<![CDATA[Behavioural Bureau By NUDØ - Blog]]>Fri, 25 Dec 2015 00:32:21 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Priming your Contributions]]>Tue, 03 Nov 2015 17:08:23 GMThttp://enbehaviouralbureau.weebly.com/blog/priming-your-contributions
Whenever we make a choice, especially a social one, like giving money to charity or paying our water bills, we rarely think about the potential effects that faces and eyes could have in our final decision. It may sound odd that something as straightforward as a face or a glance could influence our behavior, but we humans have developed neuronal structures to recognise and react to facial characteristics, and it just so happens that these neuronal structures influence areas inside the brain that are related to the decision making process.
This ability to recognise and react to visual cues allows us to make judgements and decisions in a very quick and cognitively-efficient way, as it takes an instant to decide if someone is trustworthy or not or if someone is likeable or not. Obviously this system is vulnerable to errors, but in general it is a relatively reliable one, and we use it in almost every social encounter that we have. Every time we meet someone new, we monitor their looks and facial expressions as we fabricate initial ideas and judgments about them, this is a totally automatic process that our brains use to minimise cognitive work every time we’re faced with a new situation .
Now, there is another aspect involved in this idea about our behaviour being affected by facial expressions, and it is the fact that, as human beings we are social creatures that tend to pay a lot of attention (even if it’s involuntary) to what others think of our actions and our image. This gives way to a very interesting effect, because whenever we are being observed, or think we’re being observed, we tend to engage in behaviours that are socially-accepted ones like cooperativeness and other behaviours that benefit the common good. 

There is vast experimental evidence that demonstrates people tend to cooperate and donate more when exposed to pictures of eyes or even drawings that depict a pair of eyes looking straight at them. We can get a very good idea of this by having a quick look into the experiment of Burnham & Hare (2007), where the experimenters managed to increase cooperation and contributions in a Public Good Game by using an image of a robot with human traits.
The robot they used is named Kismet, and has a structure similar to a human face, but it’s not constructed with materials that resemble at all a human face, except for the eyes, which are human-like. Kismet was built with the purpose of stimulating the neuronal structures focusing specifically on the effects of our recognition of eyes and looks.

Participants of the experiment received $10 dollars in advance to take part in a computerised six-round Public Good Game. In each round, every participant received 10 tokens with a value of $0.20 each, and had to decide whether to invest them in a public account (Public Good) or in a private account. The tokens in the private account remained with the player, while the tokens invested in the public account were doubled and then divided equally amongst every participant. This ensured participants had incentives to make contributions to the Public Good; however, given the nature of the game and the fact that contributions to the Public account would be doubled, the profit maximising strategy por players was not to contribute any tokens to the public account. You can see the resemblance to a Public Good dilemma such as paying for the water bills in countries like Mexico where it is socially better if you pay your bill, but nothing really happens to your service if you decide to free ride and not pay it, making the no-pay strategy a payoff maximising one.
The experiment was divided into 2 groups, both of them played the same game and were exposed to the exact same conditions with only one difference, the control group entered the experiment and had nothing else than the regular desktop in the computer, while the treatment group had an image of Kismet watching straight at them in the desktop an appeared every time a round ended. It shouldn’t surprise you to find out that participants who were exposed to Kismet’s look contributed 29% more on average to the public good (public account) than the participants in the control group.

The fact that people saw Kismet’s look staring straight at them appears to have activated their pro-social behaviour, resulting in the 29% increase in contributions. The amazing part of all this is that other studies have replicated this and show that our brains are wired to detect visual stimulus, that causes us to think we’re being watched and as a result of this en up acting in a more cooperative and social way. This is is a great example of what is known as priming
Priming consists of the exposition to stimulus that may affect the next action we are going to do; in this case, Kismet’s look acted as a priming source, which affected the contributions to the public good in a socially desired way.
So if Kismet stared straight at Irrational Cosi while he contemplates his overdue water bill, do you think he would finally decide to act pro-socially and pay it?
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<![CDATA[Nudges… You’re doing it wrong!]]>Thu, 02 Jul 2015 00:06:14 GMThttp://enbehaviouralbureau.weebly.com/blog/nudges-youre-doing-it-wrong
By now, we recognise nudges as a tool that helps us lead people towards socially desired behaviours, but… what happens when these nudges don’t work the way we want them to and the results turn out to be negative? i.e., when people are accidentally led to make a non-desirable action like increasing their sugar intake instead of reducing it. 

