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)

  • 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 Harfords 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 quickly.
  • 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 arent 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.
  • 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 dont 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 investment. 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.
  • O Behave Issue 2 May 2014 Behavioural Model Schwartzs 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 individuals innate values, but he also describes them a