Bill Bowman, Michael Phelps coach, created a habit in Phelps that would make him the strongest mental swimmer in the pool.

Ever since Phelps was a teenager, Bowman would tell him to go home and watch the videotape before going to sleep and when waking up. The videotape, however, wasn’t a real one. Rather, it was a mental visualization of the perfect race. Each night before falling asleep and each morning after waking up, Phelps would imagine himself jumping off, swimming flawlessly, visualizing his strokes, the walls of the pool, his turns, the water dripping off his lips as his mouth cleared the surface, the finish and what it would be like to rip off his cap at the end. He would lie in bed and watch the race and the smallest details until he knew each second by heart.

During practices, Bowman would shout, “Put in the videotape!” and Phelps would push harder and it worked. “We figured it was best to concentrate on these tiny moments of success and build them into mental triggers”, says Bowman. “If you were to ask Michael what’s going on in his head before the competition, he would say he’s not really thinking about anything. But that’s not right. It’s more like his habits had taken over. The actual race was just another step in a pattern that started earlier that day and was nothing but victories. Winning became a natural extension.”

On the morning of 13th August 2008, at Beijing four minutes before the start of the race, as he always did, Phelps stood behind his starting block, bounced slightly on his toes, came on the block when his name was announced, stepped off, swung his arms three times, got into stance and leapt off when the gun sounded. But as soon as he hit the water, he knew something was wrong. There was moisture in his goggles. As he approached the third turn the cups of his goggles were completely filled and he couldn’t see anything.

But Phelps swam calmly. Bowman had made Phelps swim in the dark, believing that he needed to be ready for any surprise. Phelps had mentally rehearsed how he would respond to a goggle failure. Phelps began counting his strokes in the last lap. Midway he increased his effort for his final eruption. He began anticipating the wall and the number of strokes he needed. Nineteen strokes, then twenty. He felt he needed one more. He made the twenty-first huge stroke and glided with his arms and touched the wall. Ripped off the goggles and looked at the scoreboard. It said World Record next to his name. When asked how it felt like to swim blind, Phelps said, “Like I imagined it would.”

One study on this topic by Sanders et al. was carried out on medical students. On top of their usual training—which included physical practice—half were trained in mental imagery techniques, while the other half studied their textbooks. When the students carried out live surgery, those who’d used mental imagery performed better, on average, than those assigned the book learning.

What’s playing in your tape?

Source: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Ecommerce will soon be bigger than you can imagine

Ecommerce in India will soon be bigger than you can imagine

Let us tell you why we think so. Our starting assumption is that most of the shopping online in India in the future will be done via plastic card (credit or debit card) rather than cash, because of convenience. We understand that cash on delivery is convenient too, but you still got to have cash to pay, so it’s not as convenient. And paying by card is a lot different than paying by cash.

Paying by card fundamentally changes the way we spend our money. When we buy something with cash, the purchase involves an actual loss – your wallet feels lighter. Credit cards, however, make the transaction more abstract and we don’t really feel the downside of spending money. As George Loewenstein, neuroscientist at Carnegie Mellon says, “The nature of credit cards ensures that your brain is anesthetized against the pain of payment.” Brain imaging experiments suggest that paying with plastic literally inhibits the insula. Insula is the region of the brain associated with negative feelings. It’s the brain area responsible for making sure you don’t get ripped off. So when the insula is inhibited, it makes a person less sensitive to the cost of an item, making him/her more willing to buy.

Spending money by card doesn’t make you feel so bad, so you spend money easily. And buying stuff over an app is even easier with the pressing of the ‘Buy Now’ icon. Not to forget, the Internet is full of deals that make people end up buying things that they don’t even need.

How we get fooled by a feeling

How we get fooled by a feeling

 

The debate is always on what’s better: to rely on intuition (feeling) or rely on deliberate thinking while making decisions. Fact is in some cases its better to rely on feeling and in some on deliberate thinking and the trick is to know which to choose when. This post is about learning how not to get fooled by a feeling from an experiment conducted by neuroscientist Read Montague, which demonstrates how our dopamine system leads us to lose money in the stock market.

In the simulated experiment, subjects were given $100 at the start. Players were to invest their money for twenty rounds and got to keep their earnings, if any. Interesting twist of the experiment was that Read Montague had people ‘play’ the Dow of 1929, Nasdaq of 1998, Nikkei of 1986 and S&P 500 of 1987 – what had been once real-life bubbles and crashes.

What the scientists observed from brain mapping, were signals emanating from dopamine rich areas of the brain, like ventral caudate, which was encoding the ability to learn from what-if scenarios. For example, the situation in which a player invested 10% of his total money – relatively small bet. Then he saw the market rise dramatically. What happened was his ungrateful dopamine neurons got fixated on the profits he missed. In such a situation, when the market was booming, like before the Nasdaq bubble of 1998, the players kept increasing their investments. Not to invest was to drown in the feeling of regret. The greedy brains were convinced that they’ve solved the stock market, but just when they are most convinced that it isn’t a bubble, the bubble burst. The Dow sank, the Nasdaq imploded and Nikkei collapsed. All of a sudden, those who regretted not investing more and subsequently invested more were now despairing their plummeting net worth. “When the markets head down,” says Montague, “you get the exact opposite effect. People just can’t wait to get out, because the brain doesn’t want the feeling of regret staying in. Investors dump any stock that’s declining. Panic.”

Jonah Lehrer, author of ‘How we decide’, says, “Our dopamine neurons that release the feel-good chemical, weren’t designed to deal with random oscillations of the stock market. The brain is so eager to maximize rewards that it ends up pushing its owner off a cliff. Casinos have learned to exploit this flaw of the human brain. So don’t try to perceive patterns when they don’t exist. The world is more random than you think it is. Don’t fixate on what might have been or obsess over someone else’s profits. But that’s what our emotions can’t understand.”

Now if you don’t get fooled in such circumstances, tell us how.

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