Our experiment People Power in which we got people to reduce power consumption at no cost, explained in under 2 minutes. To know about the power crises in India and the details about the experiment please click here.
Our experiment People Power in which we got people to reduce power consumption at no cost, explained in under 2 minutes. To know about the power crises in India and the details about the experiment please click here.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 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.
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 7:105–108.
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.
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
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.