30 September 2014

Nudging by Repulsion: When Evolutionary Psychology Meets Nudge

A few weeks ago, my beloved wife and I received the visit of her mother, sister, brother in law and one year old nephew. As you can imagine having a small child in the house is a radical paradigm shift for someone who doesn’t have children and some things needed to be (re)moved so that the baby will not hurt himself.

Our nephew behaved himself, well, as much as a one year old boy can. 

However, the electricity sockets (plugs) were very very attractive for him. 

Although I am all in favour of letting kids explore and nurturing their inherent curiosity, I am totally freaked out when a child approaches an electric socket. Whereas touching the cooking stove can result in a nasty burn, sticking one’s small fingers in a socket results in certain death.

A couple of weeks after our guests went (to their) home, I was reading about evolutionary psychology, particularly about beauty and sexual attraction and an idea struck. It wasn’t about sex, but about how babies and small children can be nudged to avoid electric sockets.

Here are some very rough prototypes.

The logic is that (almost) all humans are hard-wired to feel repulsion and avoid things like spiders, rats and snakes. 

We do not need to learn to fear and avoid them. On the other hand, electric sockets aren’t repulsive and we need to teach small children to avoid them.

By placing the pictures with naturally (evolutionary) repulsive things on dangerous novel things, it will / would be natural for children to avoid them.

This is an idea that needs to be tested, so this is not an advice!

I’m looking for some partners to test this idea in a scientifically proper manner. Volunteers please leave a comment.   

Later edit:

An early adopter in France (Claudiu) sent this photo :)

Even Later edit:

Early evidence does not support the Hypothesis. Though this is a sample of one and the spider was more sketchy than vivid. Thank you  Claudiu for this photo :)

Further research is needed (at least to have a larger sample). 

Dear reader(s), DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!
In this post I proposed a hypothesis. Although the theory supports it, this is not an empirically proven fact. 

So, if you want to experiment with this, make sure that you are not using sockets connected to electricity.

If you are a researcher with access to a proper lab and you are willing to test this hypothesis, please get in touch with me :)

Pain (of Paying) at Design for Conversion Amsterdam September 26th

Last Friday (September 26th) I made the participants at the last Design for Conversion conference suffer! Starting low with a gentle flick, I’ve encouraged the members of the audience to inflict pain on each-other. We’ve reached the level of “slap on the wrist” in only a few minutes.

Luckily for them, this was not a Stanley Milgram experiment so we stopped and hugged to wash away any negative emotions.

This brief and apparently absurd exercise was meant to help me present the phenomenon of Pain of Paying and how it can be used in designing payments

And to make the presentation even more fun, I’ve used Jars and Beer to illustrate mental accounting and its implications in the level of pain of paying we experience when making purchases that involve more than one payment. Thank you Liviu Taloi for the help :)

Judging by the feedback I received and by the (low) number of people avoiding me after the talk, I believe the audience liked it, even enjoyed it.

Thank you and congratulations Arjan Haring and Chemel Benali for a very nice event.

P.S. I had the honour of announcing the winner of the DfC competition ;) 

16 September 2014

Ask Simple Questions – The Beauty of Raspberry Tart

I got old again and this year it so happed that I’m spending my birthday in Bucharest – the city I called home for about 21 years. Being here, I remembered one of my previous visits to my favourite restaurant – La Casa (if you ever go to Bucharest, it’s a must go… the special thing about this place is that it has nothing special – everything is as it should be).

After having dinner, the waiter came and asked:

“Would you like some raspberry tart?”

We answered “Yes”, even if we didn’t plan to have desert and we were quite full.

