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.

The science behind Facebook’s experiment

Priming influences us subconsciously

Read about Facebook’s experiment? The one in which they manipulated which posts showed up on the news feeds of 6,89,003 Facebook users. For one week, some users saw fewer posts with negative emotional words than usual, while others saw fewer posts with positive ones. People were more likely to use positive words in Facebook posts if they had been exposed to fewer negative posts throughout the week, and vice versa. Read about it here.

Love it or hate it, here’s the science behind the experiment.

Our behaviour is often influenced by sub-conscious cues. Priming shows that people’s behaviour may be altered if they are first exposed to certain sights, words or sensations. In other words, people behave differently if they have been ‘primed’ by certain cues beforehand. Priming seems to act outside of conscious awareness, which means it is different from simply remembering things.

Here are few other fascinating priming-related researches. Social psychologist John Bargh et al got participants in the first group to unscramble five words like ‘he it hides finds instantly’. For this group the random words were just to keep them busy, but for the second group, the sentences had lots of words, which were stereotypically associated with old people – old, lonely, grey, careful, wise, stubborn, courteous, etc. Then the two groups of people were made to walk a 9.75-metre strip. Those who’d been fed old-related words took a full second longer to cover the distance, than those who hadn’t.

Those primed were reminded about the idea of being old. Because we have habitual ways of thinking about old people – this idea got activated subconsciously and they acted in line with these stereotypes without even realizing it.

But we can improve people’s performance by just the same method. In another research, Asian-American participants were invited to take a test. Before they did, some were primed with the words that would activate stereotypes about Asian people, namely superiority at maths. This was done by flashing words on a screen for less than a tenth of a second: too quick to be perceived consciously, but slow enough for the subconscious to register.

Asian-Americans who had been primed with the stereotype got almost twice as many of the questions right as the other group. When researchers saw the data closely they found that after bring subliminally primed with an Asian-American stereotype, Asian-Americans attempted more questions. As if the stereotype made them try harder – a habit of persistence.

In another research asking participants to make a sentence out of scrambled words such as fit, lean, active, athletic made them significantly more likely to use the stairs, instead of lifts.

Says Jeremy Dean of www.psyblog.co.uk, “Everyday we are bombarded with subtle and not so subtle cues of how to behave. We process these automatically and subconsciously, and over time these impulses emerge as our habits, which we start performing without conscious thought.”

Feel like sipping some cocktail by the beach?

 

Sources: John Barg, M. Chen, L. Burrows – Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype activation action – Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71, no. 2 (1996): 230

M. Shih, N. Ambady, J.A. Richeson, K. Fujita, H.M. Gray – Stereotype performance boosts: the impact of self-relevance and the manner of stereotype activation – Journal of Personality and Social Pyschology 83, no.3 (2002): 638

Wryobeck and Chen (2003) Using priming techniques to facilitate health behaviours. Clinical Psychologist 7:105108.

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

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))

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.

The middle path to getting picked up

The middle path to getting picked up

There a lot of biases that affect the way we make choices. We of course go about our daily routine completely unaware of them. Here’s one such interesting example, called the ‘Centre Stage effect’ – our preferential bias towards items located in the middle.

Paul Rodway, Experimental Psychologist from University of Chester and his colleagues showed 100 participants a questionnaire consisting of 17 questions, wherein each question featured five different pictures of the same type of item (e.g. five scenic views). Each set of five pictures was arranged in a horizontal row and the task for participants, depending on the question, was either to pick their most preferred or least preferred item. Central items were selected approximately 23 per cent of the time. The selection rate for items in other locations averaged below 20 per cent. By contrast, no position bias was found when selecting their least favoured items.

A second study was similar to the first, but this time each array of five items was arranged vertically – once again there was a bias for the central item. A third study used real objects – five pairs of identical white socks – pinned in a vertical array on a large piece of cardboard. Again, participants were asked to pick out their preferred option and again they showed a bias for the middle choice.

These findings build on past researches showing that observers tended to overestimate the performance of quiz show contestants located in central positions.

I wonder whether this phenomenon has to do with our beliefs linking importance or prestige with being centrally located. If we look at sports podiums on which winners get facilitated, Gold being the most prestigious award, is placed in the middle. In office meetings you are most likely to find the top boss sitting in the middle of the boardroom table. The bride and groom at wedding receptions always sit in the middle overlooking the hall.

This ‘middle’ bias has implications on consumer’s shopping behaviour. If a brand has 5 variants, with the same MRP, the one with the maximum margin should be placed in the middle. If your brand competes with others on retail shelves, ensure its placed bang in the middle, as long as consumers can view all options at one go. But no guarantee about you getting picked up if you stand in the middle of your friends at the night club. Well, you could try.

Stare at your own risk

Stare at your own risk

Just glancing at a photo of a rich and gooey chocolate cake can set your brain circuits sparking, switching on cravings and revving up your appetite.

The proof is in the brain scans. Researchers found that when people stare at sugary treats, regions of the brain known to be involved in appetite control and pleasure and reward light up, according to the study presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society.

