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

People Power – Our second behaviour change experiment

People Power - Our second behaviour change experiment

Power Crisis in India

India currently suffers from a major shortage of electricity generation capacity, though it is the world’s fourth largest energy consumer after United States, China and Russia*. A 2012 report by the IEA estimated that nearly 25 percent of the population lacks basic access to electricity, while electrified areas suffer from rolling electricity blackouts.

McKinsey reports that the residential consumption will grow at 14% over the next 10 years, requiring India to generate power five to ten fold compared to what was generated in the last 10 years, putting a huge strain on power generation in India.

While increasing power generation faces many issues, one way we can reduce the power gap is through conservation.

 

Ineffective education-based campaigns

Many educational energy conservation campaigns and messaging like ‘Keep your AC at 24°C’, ‘Switch off appliances when not in use’, ‘Save electricity, Save money’ or ‘Be a good citizen’ or ‘Save the planet’ are being tried by different organizations and people across India, but none have proved to be successful at getting people’s to reduce their electricity consumption. Educational campaigns often don’t lead to action because they rely on an outside entity that warns you of the dire consequences of your behavior or tells you what is the ideal way of behaving.  And that often makes people defensive, because we never see ourselves as the ‘bad’ people who waste electricity. Moreover several scientific studies have proven that we humans are often not aware of our own behaviour. Its like we know that we should not overeat, but we do so quite often.

 

The 6-month long experiment

So instead of relying on traditional thinking, we implemented a study (with modifications) done in California by Schultz and colleagues. We conducted our 6 month long experiment amongst 98 households across posh residential societies in Bandra-Khar, Mumbai, India. Permission of the Secretary of each residential society was taken to conduct the experiment. We collected the households’ electricity bills before they reached each member’s house. We then calculated the average bill amount in that particular society. Lets say the average was 1022 rupees. For all above average users, we put a stamp stating that the average in that society is 1022 rupees. Next to their above average amount, we put a frownie indicating that they could do better. The bills that were below average were delivered without any intervention. The households were not informed about this experiment.

 

The results of the experiment

The units consumed by the household in the month was taken as the measurement of electricity consumption. And reduction in electricity consumption was a measure of units consumed in the month compared to units consumed in the same month last year.

Over a period of 6 months, the average reduction in unit consumption by above-average users was 1.33% compared to an average increase of 6.02% in unit consumption by non-stamped users.

1.33% reduction on a national scale can power 17,465 villages for one year.

Over this period of 6 months, we found an average of 50% of above-average users (stamp intervention group) reducing their electricity consumption, compared to an average of only 39% of non-stamped users (no intervention group) reducing their electricity consumption. The base rate for above-average users was lower before the experiment began.

 

The behavioural science behind the effectiveness of People Power

Human behaviour is contagious. We often look at how others around us are behaving and act accordingly. We go along with the crowd to avoid social exclusion. Though we may not be aware of the degree to which we’re socially influenced.

In fact we people don’t see ourselves as easily influenced by those around us. If we were to ask people what would make them change, we suppose they will rank “what others are doing” last. But when we tested what really works, following the herd has proven to be very persuasive.

In the experiment, we didn’t tell anybody what to do. We just told them what people like them were doing.

And when we check out the typical electricity bill, we see that it’s a disaster of line items. So we contextualized information in a way that was motivating for people to conserve power. The information provided by the stamp let the above average users know how much their neighbors were consuming. That set the social norm and got them to reduce their power consumption.

People Power – A simple intervention that gives people the power to make a big difference at no cost.

People Power has got featured in Fast CompanyThe Times of IndiaDNA and has 1,50,000+ views on The Logical Indian.

 

Sources:

People Power is based on the study by Schultz, P. Wesley, Jessica M. Nolan, Robert B. Cialdini, Noah J. Goldstein and Vladas Griskevicius, “The Constructive, Destructive, and Reconstructive Power of Social Norms”, Psychological Science 18 (2007): 429-34

*EIA – U.S. Energy Information Administration Report updated March 18, 2013; Wall Street Journal 2 Jan 2012 and McKinsey’s report, ‘Powering India – The road to 2017’

Calculation of 1.33% on a national scale can power 17,465 villages – [Total energy (in GWh) consumed in India = 852903 (as per Govt. of India, CEA, July 2013). 1 Gwh = 10,00,000 kwh.Total energy (in kWh) consumed in India = 852903000000. Per capita consumption of energy (in kWh) in rural India (y) = 100 (Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Govt. of India 2012 and World Energy Outlook 2011, IEA). 1.33% of Total energy (in kWh) consumed in India (x) = 11343609900. Total rural population that can be served with 1.33% of energy savings (x/y) = 113436099. Divide the result by 5 and we get number of rural households = 22687219. According to the 2011 census of India, 68.84% of Indians, around 833.1 million people live in 640,867 different villages. So average population per village comes to 1299. Divide the above result (22687219) by 1299, we get number of villages = 17,465.]

