Behavioural Design on comedy show ‘Cyrus Says’

Behavioural Design on comedy show Cyrus Says

Human behaviour is funny. That’s why popular comedian Cyrus Broacha invited us to understand what Behavioural Design is all about.

We spoke about why Indian men stare at cleavages, touch inappropriately, spit in public, why we honk indiscriminately, don’t allow pedestrians to cross in India, why we behave irrationally in general and what can be done about it. We spoke about how men look at women’s bodies and how women look at men’s bodies, how to reduce smoking, how to avoid over-eating, why its time for the Indian Government to begin applying behavioural science like the US and UK governments are applying. We spoke about behavioural science principles like social proof and overconfidence and our projects Bleep and People Power. Download Saavn to hear the non-sense –,EZgkk_

Need a favor? Ask your opponent

Need a favor? Ask your opponent

Most of us feel shy asking for favors. And if it comes to asking for a favor from an opponent or someone who doesn’t view us in a particularly favorable light, we see it as totally objectionable, lest we get rejected or disliked. But behavioural science tells us that such hesitation is unwarranted.

In a study by behavioural researchers Jon Jecker and David Landy, participants won some money from the experimenter in a contest. Afterward, one group of participants was approached by the experimenter, who asked them if they’d be willing to give back the money because the experimenter was using his own money and had little left. Almost all agreed. The other group of participants was not approached with any request. All the participants were then anonymously surveyed about how much they liked the experimenter. Jecker and Landy found that those who were asked to do the favor rated the experimenter more favorably than did those who were not asked to give the money back.

Robert Cialdini, Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University says, “People are strongly motivated to change their attitudes in ways that are consistent with their behavior.”

The participants who returned the money back must have said to themselves, “Why did I go out of my way to help this experimenter I don’t even know that well? He seems like a good person”, when asked how much they liked the experimenter.

Often we are in need of some kind of help from a colleague or neighbor who for whatever reason doesn’t view us in particularly favorable light. We might hesitate to ask for the favor because we’re afraid of rejection or dislike. So we put off asking for a favor, whereas doing it would be a brave thing to do and more importantly, as the research indicates, is likely to work. Try it. You don’t have much to lose anyways. At most, the person won’t do you the favor. But if the person does it, he/she will counter-intuitively start liking you.

Source: Jon Jecker and David Landy – Liking a person as a function of doing him a favour – Human relations Volume 22, no. 4, pp 371-78

There’s at least one benefit of having a common name

There's atleast one benefit of having a common name

Everyone I know who is told that his/her name is common gets peeved, including myself. But hey we found one huge benefit of having a common name.

In a study by researcher Randy Garner surveys were sent by mail to complete strangers. Accompanying the survey was a request to complete and return it to the person whose name was either similar or dissimilar to the name of the survey recipient. So a person whose name was Robert Greer got the survey from Bob Gregar or a woman named Cynthia Johnston got the survey from Cindy Johanson, in the similar name group. The dissimilar name group of course got surveys from dissimilar-sounding names. Those who received the survey from someone with a similar-sounding name were twice as likely to fill out the surveys than names that were dissimilar (56% compared to 30%).

Findings such as this one show the power and subtlety of similarity as a cue that people use to decide whom to help. That’s why pointing out similarities in any domain, including names, birth dates, religion, hometowns, schools, alma mater, etc. in discussions with any person before making your request or presentation could get you a favorable response.

Alternatively, if you’re designing a program/project/initiative/product for a particular client, you can harness the power of people’s natural tendency to be attracted to things that remind them of themselves in the name, title or label that you give it.

Source: Randy Garner – What’s in a Name? Persuasion Perhaps – Journal of Consumer Psychology (2005)

Haath laga ke dekh (Try touching me)

Haath laga ke dekh

Hello from New York. We’re here to attend MakerCon and MakerFaire and meet interesting people like authors, professors, makers, inventors, innovators, chip designers, product designers, design thinkers and of course behavioural scientists. More on that later.

