O Behave! Issue 2 (May Edition)


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O BEHAVE is a monthly newsletter brought to you by #ogilvychange that encompasses the latest research in behavioural science. Enjoy!

Transcript of O Behave! Issue 2 (May Edition)

Page 1: O Behave! Issue 2 (May Edition)

O Behave • Issue 2 • May 2014

O BEHAVE! Welcome to the second edition of O Behave, your monthly summary of the latest developments in

cognitive psychology and behavioural science, brought to you #ogilvychange.

Tim Harford’s Controversial Take on Behavioural Economics

In his recent Financial Times article, Tim Harford considers the teething problems and harsh scrutiny faced by

the discipline of behavioural economics.

He discusses a recent experiment by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), where

they trialled eight different messages to increase organ donation. They were so

confident that social norms would be successful that they trialled three different

types but - like our BT experiment - these produced no uplift in responses. This

raises the issue that past research often fails to apply in other settings, and there

are often new theories to explain each new finding. Given there is no general

theory of behaviour, this limits the predictive power of behavioural economics. In

addition, there is debate over the definition of behavioural economics – the BIT

experiment described above, for example, is really more social psychology.

Harford also suggests that behavioural economics is so fashionable amongst politicians because the policies

are more popular with voters than more prescriptive law changes, but not necessarily more effective. For

example, while David Cameron said in a speech that the best way to reduce energy use was to give people

clear information on how much they and their neighbours were really using, it is unlikely that this would really

have as great an impact as increasing the price of energy would. Classical economics still has a role in public

policy, which can be overlooked by politicians trying to win votes with softer policies.

Biases of the Week

Fluency heuristic

We infer that things are easier, more trustworthy and of

higher value when they can be processed easily. In a

series of experiments, Song and Schwarz (2008) showed

that participants were more likely to undertake an

exercise regime or cook a new recipe if they were written

in the easy-to-read Arial font than the more cognitively

effortful Mistral font. They rated the task as more time-

consuming and requiring more skill when described in

Mistral than Arial. Similarly, Alten and Oppenheimer

(2006) found that stocks with pronounceable ticker codes

like KAR performed significantly better on their first day of

trading than stocks with codes that were not

pronounceable, like RDO. The traders instinctively valued

the stocks they were able to pronounce easily more.

Hedonic Adaptation

This is a phenomenon where people quickly become

used to changes, great or terrible, in order to maintain a

stable level of happiness. People can easily adapt to

living with less, without suffering many negative

consequences. In the same way, when we are constantly

pursuing more, we have to get even more to stay happy

and therefore people constantly purchase items to stay

happy. This phrase was made famous by Frederick and

Lowenstein in their book “Well-being: The foundations

of hedonic psychology”. Much of their research focuses

on prison inmates becoming comfortable in their

confined prison cells- a process that occurs surprisingly


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O Behave • Issue 2 • May 2014

Joint versus Individual Incentives

Incentives are one of the most popular behaviour change tools people turn to when creating interventions and

therefore it is imperative to know all there is to know about them. A new

study this month by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) showed that group

incentives were more effective than individual incentives. Within a school

setting they split students into 3 groups: a control condition, individual

incentive and group incentive, with the goal to use an incentive to improve

grades amongst students. Those in the individual incentive group were told

that they would receive a 20% grade increase only if they passed the exam

and had a perfect attendance rate for that week. The same was told to students in the group incentive, but

with the added twist that they would only receive the 20% increase if all students in the group passed the

exam and had perfect attendance. Results showed that on average those in the “group incentive” scored

higher on their mid-terms compared to the control group. The researchers noted that this occurred due to

peer monitoring and that peer effects can be very influential particularly at this age group. The incentive also

had spill-over effects with these students also scoring higher on their homework and midterm exams in other

courses. The “individual incentive group” showed no change in grades or attendance. There aren’t enough

studies done on this topic particularly with different age groups to say conclusively that group incentives are

more effective that individual incentives. We will keep you updated with further studies in this area.