Bonus: Check out one of the most famous experiments in studying conformity under group pressure – the Solomon Ash experiment here.

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.

When incentives don’t motivate

behavioural_design_cashforvote

In 1993, the Swiss government identified two small towns as potential nuclear waste depositories. So researchers, Bruno S. Frey and Felix Oberholzer-Gee tried to get the townspeople’s reactions to it. They asked the residents: “Suppose that the National Cooperative for the Storage of Radioactive Waste (NAGRA), after completing exploratory drilling, proposed to build the repository for low and midlevel radioactive waste in your hometown. Federal experts examined this proposition, and the federal parliament decided to build the repository in your community, would you accept this proposition?”

Many people were frightened but whether out of social obligation, a feeling of national pride, or just a sense that it was a fair thing to do, 50.8% of the respondents agreed. The other half opposed and so were still a significant obstacle for the Swiss government.

So the researchers spoke to a new group of individuals from the two towns, asking the same, but this time added, “Moreover, the parliament decides to compensate all residents of the community with 5000 francs per year per person (about $2175 that time) financed by all taxpayers in Switzerland, would you accept this proposition?”

This time the percentage of those who accepted fell by half! Only 24.6% agreed compared to 50.8% who agreed without any monetary compensation. When the researchers increased the deal to $4350 and then again to $6525, only a single respondent changed his mind. What was going on?

According to Brian Knutson, one of the pioneers of Neuroeconomics, the nucleus accumbens is the area of the brain that experiences the thrill that results from sex, drugs and gambling. It’s the pleasure center. It’s where we also react to financial compensation. Now compare this to our neurological reaction to altruistic behavior. A different region of the brain, called the posterior superior temporal sulcus lights up. This part of the brain is responsible for social interactions – how we perceive others, how we relate, and how we form bonds. It is now understood by studies that the pleasure center and the altruism center cannot function at the same time.

If the two brain centers functioned simultaneously, then the Swiss survey would have resulted in a compounding effect, but that didn’t happen. In the first half the altruism center took charge. But the moment the money was introduced the pleasure center took over. But the money offered turned out to be too low to excite the pleasure center.

Voting is a bit like that. It’s a matter of ideologies, philosophies, whatever they may be; supporting the candidate or party we think may be better for us, for our constituency, for the nation. We weigh benefits that may accrue to us as well as to the society. In that case the amount of goodies and cash doled out to people to buy votes may be money down the drain for the parties doing so.

We know people who accept each and every candidates’ offer, be it whiskey, biryani, cash, electronics. They then end up voting for the candidate they had already decided upon. It’s a lose-lose situation for all parties. Perhaps they should together decide to spend that money effectively on ensuring more people vote and vote for them.

Source

When rewards backfire

When rewards backfire

 

When we want to motivate people the most common thing to get is dangle a carrot in front of them. Rewards. Mostly monetary and some times non-monetary rewards. But by offering a reward we’re subconsciously giving a signal to employees that the task is actually undesirable. Because if the task were desirable, they wouldn’t need a prod. Here’s one such study that shows how extrinsic rewards kill intrinsic motivation.

Behavioural scientists Mark Lepper, David Greene and Robert Nisbett’s study – Undermining intrinsic interest with extrinsic rewards: A test of the overjustification hypothesis- Journal of Personality and Social Pyschology 28, no. 1: 129-37 (1979) is a classic and most cited in motivation literature. In their experiment, they divided children into three groups in their free play period. The first was the ‘expected award’ group. This group was shown a ‘Good Player’ certificate with a blue ribbon and the child’s name and was asked if they wanted to draw to receive the award. The second group was the ‘unexpected award’ group. Researchers asked children if they simply wanted to draw. If they decided to, when the session ended, the researchers handed each child a ‘Good Player’ certificate. The third group was the ‘no award’ group. Researchers asked children if they simply wanted to draw, but neither promised them a certificate at the beginning nor gave them one at the end.