Continuing with the blogpost, translated in English ‘Haath laga ke dekh’ means ‘Try touching me’, used here in a challenging tone and manner. You’ll hear a lot of it at crowded places like railway stations, bus stops, inside trains and buses where people jostle for space and there’s an invariable brushing of elbows and shoulders. Leading to mock fights of the ‘Hungama’ Bollywood movie-type, where men challenge one another saying ‘Haath laga ke dekh’.

But in this post we’ll be focusing on the positive aspect of touching. How and why touching can sub-consciously lead to positive outcomes. By touching we mean, a gentle brief touch to the forearm, for example, not the touchy-feely kinds.

In the study ‘The Effect of Touch on Women’s Behaviour’ by N. Gueguen, French men randomly approached 240 young women by saying, “Hello. My name is Antoine. I just want to say that I think you’re really pretty – I need to go to work now – but if you’d give me your number – I’ll call you later – and we could have a drink together someplace.” If the women refused, they’d say, “Its not my day. Have a good evening.” If they got her number, they’d tell her it was just a study, and the women would laugh. With half the women, the young men added a light one-second touch to the woman’s forearm. The other half were not touched. I know what you are thinking – what would happen if it were India? But stay with me on this one. I’ll give you other examples to illustrate the point too.

Outcome: When the young men didn’t touch, their success rate was 10% and when they touched, it was 20%. Why did it happen? Women didn’t think like Antoine is such a good toucher. It happened because on a sub-conscious level, touch imparts a subliminal sense of caring and connection. Social neuroscientist pioneer Ralph Adolphs says that nerve fibers especially in the face and arm are directly connected to areas of the brain such as the insular cortex, which is associated with emotion.

Subtle touching, like briefly on the arm, has provided a positive outcome in many researches and experiments – from increasing tips for servers in restaurants and bars, to the servers suggestion to order a particular dish being accepted more often, to the increase in percentage of shoppers in a supermarket purchasing the food they sampled, to the proportion of shoppers in a mall willing to answer a survey, to a 2010 study of Basketball in Berkeley that found that the number of high fives, chest bumps, hugs, etc. correlated significantly with the degree of cooperation among teammates and wins.

Haath laga ke dekh. Try touching, this time used in a persuasive manner 🙂

Why 99% of Austrians donate their organs

Why 99% of Austrians donate their organs

Eric Johnson and Dan Goldstein conducted an interesting online experiment in 2003, asking people whether they would be willing donors. Some people were told that the default was not to be an organ donor, and they were given the option of confirming or changing the default status. Others were told that the default was to be an organ donor, and again, they were given the option of confirming or changing the default status. When participants had to opt in to being an organ donor, only 42% did so. But when they had to opt out, 82% agreed to be donors.

To get a sense of the power of the default rule, consider the difference in organ donation rates between two similar European countries, Germany and Austria. In Germany, which uses an opt-in system, only 12% of citizens gave consent, whereas in Austria which uses an opt-out system, nearly everyone (99%) did.

Of course a successful organ donation program needs the infrastructure of the medical system in matching donors with recipients, transporting organs and performing successful transplants. But keeping everything constant, default option still plays a major role in increasing the donation rate.

In some countries like France, though the default rule is to be a donor, doctors still ask the family members for permission. Even then the default rule matters. As Childress and Liverman put it, “The next of kin can be approached quite differently when the decedent’s silence is presumed to indicate a decision to donate, rather than when it is presumed to indicate a decision not to donate.”

How many of you have changed the default settings of your mobiles? This power can be harnessed to change behaviour. Setting default options can have huge effects on the outcomes, from increasing organ donations to increasing personal savings to making better investments. Never under-estimate the power of inertia.