Perceptions of Past, Present and Future

At the latest Society for Personality and Social Psychology meeting in Austin, Texas, a symposium was held on

the latest research on the malleability of time perception and its implications. Work was presented by Jochim

Hansen on the way in which the mental representation of a situation influences how quickly time is perceived

to pass; if it is processed more concretely, with rich detail and contextual information, time will feel as though

it goes by much faster than if it is processed abstractly, with only

essential and global aspects coded.

Hengchen Dai demonstrated a disproportionate amount of

aspirational behaviours (e.g. health, education or career

progression) begin at temporal landmarks, such as new weeks,

months or years, known as the “fresh start effect”. This may be

because these new beginnings draw attention to the passage of

time, which allows for psychological distance between the past and

the current self. All previous imperfections and bad behaviours are

left in the past and a new self can be created.

On a similar note, Sam Maglio suggested that the way a person

defines the present – which ranged from the current moment to over a year – can determine how they

perceive future payoffs, with a shorter definition of the present being associated with higher levels of

patience. Furthermore, the simple manipulation of showing participants the statement, “There is no present,

there is only the future,” caused them to shorten their perception of the present, and they subsequently

reported greater intentions to make long-term financial plans. This could have important policy implications

for behaviours like pension savings and quitting smoking.

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O Behave • Issue 2 • May 2014

The Importance of Choice

Within the behavioural science field lots of techniques for becoming more persuasive have been developed.

One of the simplest yet most effective is a phrase that has been found to double the amount of money people

give to beggars, increase how much bus fare people give, boost charitable donations and increase participation

in voluntary surveys. After conducting a meta-analysis of 42 studies involving over 22,000 participants, the

authors concluded that by placing this phrase at the end of a request

doubles the likelihood of people complying and saying “yes”.

What was this magic phrase the researchers discovered? The phrase was,

“But you are free to accept or refuse”.

The “But you are free” technique illustrates that when our freedom of

choice is reaffirmed we are more likely to comply with the request. This is

because it disarms our instinctive rejection of being told what to do. The actual words don’t matter as the

phrase, “But obviously do not feel obliged,” was found to be just as effective. This effect has been found to

work not only during face-to-face interactions but also over email, albeit to a lesser extent. This is important to

keep in mind when developing behaviour change apps and products. In order for them to be successful, the

developer must have an appreciation for this sense of autonomy.

Design in Mind

A new initiative by Professor Paul Dolan, author of MINDSPACE, and Chloe Foy called Design in Mind has been

launched to improve our health and wellbeing through the design of our workplaces. As 88% of our time is

spent in buildings and vehicles, it is crucial that they have been designed with our health and happiness in

mind. Design in Mind combines the knowledge of cutting edge wellbeing research and years of experience of

internal design to create workplaces and other spaces

designed to optimise happiness and therefore

productivity. These are implemented in an iterative

test and learn process, to determine their effects on the

inhabitants of the space and also establish return on


Dolan and Foy have summed up eight key principles of

environment design under the acronym SALIENCE,

which stands for sound, air, light, image, ergonomics,

nature, colour and evidence. These recommendations are based on a range of work from the lab and the field.

For example, the principle of nature – that drawing conscious and unconscious attention to plants and nature

can have positive effect – is supported by a study on heart surgery patients in intensive care units, which found

that those with a picture of trees and water in their room reported less anxiety and needed fewer doses of

pain medicine than a control group of patients in a room with blank walls.

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O Behave • Issue 2 • May 2014

Behavioural Model

Schwartz’s Norm Activation Theory (1977)

This model, developed to explain altruistic or “helping” behaviours, describes the process by which personal norms are activated. These are feelings of moral obligation to act, which are free from social norms. Schwartz presents personal norms as arising from an individual’s innate values, but he also describes them as being internalised from social norms. Personal norms are found to be better predictors of altruistic behaviours and to be more effective at predicting a range of pro-environmental behaviours. In theories of both personal and social norms, it is held that norms are constantly present in cognitive processes, but that they only exert a significant influence when they become salient. This theory describes the process by which personal norms are activated. Norm activation essentially involves two stages; the first in which an individual feels an awareness of the consequences for others of their own actions, and the second in which the personal costs of acting are calculated with the result that responsibility may be denied. Thus this model is also good for explaining why people fail to help in certain circumstances.

