28 August 2015

Explicit and Implicit Physical Cues for Social Norms

In many models describing human behaviour, including my own 4D model, social influences and the physical environment are seen distinctly. However, there are situations in which there are physical cues of social norms.

Sometimes these cues can be explicit and prescriptive. They are physical objects that clearly state what the (formal) norm is. In this example, the signs clearly means: 

Your dog shouldn’t poop in my front yard.

Other times, elements of the physical environment represent cues of descriptive social norms. If there’s trash on the street, then it is socially acceptable to throw some more trash. 

The presence of lots of cigarettes buds suggests that

 it is OK to smoke here.

Which one do you think is stronger? The Explicit Prescriptive norm or the Implicit Descriptive Norm?

12 August 2015

How Should Be People Riding the Metro Be Called? - On Primed Identities in Washington DC Metro System

While choosing the place where we live in the Washington DC Metro Area one of the must-have criterions was to be on the metro (subway) lines. Apart from being city-people Europeans who actually prefer public transport to driving, there were some very pragmatic reasons behind our decision.

One thing that surprised me while riding the Washington DC Metro was that people who are using the subway system are referred to as “Customers”. In Europe people using any type of public transportation (e.g. subways, trains, airplanes etc.) are referred to as “passengers”.

In the beginning I was very puzzled about calling metro-riders customers instead of passengers. Slowly I got used to it, but then I started to wonder what the implications are.

What you call someone has an impact on how that person thinks and behaves. We all have multiple identities in the sense of different roles we play. We are professionals, voters, parents etc. Calling someone a parent primes (makes it salient in the mind) the individual’s prototypical parent identity.

The same happens when calling someone a passenger or a customer. As I see things a passenger is primarily someone who travels by train, metro etc. On the other hand, a customer is primarily someone who buys something or pays for a service.  

Indirectly reminding people (passengers) that they are paying for the transport service might have some positive implications in the sense of steering them to be a bit more demanding on the quality of the service they receive.

In the case of the Washington DC Metro, however, I think it is a bit unfortunate to refer travellers as customers instead of passengers. This is because the main quality of the DC Metro System is that it exists. Beyond that, I can’t really say that it is a good service. Trains are a bit old, uncomfortable and noisy. The subway stops are depressingly grey. Most importantly service interruptions, delays and incidents are not exactly uncommon. In the two and a half months I have been occasionally using the Metro there were one derailment, one power outage, one train malfunction and lots of delays.

You might think that such issues are not uncommon in a large Metro system, but Washington DC’s Metro is not all that big. It way smaller than Metro systems in London, Paris and New York.


In conclusion, it is not necessarily a good idea to remind me how that I am paying (quite a lot) for a service that is OK-ish. Please call me a passenger and not a customer.