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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

What can Tendulkar learn from London cabbies?

Sachin Tendulkar was close to getting his 50th Test hundred, but debutante bowler Adam McKay came along and spoiled the party. (Picture from The Hindu) Sachin has been the most prolific batsman of all time. All those years of training and playing professional cricket has fine tuned his memory, attention and learning mechanisms when he is at the crease. He is the undisputed king of batting, yet he has a knack of getting out by many a debutante bowler. This is odd, don't you think? What does this have to do with London cabbies? Exhaustive training is required to get "The Knowledge" in order to drive a black cab in London. Turns out, this rigorous training and years of driving is also what gives the London cabbie a quick-fire knowledge of some 25,000 streets within six miles of Charing Cross Station. Sachin has the foremost knowledge of the game. This has allowed him to thrash some of the best bowlers in cricket all over the field, yet he finds himself becoming the prized scalp of many a debutante bowler, more so often now. His predicament is similar to the London cabbies, who in a recent research, struggled with their ability to learn unfamiliar routes (which were integrated into other familiar areas of London).
Woollett and Maguire speculated that in this case the drivers' expertise was getting in the way of learning the new routes: 'When presented with new information to learn that is similar to their existing knowledge, their poorer performance may reflect expert inflexibility and an inability to inhibit access to existing (and now competing) memory representations.'
When Sachin faces that inswinging yorker from Brett Lee, his brain has stored numerous iterations of that particular moment, from the many times he's batted him. This interaction gets added to all existing knowlege he has about Brett Lee. His attentional, memory and learning mechanisms are fine-tuned to recognize those patterns and whoop these established bowlers. But when Andy Mckay comes in, Tendulkar is still struggling to incorporate new patterns of a new bowler into his memory. In the process of doing so, he ends up losing his wicket. Sachin might be God, but his Achilles' heel is actually the human brain. This is what makes him vulnerable to these debutante bowlers. Not sure if he can help that, what do you think?

Covering up statues. Right Intent - Wrong outcome

    Election Commission of India has ordered that all the statues of Mayawati and her party symbol, Elephant, be covered up during the UP elections. This is being done to ensure a level playing field. While the intentions are right, the outcome could be  just the opposite. We wrote about this in today's Mint-WSJ. Tell us what you think.

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