Two weeks later researchers secretly observed students in the free play period. Children previously in the ‘unexpected award’ and ‘no award’ groups drew just as much, and with the same relish, as they had before the experiment. But children who were in the ‘expected award’ group who received the award, showed much less interest and spent much less time drawing. Even two weeks later, those contingent rewards – if you do this, then you’ll get that – had a negative effect.

This is one of the most robust findings in behavioural science. In 1999 Edward Deci and colleagues reanalyzed three decades of studies on the effect of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation and came to the conclusion that tangible extrinsic rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation. When institutions focus on short-term behaviour and opt for controlling people’s behaviour, they do considerable long-term damage.

(Edward Deci, Richard Ryan and Richard Koestner – A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation – Psychological Bulletin 125, no. 6:659 (1999))

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.

Fairness is interpreted differently around the world – Part II

Fairness is interpreted differently around the world - Part II

Here’s the second in the series on how fairness is interpreted differently by people around the world.

Joseph Henrich conducted a money-splitting experiment amongst UCLA students. He decided to use $160 for the experiment, which translated to 2.3 days worth of work. The rules – a student was given the money and was supposed to share a part with another undisclosed untraceable student. But if this student rejected the offer, both would walk away with nothing.

The most common split offered by students to another was 50/50, which the receiving partner always accepted. The participants said, “If I offered less than half, my partner wouldn’t accept the offer.” When asked if the recipients would accept an 80/20 offer – all of the partners scoffed, “that would be unfair”.

Then Henrich took the experiment to one of the most remote places on earth in the Peruvian Amazon – the Machiguenga tribe – that live in small villages, each family being self-sufficient, making its own tools and gathering its own food. Using a sum of 20 Peruvian soles that came to 2.3 days worth of work, Henrich conducted the same money-splitting experiment.

The Machiguenga participants offered incredibly low sums to their partners. Most offered an 85/15 split favoring the person making the offer. And the partners nearly always accepted them. Explained Henrich, “Several individuals made it clear they would accept any money, regardless of how much the proposer (splitter) was getting. They seemed to feel it was just bad luck that they were responders and not proposers.”

Some tribe members did offer 50/50 and when Henrich interviewed them he found out each one of these people had spent considerable time living among modern Westerners and felt that 50/50 split was the fair thing to do.

In the Amazon jungle it’s finders keepers, unlike US, Japan, Indonesia or Israel for that matter. It will be fascinating to conduct this experiment in different parts of India to find out what Indians from different states, castes and cultures deem fair.

Source: Does culture matter in economic behavior? Ultimate game bargaining among the Machiguenga of the Peruvian Amazon – Amercian Economic Review 90 (2000): 973-79.

 

Fairness is interpreted differently around the world

Fairness is interpreted differently around the world

Indian audiences of Kaun Banega Krorepati (Who Wants To Be A Millionaire) almost always help out contestants whenever contestants use the ‘ask the audience’ lifeline, regardless of his/her apparent abilities or background. As per our observation the answer is mostly correct and only sometimes wrong. And since we’ve been born and brought up in India, we could safely say that the intention is almost always there to help the contestant win.

Americans too help out contestants, when they use the ‘ask the audience’ lifeline. In fact using this lifeline results in the correct answer more than 90% of the time.

Here’s the fun part. In one of the game shows of the French version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, a contestant named Henri was faced with the question – What revolves around the earth? A. Moon B. Sun C. Mars D. Venus. Henri opted for the ‘ask the audience’ lifeline. No one voted for Venus, 2% voted for Mars, 42% voted for Moon and the biggest chunk 56% voted for Sun. Was the audience ignorant? What do you say French friends? Say Ori and Rom Brafman, authors of Sway, “the French audience deliberately chose the wrong answer because it didn’t seem fair to them for Henri to progress in the game with their help, when he couldn’t even answer such an easy question.”

Russian audiences often give the wrong answers. And deliberately mislead both smart and less smart contestants alike. So much so that the contestants learned to be wary of the ‘ask the audience’ lifeline. Geoffrey Hosking, an expert in Russian history and faculty of UCL says, “Before the twentieth century peasant communities in Russia grew up expecting to lend one another a hand. In the industrial days, people brought the old country ways to the city. But the same interdependent community could also turn against you if you stood out or were seen as different. People who departed from the norm were regarded as misfits. Very poor were considered a burden on the rest of the community. Very rich were regarded to have made money by dubious means. From this perspective Russian audiences see contestants trying to get rich on the backs of the audience members. So they feel that they should not contribute to such unfair behavior.”

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.

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