Nudge of the Week

Spotted: Eyes on a Metropolitan Police notice in Enfield

Studies have shown that pictures of eyes prime more honest and cooperative behaviour. Bateson, Nettle and Roberts (2008) tested different posters above an honesty box, urging people to pay for the tea, coffee and milk they consumed in a university coffee room. They found that when there was a picture of eyes at the top of the sign, people paid almost three times as much as when there was a picture of flowers. The authors suggested that the eyes create the feeling of being watched, so the unwitting participants were more honest.

The Metropolitan Police are harnessing these insights by putting

eyes on their signs about targeting criminals in the area. This is

presumably to reduce antisocial behaviour in the area, even in the

absence of police.

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O Behave • Issue 2 • May 2014

Guest Post: Introducing… Social Anthropology

#ogilvychange specialises in applying insights from the social sciences to give effective solutions to business

problems. Although this often takes the form of applying principles derived from cognitive psychology and

behavioural science, implicit in our recommendations is an appreciation that as social animals, our cultural

context provides a prism through which all psychological processes are


The discipline of Social Anthropology provides one such method to

understand these social forces at work. From the Greek ‘the study of

mankind’, it is a holistic social science which seeks to examine the

differences and similarities between human societies by exploring the

variety of lived experience observable within them. Anthropology’s

USP is ethnography - a form of participant observation through which

practitioners work to observe everyday communal interaction to

unpack social constructs and institutions as disparate as gender,

kinship, hierarchy and economic transaction. Tracing the connection

between these helps to uncover underlying cultural frameworks

through which everyday behaviour choices are enacted and


Although traditionally focused on non-western contexts,

anthropologists today are just as likely to be found working in western

societies. Both Google and Intel have in-house anthropology teams,

and Microsoft is reportedly the second-largest employer of

anthropologists in the world. This week anthropologists hit the

headlines as part of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa where they are

playing a vital role working alongside aid agencies to mediate between

western and local understanding of health and the body to advise on

culturally sensitive interventions.

For a more in-depth introduction to the discipline we recommend

taking a look at the journal Cultural Anthropology, which this month

moved to become open access to promote wider understanding of the

subject. Previous topics covered have included the cultural meaning of

branding and counterfeit goods, consumerism and globalization in

India and slang and construction of identity in African American youth


New Book

Cass Sunstein – a luminary of behavioural economics and co-author of Nudge – has written a new book, which was released in April 2014. Why Nudge? The Politics of Libertarian Paternalism explores the moral and legal arguments for choice architecture and the government’s scope to design environments to help people lead longer, healthier and happier lives.

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O Behave • Issue 2 • May 2014

Upcoming Events

An Evening with Dan Ariely: how to academy Sunday 18th May, 6.45-8.15pm http://www.howtoacademy.com/business/an-evening-with-dan-ariely-2377?fromcat=48 Risk Savvy: How to make good decisions with Gerd Gigerenzer Wednesday 21st May, 6.30-8.00pm http://www.lse.ac.uk/publicEvents/events/2014/05/20140521t1830vOT.aspx UCL’s Theories and Models of Behaviour Change launch event Monday 2nd June, 5.00-7.00pm http://www.ucl.ac.uk/behaviour-change/cbc-events/event4 Nudgestock 2 Friday 6th June, 10.30am-6.00pm http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/nudgestock-2-tickets-11101387549

Brought to you by:

Cíosa Juliet Rebecca Guest Anthropologist


[email protected]


[email protected]


[email protected]

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O Behave • Issue 2 • May 2014

References & Links

Tim Harford’s Controversial Take on Behavioural Economics

Harford (2014). Behavioural economics and public policy.


Joint versus Individual Incentives

Cabrera & Cid (2014). Joint-Liability vs. Individual Incentives in the Classroom Lessons from a Field

Experiment with Undergraduate Students.



Perceptions of Past, Present and Future

Dai (2014). Malleable Time Perception and its Implications for Self-Control and Goal Pursuit.



The Importance of Choice

Carpenter (2013). A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of the “But you are free” compliance-gaining



Design in Mind

Dolan & Foy (2014). Design in Mind. Stimulating Environments.


Guest Post: Introducing Social Anthropology

Cultural Anthropology journal


Poon (2014). Why Anthropologists Join An Ebola Outbreak Team.