There is a special kind of beauty in the waiter’s question, and not the intrinsic beauty of raspberry tart :)

Usually waiters ask “would you like some desert”. And usually the answer is “No”. The thing is that “desert” is a rather abstract term, it has few (no) visual associations (desert can be anything from fruit salad to raspberry tart and to chocolate cake) and it has almost zero emotional load. Moreover, when asking someone: “Would you like some desert?” the respondent realizes that if he answers “yes”, he’ll have to make a subsequent choice between delicious things.
Making a choice is often difficult, so when asked “would you like some desert?” the client of the restaurant will go with the default option which is “No”. Just to be clear, one portion of food for dinner in Romania is usually enough to feed two French-men and beer and wine are relatively cheap, so we drink a lot.

However, when asking “would you like some raspberry tart?”, the client immediately imagines the tart which looks delicious. Moreover, raspberry tart can and usually has emotional associations. Now it is less likely that he will refuse it.

This approach could be used in an area in which Romania lags behind most EU countries (not that it doesn’t lag at most things) – namely bank-card payments. Most people in urban areas have bankcards, yet quite few use them for payments – most people withdraw cash from ATMs and use it.

A very simple nudge would be for the cashier (or whoever takes the money) to simply ask “would you like to pay by bankcard?”. This can be used in on-line shops as well, considering that about two thirds of online purchases are done with cash (yes, that is possible – people pay the delivery guy).

It will not bring miracles, but it will be a step forward. And a very beautiful one!

A simple question can lead to beautiful results.  

I’m off to “La Casa” http://www.restaurantcasa.ro/ to enjoy my first real beer in 6 months. Happy birthday to me :)

2 September 2014

The Most Difficult and Easiest Questions in the Application and Theory in Behavioural Science Test

About a month ago I started working on the Application and Theory in Behavioural Science Test (AT BeST). It went through the first round of testing (yes, testing the test) when the difficulty of the questions was assessed.

According to the corrected difficulty score, which I computed using a secret formula, this is the easiest question of the test:

   In an experiment the group of participants who receive a neutral stimulus or no stimulus at all is called:
a. The control group.
b. The treatment group.
c. The spare group.
d. The backup group.

The most difficult question was the following:

   Which theory acknowledges the existence of the two systems of thinking, but claims that System 1 is the one that makes rational / optimal decisions whereas system 2 is the one prone to error:
a. Developmental Theory
b. Fuzzy Trace Theory
c. Theory of Reasoned Action
d. Dual-System of Reasoning Theory

In fact, there was no correct answer given to this question…

All the other 99 questions progress smoothly between the two

Thank you to all the volunteer testers: Eric, Chris, Gerhard, Richard, Nandu, Baki, Sarah, Niels, Paul, Peter, Michiel, Nancy, Richard, Eline, Eveline, Arjan and Robin.

Congratulations to Robin who is the Top Scorer up to date!

Work continues and soon I’ll need someone who can do the technical (IT) work. Any volunteers?

1 September 2014

Paving the Cow-Paths: The Demise of Idealism and the Pathway to Pragmatism

In my recent visit to London, I attended a presentation given by Dr. Dan Lockton at the Behavioural Economics drinks. The topic of the presentation was “Paving the Cow-Paths” or simply put, helping people do what they want how they naturally do it.

Dan’s presentation made me think about what does “paving the cow-paths” actually mean from a broader point of view. At micro-level things are relatively simple. If people do something in a certain way, help them do it. The pictures below (taken from Dan’s website - Source ) illustrate very well the concept.

At a macro-level, however, things aren’t all that straightforward. Whether paving the cow-paths is a good idea or not is not entirely clear and it depends on the context. Moreover, paving the cow-paths implies giving up on idealism and embracing pragmatism.

Here’s an example: assuming that my book is sold by two shops. Shop A pays me royalties of 70% of the price of sales. Shop B gives me 100% of the price in royalties. Assuming both shops sell the book for the same price, my interest is to get as many sales as possible through shop B. However, Shop A(mazon) is more popular with the potential clients. Essentially I have two options. First, I can direct all my promotion effort to get sales through shop B and let whoever wants to buy from shop A to do so. Second, I could pave the cow-path and direct my promotion effort to encouraging people to buy from shop A, thus hoping that the higher volume of sales generated would compensate the lower percentage in royalties I get from each sale.