The new study parallels earlier research in cocaine addicts. When addicts were shown anti-drug commercials that included crossed-out needles, the brain regions associated with pleasure fired up and the addicts reported increased craving. Contrary to public health officials’ plans, only the needles registered in the addicts’ brains, not the big red Xs crossing them out.

Dr. Kathleen Page, a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California says “We see parallels between substances of abuse, like cocaine, and highly palatable foods. Some of the same brain regions light up.”

Page and her colleagues scanned brains of obese Hispanic women looking at images of alluring foods such as cupcakes, chocolate cake and chocolate chip cookies. “What we saw was that the regions of the brain that are involved in reward and hunger lit up,” Page said. The women, who were also asked to rate their appetite at the beginning and end of the experiment, reported greater hunger and desire for food after looking at the photos.

And in an intriguing second experiment, the researchers asked the women to each consume a sugary drink of approximately 200 calories. Then the researchers repeated the scans as before with the women looking at photos of tasty treats.

“Surprisingly, consumption of the sugar drink actually increased the ratings of hunger and desire,” Page said. “We didn’t predict a hunger increase with the sugar drink. Apparently the brain saw it as an appetizer.”

It’s not clear how average people can protect themselves from photos of tempting treats, Page said. And it’s funny, but when I conducted the studies and looked at the pictures myself, I was thinking, I could eat a piece of chocolate cake right now.

Feel like having one?

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Traffic jams can be eased by gamification

Playing games could ease traffic congestions

Billions of hours, fuel and money gets wasted in traffic congestions. Though there has been some progress in the last few years in Mumbai with the starting of the Bandra-Worli sea-link and the fly-overs being built, there’s a strong feeling that it may not be enough. Take the case of Delhi. Delhi is most privileged to have more than 21 per cent of its geographical area under road space. Delhi has built the maximum roads and flyovers. Yet its roads are totally gridlocked. While the government has targeted to increase the usage of public transport from existing 40% to 80% by 2020, it will extremely difficult to curb the ‘status’ tag of cars.

Singapore has had the ERP (Electronic Road Pricing) system that charges extra dollars for using congested zones during peak hours. So do London and Stockholm. However congestion charging has come under criticism that it favours the rich and that it adversely affects retail businesses in the congested zone. So could gaming come to the rescue?

Two experimental transportation projects are under way in Singapore and Silicon Valley that aim to improve commutes through gaming. In one of the experiments, conducted by Balaji Prabhakar, a Stanford engineering professor, more than 17,500 Singapore commuters have enrolled. Participants in the Singapore program shift their commutes to off-peak hours to earn credits, which can be traded for a chance to win cash.

So rather than only punishing traveling in peak hours, this program also rewards traveling in non-peak hours.

Balaji Prabhakar said during a recent talk at the university’s campus in Palo Alto, California, that 11-12 percent of users in Singapore have shifted off-peak. Men tend to shift later, he said, while women generally shift earlier. He says that 11% might not seem much, but they’re enough to make a difference in traffic flow. He ran a successful project for employees of Infosys called INSTANT (Infosys-Stanford Traffic project) in Bangalore in 2008-2009 and is now running the project at Stanford University as well.

I’m wondering how this could be implemented in Mumbai as public transportation is neither electronically controlled nor linked to each other. However prices of public transport can be controlled manually. So imagine the ticket prices of road transport – bus, rickshaw, taxi and the sea-link like toll is increased by 25% in peak hours (8:30-10am and 6:00-7:30pm), but is also decreased by say, 10% during off-peak hours. Could it work?

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Words can work like drugs

Words can work like drugs

Words have been known to have the power to affect behaviour change when used appropriately. As Rudyard Kipling said, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

Here’s an interesting case that illustrates this point. Richard Wiseman, an experimental psychologist and author wanted to find out if it was possible to increase donations by creating the perfect charity box. He created four charity boxes. Each identical in shape and size, and all advertised the same charity – National Literacy Trust. He placed each box at one of the four randomly selected tills at the Borders bookstore, UK. Each carried a message that psychologists believed would be effective:

‘Please give generously’

‘Every penny helps’

‘Every pound helps’

‘You can make a difference’

Which one do you think collected the most amount of cash?

‘Every penny helps’ worked best, containing 62% of all contributions. ‘You can make a difference’ was at second place, ‘Please give generously’ at third and ‘Every pound helps’ was last at fourth place.

Why did this happen? According to work done by psychologist Robert Cialdini from Arizona State University, many people are concerned that putting a very small amount of money will make them look mean, so end up giving nothing at all. ‘Every penny helps’ legitimizes, and therefore encourages, the smallest of contributions. In contrast ‘Every pound helps’ had the reverse effect.

Meanwhile I thought I’d end the year with a tweet I read recently – ‘Do not worry about the past & the future. This moment needs your attention, this is where your life exists.’

Wish you Merry Christmas and a rocking 2013.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

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