Sources: Eric J. Johnson & Daniel G. Goldstein – Do Defaults Save Lives? Science, Vol. 302, pp. 1338-1339 (2003)

Alberto Abadie & Sebastien Gay – The Impact of Presumed Consent Legislation on Cadaveric Organ Donation: A Cross Country Study – Journal of Health Economics 25, 599–620 (2006)

Smoking – the toughest habit can be broken

Smoking - the toughest habit can be broken

We’re non-smokers, but we empathize with those who want to quit after years of smoking. It’s not easy. People try lots of things to quit smoking – nicotine patches, cold turkey, replacing the cigarette with something to keep them busy, avoiding the spots where smokers congregate, making new year resolutions, promising their kids/wives/girlfriends, what not. Few succeed, most fail.

We’ve chanced upon something that has proved to be more successful than any other way to quit smoking. CARES – Committed Action to Reduce and End Smoking – is a savings program offered by the Green Bank of Caraga in Mindanao, Philippines. Here’s how the savings program works. The smoker opens an account with a minimum balance of $1. For 6 months, the smoker deposits the amount of money he (includes ‘she’) would otherwise spend on cigarettes into the account. After 6 months, the client takes a urine test to confirm that he has not smoked. If he passes the test, he gets his money back. If he fails the test, the account is closed and the money is donated to charity.

Results of this program have been evaluated by MIT’s Poverty Action Lab and look better than other anti-smoking tactics. Opening an account makes those who want to quit 53% more likely to achieve their goal. In a study done by Xavier Gine, Dean Karlan and Jonathan Zinman, those who were offered CARES, including those who turned it down, were about 45% more likely to pass the nicotine test than the control group. Would smokers relapse once the 6 months were over and the pressure was off? After another six months of the 6-month program, researchers found that customers who took up CARES and even those who were offered but didn’t enroll, did markedly better than the control group.

If you wish to quit smoking in the same manner by depositing money with us, email us at  Seriously, no kidding. We’ll do a test after around 6 months. We can agree to donate to a charity you don’t like. So that adds to your motivation to quit. And, if you want to commit to any other self-improvement, we’re open provided it can be verified whether you have achieved it or not.

Source: Xavier Gine, Dean Karlan, Jonathan Zinman – Put your money where your butt is: A commitment contract for smoking cessation – American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 2(4):1-26 (2010)

How to get men to wash hands post using the toilet

How to get men to wash hands post toilet

A study by Carl P. Borchgrevink, an associate professor at Michigan State University found that only half used soap and 15 percent didn’t wash their hands at all after using the toilet. This study was done in US. Imagine the situation in countries like India! Another study found that compliance rates for hand washing in American hospitals amongst doctors and nurses are only around 40 percent, and years of awareness programs urging doctors to wash up or use disinfectant gels have had little effect.

Not surprising. Men are inherently lazy and forgetful. Washing hands with soap takes more effort than doing nothing. Leave alone the time duration required for washing hands with soap for it to be effective. And the act of peeing is so easy for men that it may not register as a way of spreading germs.

But here’s a solution that’s likely to get men to wash their hands after relieving themselves. A designer named Kaspars Jursons from Latvia, has come up with a simple and beautiful Behavioural Design called ‘Stand’ that’s a sink cum urinal. Men can relieve themselves and wash hands conveniently standing right there, save water by not requiring to flush separately, save time by not heading to the basin which in many restrooms is on the other side and save more time by not waiting in queue to use the wash basin. It also saves space. The tap is hands-free activated by sensors, so there’s no effort required there as well. A built-in soap dispenser also activated by a sensor would make the design complete.

Is it a little too close for comfort? Well we’d prefer to shake hands with men with clean hands.

Small ideas make a big difference

Small ideas make a big difference

There are lots of small everyday things that could benefit from being designed better. Things we take for granted in everyday life. But when designed well, things just work, leading to enhanced experience, satisfied customers, appropriate actionability, increased sales, etc. This post is about few of such small everyday ideas.

Like handles on doors. If there is a handle on the door, the tendency is to pull it. But almost all doors have a handle on the side it says push, too. If the door needs to be pushed, why have a handle? Simply keep it flat and we’ll push it.

