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, “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

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 –

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

Bleep – Horn reduction system video

Bleep has been featured in TIME, BBCFast Company, BMW Guggenheim Lab, USA Today, The Strait TimesTimes of India (2), The Economic Times (2), Mint, CNBC Overdrive, Hindustan Times, NDTV, Top Gear, Radio One (2), Mumbai Boss, The Sunday GuardianDNA and TEDxGateway talk.

Indiscriminate honking is a bad habit and a huge irritant in India, parts of Asia and South America, or even by cab drivers in NY. If you are visiting us from a country where the habit of honking is a problem,  share this video on facebook, twitter, linkedin, pinterest and help spread the word.

A big thank you in advance for your support. To get us in touch with a Govt. or NGO representative of your country, write to us at

Every share counts. Every little helps.

Anand and Mayur

Why we sell the wrong stocks from our portfolio

Why we sell the wrong stocks in our portfolio

For most us, the word ‘stocks’ or ‘shares’ is associated with feelings of it being risky, a gamble, incomprehensible, scary, involving the luck factor and so on. Understandably so, betting on the future value of a stock, is no easy task. Even the experts get it wrong a lot of the times. But I would like to drive your attention to a particular behaviour related to stocks, which shows how we make mistakes when selling stocks from our portfolio.

Consider this situation. You need money for an important event in your life and need to sell some stock. Amongst the stocks you own, say, Mata Power according to you is a winner, because if you sell it today you will have achieved a gain of Rs. 3,00,000. You hold an equal investment in Mata Airways, which you consider a loser, is currently worth Rs. 3,00,000 less than you paid for it. The value of both stocks has been stable in recent weeks. Which are you more likely to sell?

What happens is that our minds see the choice like this: I could close the Mata Power account and score a success for my record as an investor. Alternatively, I could close the Mata Airways account and add a failure to my record. Which would I rather do?

Daniel Kahneman, psychologist and nobel laureate in Economics, says if the problem is framed by us, as a choice between giving yourself pleasure and causing yourself pain, you will certainly sell Mata Power and enjoy your investment prowess. He calls this the disposition effect.

He says, investors set up a mental account for each share that they have bought, and want to close every account as a gain. It is only the very savvy expert, who would take a comprehensive view of the portfolio and sell the stock that is least likely to do well in the future, without considering it a winner or loser.

The disposition effect is a costly bias. If you care about your wealth rather than your immediate emotions, you will sell the loser Mata Airways and hang on to the winning Mata Power. But closing a mental account with a gain is a pleasure, but it is a pleasure we pay for.

Companies fall into a similar trap of continuing to fund a project even though the returns are now less favourable, simply because they have already put considerable amount of money. When faced with a choice of investing money in a new project that is considered likely to bring higher returns, it most often leads to favouring the option of continuing to fund the existing project.

We are all horny

We are all horny

Honking is so embedded in Indian driving etiquette that Audi India has confirmed, in media, having designed extra loud, ultradurable horns for vehicles sold in India. Meanwhile people face a rapidly growing problem with many side effects of noise pollution. Some of them being increased hyper-tension, blood pressure, hearing loss, increased risk of heart attacks and disturbed sleep patterns. Reports in Indian cities show that noise levels are way beyond the permissible limits. Truly we are all horny.

Honking like other behaviour, over time, becomes a habit. And habits are essentially automatic behaviour where one does not consciously think about the action, but rather, the decision-making happens automatically. So we thought that it was important to shift the driver from an automatic mode of honking as a habit, to make him deliberate on whether the situation really demanded that he honk. We needed to make the driver conscious of the habit of honking by giving him immediate feedback while the driver was still driving the car, so that the next time the driver honked only when he thought it was necessary, rather than honk indiscriminately.

This approach led us to create a ‘Horn Reduction System’ we’ve called Bleep that has proved to reduce honking amongst each and every one of participants by an average of 61%.

Bleep – A horn reduction system

Bleep is a device with a simple red button fitted in an easily accessible place on the dashboard of a car. The red button has a frown sketched on it and when the driver presses the horn, the red button begins to beep and flash. In order to switch the device off, the driver needs to press the red button.

The 6-month long experiment

Bleep has been tested on manual and automatic geared cars amongst 30 people including men, women and chauffeurs of private vehicles, over 6 months and over 3800 kms. The participants were given either of two cars – manually geared Swift or automatic Honda City, with Bleep fitted, to be driven for 4 days during the working weekdays. Two days with Bleep off and the next two days with Bleep on, so that we could compare the number of honks per kilometer in the control situation (pre-Bleep) with the experimental situation (post-Bleep). Bleep has been tested as triggering off every time the horn is pressed, which is a stricter version in the manually geared Swift car, as well as triggering off every third time the horn is pressed, which is more lenient, in the automatic Honda City. In the first phase of the experiment the drivers were not given any information about the experiment. In the second phase they were simply shown how the system works.

The results

We have found a reduction in honking in each and every one of the participants wherein honks per km reduced between 19% to 96% (on an average by 62.5%) when Bleep was triggered every time the horn was pressed (stricter version). A reduction in honks per km was found between 16% to 91% (on an average by 60.3%) when Bleep was triggered every third time the horn was pressed (lenient version). These numbers prove that the reduction in honking relates to indiscriminate honking that drivers can do without.

The science of Bleep

The science behind the effectiveness of Bleep is that it assists the driver in reducing honking by using a visual-cum-sound reminder. The driver gets instant feedback when the red light with the frown beeps and flashes when he honks, making the driver conscious about his inappropriate behaviour of honking and making him deliberate about when he really required to honk. The driver having to physically switch off the reminder further helps in persuading him to honk lesser. The frown on the device is designed to indicate that honking is socially inappropriate behaviour. A study called ‘Overcoming Intuition’ done by Alter, Oppenheimer, Epley and Eyre has shown that frowning helps the brain reduce the reliance on intuition and activates analytical reasoning. Another research at the Stanford University School of Medicine has shown that peak brain activity (arresting attention) occurred during a short period of silence between musical movements, which is evidence that sounds that have a pause in between make you more alert. That’s why a seatbelt reminder like sound was used in the beep.

Bleep comes with many other unique features like recording, displaying and transmission of vehicle data like number of honks, speed at time of honk, location, time, etc., inside the vehicle or at a remote location and many other customised features. Patent pending.

Bleep has been featured in Fast Company, BMW Guggenheim LabTimes of India, CNBC OverdriveRadio One 94.3, Top Gear India’s June issue, Mint-WSJMumbai Boss, The Sunday Guardian and DNA till now.

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