In the example above the decision of whether to pave the cow path or not is relatively uncontroversial and could be made through a simple computation. However, there are other situations in which paving the cow path is a lot more controversial.

Let’s take traffic and speeding as examples. Imagine that there are two roads, both within city borders, both two lanes per way wide and on both roads the speed limit is 50 km/h. On both roads there are many (the wide majority of) drivers drive above the speed limit, say 80 km/h. There is, however, a difference. One road is in the city centre, while the other is somewhere at the outskirts between two abandoned industrial sights.

The last piece of information, essentially refers to the potential dangers of speeding on the road in question. On the road in the middle of the city, speeding is a lot more dangerous than on the one between two abandoned factories (where there is little pedestrian traffic).

On both of them people drive faster than the speed limit (assumingly because they are in a hurry) and if we would apply blindly the paving the cow path principle, the speed limit should be increased on both roads.

Obviously, raising the speed limit in the centre of the city is not necessarily a good idea since this would only encourage people to drive faster than 50 km/h and this, in turn, is a cause for accidents. On the other hand, trying to get people to slow down to 50 km/h through traffic cameras, police, fines, speed bumpers etc. will be very annoying and a bit absurd when it comes to the road in the abandoned industrial area. Whereas it makes sense to slow down drivers (through any means) in a crowded area, it makes no sense to do the same in an area where the dangers of speeding are very low.

The example above brings into discussion the “no harm” principle of paving the cow-paths. Basically, if we would raise the speed limit from 50 to 80 km/h on the road between two abandoned factories, while keeping and enforcing the 50 km/h speed limit on the road in the city centre, we would pave the cow-path where actual behaviour that deviates from the desired behaviour brings no harm.

Except for some advocates of speeding or firm believers of applying indiscriminate treatment in all cases, the decision to pave the cow-path on one road and not on the other would bring little controversy. In fact, I believe, that many people would be happy with it.

Paving the cow-paths can be applied in more controversial areas of social life such as legalizing or decriminalizing soft-drugs. Whereas most countries strive for the ideal of a drug free society, some countries have decriminalized to some extent soft-drugs such as marijuana. For example, in The Netherlands consumption and possession of small quantities of the drug are not offences. Moreover, there is a trade system through which one can purchase the drug legally.

Essentially, the Dutch government paved the cow-path for consumption of marijuana. It provided a regulated system for trade and consumption, thus allowing people who want to use the drug to do so legally. The outcome was a decrease in crime related to drug trafficking.

A couple of years back, there was an initiative to restrict the selling of marijuana to tourists. Decriminalizing the use of the drug transformed The Netherlands and particularly Amsterdam in a drug tourism destination. Moreover, the country’s southern provinces became a supply spot for Belgian and French users of the drug. After considerable debate, the three southern provinces bordering Belgium implemented the policy of not allowing the sale of marijuana to non-residents (tourists). The outcome, unfortunately was the occurrence of street trafficking and related crime.

The city council of Amsterdam opposed implementing this policy for the same reason. Although most people in Amsterdam are not delighted by drug-tourism, they acknowledge that restricting the access of tourists to the coffee-shops (where marijuana is sold) will only increase crime in the city.

Basically, the Netherlands accepted that it can’t be a drug-free society. It chose to pave the cow-path for the consumption of marijuana and to focus the law-enforcement’s resources towards tackling the trafficking and use of more dangerous drugs.

Whether this is a good approach for all societies remains to be answered. It works reasonably well for the Netherlands.

Paving the cow-paths implies giving up on ideals such as drug-free society and not speeding within city-borders. It is the path-way towards pragmatism and tackling the issues that generate the most problems. In the end, ideal situations might very well be utopic. Paving cow-paths can be a solution to minimizing undesired behaviour and freeing up resources that can be directed to more serious issues.