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Wadala Experiment at WSMConference, Dublin

Earlier this month, we presented the Wadala Experiment Case Study at the World Social Marketing Conference in Dublin, Ireland. The 2nd World conference brought together an audience of 600 behavioural change experts from 40 different countries.


The Wadala Experiment was the only case study presented at WSMConference that drew on learnings from Cognitive Neuroscience and Behavioural Economics to tackle social problems (trespassing in Mumbai). Behaviour change in larger societal problems, including healthcare, savings, and road safety can benefit greatly if we change our thinking and approach these issues in a more fundamental manner.


With the success of the Wadala Experiment Case Study, we have demonstrated how Behaviour Architecture™ can be used effectively to bridge the gap between AWARENESS and ACTION, a point which most social marketers, and even consumer marketers, are grappling with today.

The sweet ingredient to making better decisions

If you have a parole hearing, when should you schedule your slot so that you get a favourable decision? The graph below might shed some light on that question.

In this graph, Shai Denziger captures the results of 1112 parole hearings in Israeli prisons over a ten-month period.


The vertical axis is the proportion of cases where the judges granted parole. The horizontal axis shows the order in which the cases were heard during the day. And the dotted lines, they represent the points where the judges went away for a morning snack and their lunch break.


What the graph shows is extremely noteworthy. At the start of the day, the odds that a prisoner will be successfully paroled is 65%, before nosediving to 0% within a matter of few hours. The judges take their first break (as shown by the dotted lines), and the successful odds climb up to 65%, before plummeting again. Ditto for the proportion of successful paroles after lunch.


Danziger found that the three prisoners seen at the start of each “session” were more likely to be paroled than the three who are seen at the end. That’s true regardless of the length of their sentence, or whether they had been incarcerated before.


Whether prisoners are let off or not could merely be a function of when their cases were heard.


An easy explanation to this could be the aspect of “choice overload”. In repetitive decision-making tasks, once we’ve drained our mental resources, we suffer from choice overload and start opting for the default choice.


For the judges, the more decisions they’ve made, the more depleted they are, and hence they end up making the default choice – in this case, deny parole.


But if we look at things more fundamentally, a clearer picture emerges. Glucose helps you make better decisions.


Glucose is the only fuel used by the brain cells for mental activity. Since the neurons don’t store glucose, they depend on the bloodstream to supply a constant amount of this fuel.


As the judges make more decisions, their brains are getting drained, thereby creating a propensity to look at more immediate decisions (getting back concentration and focus on the current task) rather than understanding the prisoner’s situation and taking appropriate decisions.


The implications of glucose on decision making and its effect as seen in judges’ decision making are huge.


The brain is an energy optimizing machine. Making decisions takes a lot of effort, and too many of them make us feel tired.


In organizations that demand lot of mental task from their employees, productivity can be increased by creating an environment that leads to making fewer decisions. Google is a frontrunner in recognizing this aspect and creates an environment that reduces distractions (thereby keeping glucose levels higher), because of which it’s employees go on to create things that Google is so well known for.


As erstwhile CEO Eric Schmidt put it…


“Let’s face it: programmers want to program, they don’t want to do their laundry. So we make it easy for them to do both.”


This is a fundamental way of looking at how organizational productivity can be increased. If more companies start thinking in this manner, it can only open up doors for a new era in innovation, creating a happier bunch of employees who can then do whatever they do in the best

Dry intellectual pursuits solving problems on the ground

Mint WSJ featured us in the latest Lounge edition (March 10, 2012). Niranjan Rajadhyaksha has put together a fantastic piece titled 'The new think tank' on how dry intellectual pursuits are solving real life problems on the ground. Tara Thiagarajan a PhD in neuroscience from Stanford has built her analysis of poverty using the principles of physics, non-linear dynamics and biology. She is demonstrating how network theory can explain why people are poor. Kaushik Basu, a highly respected technical economist is helping the Indian government design efficient public policy using game theory. V Srinivas, a biologist is using auctions to ensure local communities have a stake in tiger conservation. The story also features how FinalMile is solving day to day complex behavioural problems using the principles of  neurosciences and behavioural economics. Read more here

Wadala Experiment features on The Boston Globe

(Screenshot from The Boston Globe) Our work to minimize deaths due to trespassing on Mumbai's railway tracks, called the Wadala Experiment, has been featured by Boston Globe in their Ideas section. The online version is out, and the paper version will be featured in this Sunday's (May 7) Ideas Section. The article details the Wadala Experiment and what we did. It also explains how we apply scientific principles into all our assignments thereby developing a fresher perspective on observing and explaining behaviour, and modifying it in a desired manner. Take a read; how does this new perspective alter the way you've been approaching behaviour change all along?

Affordances: Designing for action

As designers we constantly ponder ‘What is the ultimate measure of success for design?’ In my opinion its easy adoption by the end user, which basically means minimizing cognitive load in comprehending the designer/designs intent. Affordance is one such concept that can help us better understand user-interactions with designed artifacts. Consider this how many times have you pushed a door that should be pulled open, or pulled a door that should be pushed open? This picture shows a door giving mixed messages: The sign explicitly tells you to push the door open, but the handle implicitly tells you to pull the door open; because, after all, handles are for pulling on! The property of an object, or an environment, which allows an individual to perform an action is known as ‘Affordance’. Affordances are catalysts for deriving a desired behavior/action. The term ‘Affordance’ was first coined by the perceptual psychologist,  James J. Gibson in his 1977 article "The Theory of Affordances" and explored it more fully in his book The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception in 1979. Gibson’s theory stresses that affordances are all “action possibilities” furnished by an artifact/environment, which may or may not be perceived by the user, but are dependent on the users capabilities. In 1988,Donald Norman in his book, “The design of everyday things” appropriated the term affordances to refer to “perceivable action possibilities”. It makes the concept dependent not only on the physical capabilities of an actor, but also the actor's goals, plans, values, beliefs, and past experiences. A classic example to elaborate the significance of Affordances: I once worked in an office where the entrance door opened only in one direction. However there were identical handles on both sides. Since handles afford pulling, people constantly struggled with the door. Had the designer replaced the handle outside with a flat plate it would have instantly solved the problem, because a featureless surface affords pushing. The concept of affordances is not unique to any particular artifact or environment and also applies to a wide variety of scales. This emphasizes the universal applicability of the concept of Affordance across different design fields.   Image source:

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