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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

Influencing public behaviour - Need for a better Design philosophy

We recently wrote a piece on on our take on how to solve some of the behavioral problems in Mumbai, like Spitting, Littering, Trespassing, Smoking in public places. We argue that the current approach to influencing behavior is built on fundamentally wrong assumptions.  And that a Behavioral Sciences based approach would be lot more effective in solving these long standing problems. Read more here

Currency Of The Mind

In the recent past academic literature is abound with discussions around how classical economics is poor at explaining or predicting human behavior. For example, what explains Warren Buffett - spend a lifetime earning, only to give away his immense wealth to philanthropic causes one fine morning? And what happened to that elusive utility maximizing, self interested being whom we use to build our economic models? If Warren Buffett is an exception, let us look at ourselves and the world around us. We make new year resolutions only to break them the next week. We keep money in our savings account and take loans at higher interest rates or revolve debt on our credit cards. We swear to eat healthy only to binge on the sinful sundae that we just spotted on the menu. Some classify this behavior as “irrational”, almost accusing us of going against the rules - the rules set by economic models. But today we have a much better understanding of how the brain takes decisions and what it tries to achieve in the process, thanks to advances in Neuroscience. We now know that the currency of the mind is not money or economic utility, but emotions. We also know that the connection between emotion and motion is not just etymological, but a fundamental fact of the human (as also other animal) brain. Emotions drive us to action. What is more important, action that maximizes “Emotional Utility” and not necessarily Economic Utility. Seen in this light, most human behavior falls into place. It explains why we pay money to engage in adventure sports, chase inconsequential goals in online games, enjoy gambling, prefer spending time on facebook rather than more materialistic pursuits etc. If we appreciate this fundamental truth, we would have a much better understanding of what drives people to action. It will help design interventions that can influence behavior much far more effectively. And, perhaps governments and other social agents can attach more importance to things that matter most to societies. For starters, we would stop referring to societies as economies and stop measuring progress using the single, dry dimension of economic growth. Instead, we would focus a lot more on understanding the rich and colourful world of emotions and what maximises them. It will help us define well being, based on what is truly important to us.

Of football fouls and fluency

Imagine a circle pushing a square. If you imagined the circle on the left attempting to move the square on the right, then, like most of us, you’re probably fallible to the left-to-right motion perceptual-motor bias. Fluency, or a sense of ease, affects judgements and hence the decisions we take. We’ve all felt that slight discomfort with some of the choices we are considering while making a decision. Consider the perceptual-motor bias concerning movement from left to right. We are more comfortable with motion towards the right than towards the left. Goals scored from the left-to-right in football, for example, are rated as more beautiful than the goals scored from right-to-left. Developing this natural preference probably arises on account of our language being left to right dominant. The way we read, write and conceptualize time and events in space are all from left-to-right. Accordingly, movement towards the right feels natural, whereas there is a sense of unease when it comes to leftward motion. Sports fans, imagine the implication! A clever study by Kranjec et al. (2010) suggests that this bias might be strongly at play, excuse the pun, when football referees call fouls. They showed that members of their university football team were more likely to call a foul when they saw pictures of players moving towards the left as opposed to players moving towards the right, even though it was the same picture, inverted. Their natural unease with the direction of the movement increased the probability of it being called a foul. The bias also works the other way - fewer fouls would be called in the left-to-right direction as we naturally prefer that movement. The implications are huge - penalty kicks win and lose matches. They add that this bias has been put to good use in the past by film-makers, if not anyone else. The movie Apocalypse Now shows the whole crew moving into the jungle leftward serving to heighten the discomfort viewers felt while watching the movie. In movies and plays, bad guys would enter the screen from the right whereas good guys would enter from the left. We mentioned before that readers of left-right written language are prone to this bias. Kranjec et al. (2010) also say that there is evidence to prove that readers of languages written from right-to-left develop perceptual preferences accordingly. For example, those who write and think in Hebrew and Arabic represent events from right-to-left.  This could have implications in many other fields as well. Take for instance, safety. It can be hypothesized that we might unconsciously be a little more careful with traffic approaching from the right due to this in-built discomfort. Correspondingly, we are probably  a little more lax about traffic coming in from the left. Definitely worth thinking about the ramifications this low-level perceptual bias has on various aspects of everyday life. - with inputs from Tasneem Chhatrisa. Image Source -

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