When composing emails, wish there was a reminder to attach our files, when words like ‘attached’ or ‘attachment’ were found in the composed email.

‘No Parking on Odd dates 1 3 5’ and ‘No Parking on Even dates 2 4 6’ tend to be so cumbersome. We need to first think about what date it is today, then figure that its ‘No Parking’ on that side, which means we can park on the opposite side. Instead what if we had ‘Parking on Odd dates only’ and ‘Parking on Even dates only’.

Because there are two traffic signals in view at all times, one after the zebra crossing and one much ahead on the other side of the junction, we Indians always push ahead wanting to be first (in whichever race that is) therefore not stopping at the zebra crossing and not allowing pedestrians to cross. So to get cars to stop at the zebra crossing, only one traffic signal needs to be there, placed just before the stripes begin.

Instead of having to choose from financial retirement plans with complicated numbers, what if we could choose, by looking at pictures of different homes (1, 2, 3, 4 BHK) that could be bought with different levels of retirement income.

I often get asked about what mega-pixel camera on the phone is good. Fact is that we don’t understand what mega-pixels mean. What will be useful to us is the information of what mega-pixel matched what size of print. But we know this one won’t happen, else phone and camera manufacturers won’t be able to convince us to mindlessly upgrade.

Remember using the plastic card key in your hotel room to start and switch off the power. Wouldn’t it be convenient to have one in our home, so that we could start/switch off the power with one stroke and do away with the nagging feeling of not having turned off the geyser or gas or some other appliance after leaving home?

The tendency is to think of these design ideas as small (insignificant) ideas, but they are the ones that make for the most awesome product, service experiences and of course get us to behave.

The way a restaurant bill gets split affects what’s ordered

The way a restaurant bill is split affects whats ordered

How do you split the bill while eating out at a restaurant with friends? Equally? Or depending on whose had what?

In Germany diners usually figure out the price of their individual bills and no one feels bothered. But in Israel or US or India for that matter, such behaviour may be considered rude. Irrespective, the interesting part is how splitting the bill affects ordering behaviour.

Behavioural economist Uri Gneezy and colleagues divided students who didn’t know each other, into 3 groups of diners, based on how they paid the bill. In the first group, six diners (three men and three women) paid individually. In the second, they split the bill evenly. In the third, the researchers paid for the whole meal.

Turns out, the way you split the bill affects what you order. Of course people ate the most when the researchers paid. But when it came to the equal bill-splitting group, people tended to order more expensive items, than they did when each person paid for his or her own meal. Because for every rupee/dollar they ordered, they had to pay only one-sixth of the cost. So why not order the most expensive dishes? It’s about the incentives, not about individual personalities.

Uri Gneezy, says, “This is an example of negative externality – someone else’s behaviour affects your well-being. Let’s say you are a non-smoker, and a smoker sitting next to you decides to light up. He enjoys his cigarette, but you are also ‘consuming’ his smoke. The guy smoking has bestowed a negative externality on you. The party consuming the goods is not paying all of its cost. In the bill-splitting situation, the person enjoying the large, expensive lunch is doing the same thing. People simply react to the incentives they are facing.”

Source: Uri Gneezy, Ernan Haruvy and Hadas Yafe – The inefficiency of splitting the bill – Economic Journal 114, no. 495: 265-280 (April 2004)

The smartest thing on the idiot box

Behavioural Design on National Geographic channel

Behavioural Design is on National Geographic Channel.

Behavioural scientist Daniel Pink is doing a show called Crowd Control. Its a series of experiments that use behavioural science to solve public problems like how to get kids to not pee in the pool, how to get people to follow instructions in emergency flight landings, etc.

It’s on National Geographic Channel on Mon-Thur 10pm India time.

Because it’s a TV show, they’ve had to factor in the entertainment quotient. That’s why few of the solutions are not scalable. Nevertheless they make for some of the smartest ideas you’ll see on TV.

See the edited video clips of the experiments right now here.

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