If the nudges we plan are not properly designed and implemented, there is a big risk that those nudges may actually backfire on us. This tends to happen in social-media campaigns, where the messages that we try to communicate are not properly embraced by our audience. To understand this we must differentiate the circumstances under which the descriptive norms (what people usually do) and the injunctive norms (what people usually approve or disapprove) work.
The social-media campaigns that we usually see, tend to try to nudge people away from problematic behaviours, like the fact that a lot of natural and energetic resources are being wasted, or the starting lack of organ donors, or the alarming number of car accidents related to alcohol. 

It’s clear to us that the messages from these campaigns are well-intended, but it is not the intentions that we process in our minds, but the message itself! and an incomplete message can easily turn into an incorrect message; for example, when we say that “a lot of people avoid thinking of Pink elephants” or “a lot of people don’t think of Pink elephants”, there’s an implicit normative message of “a lot of people think of Pink elephants”  that’s also being given, implying that thinking of Pink elephants it’s a problem, but it’s also something socially-frequent.

Descriptive norms affect the perception of behaviours that are usually carried out; they are anchored to the behaviours of other individuals, and it’s easy to adapt to this norms without much analysis, as we tend to assume that if everyone else is doing it, and they’re still alive and kicking, then it should’t be as bad as it sounds. Even other animals imitate others behaviours in a natural way, like bird flocks or fish shoals. 

On the other hand, injunctive norms involve the perceptions of behaviours that are socially approved or disapproved; they are based in the moral understanding of social norms, these include what others probably approve, but there’s a need for further analysis to carry it out satisfactorily, unlike the descriptive norms, indicative norms need to activate system 2 in out mental decision-making process. Much investigation exists indicating that both types of norms can motivate people to take action, that means that we are prone to do what is both popular and socially accepted.

When we are trying to modify peoples’ behaviour in a situation like polluting the street or stealing, we need to make a clear distinction between descriptive and injunctive norms. If we want our friend Irrational-Cosi to stop polluting our street, we must not give him the wrong message by telling him what most do to stop polluting, instead, we should tell him which behaviour is socially approved or disapproved in that situation. To test this, Cialdini, (2003) made an experiment in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park.

The visitors of the Arizona’s Petrified Forest steal approximately more than one ton of wood every month. To fight this, park officials put a sign with the message “Your heritage is being vandalized every day by the theft of petrified wood of 14 tons a year, mostly a small piece at a time.” Even though the officials tried to diminish wood theft by describing the size of the problem with the message in the sign, they were, at the same time, notifying visitors about the behavior of past visitors. Instead of focusing in the descriptive norm, it would’ve been better to design a sign with an injunctive norm focused on the socially disapproving the behaviour of stealing wood.

To test this hypothesis, marked pieces of wood were secretly placed along the pathway of park visitors. During five consecutive weeks, selected pathways had signs alluding to normative or injunctive norms related to the park’s petrified wood theft. The sign with the descriptive norm displayed “Many past visitors have removed petrified wood from the park, changing the natural state of the Petrified Forest.” This sentence was accompanied by an image of three visitors taking a piece of wood. In the other treatment, the sign with the injunctive norm displayed “Please don’t remove petrified wood from the Park, in order to preserve the natural state of the Petrified Forest.” This sentence was accompanied by an image of one lone visitor taking a piece of wood with a red circle and a bar over his hand. As expected, the message with the descriptive norm resulted in an increase in wood stealing (7.92%), compared to the injunctive norm message (1.67%). The funny thing (or sad actually) is that both messages resulted in an increase of theft amongst visitors!

This is why whenever we want to change a behaviour, we must analyse thoroughly all the elements behind the behaviour and design an effective nudge, otherwise we could see all our hard work backfire into negative results. If you’re designing a social-media campaign you need to avoid messages that suggest that a social action is disapproved, but widely accepted. Normative messages generally have higher impact when both descriptive and injunctive norms work together, rather than on their own or competing against each other. When joining two sources of normative motivation a higher social influence can be achieved. The normative persuasion, and thus the results, of the campaigns that are able to align descriptive norms with injunctive norms will be much higher. If we give correctly aligned messages to our friend Irrational-Cosi, do you think that he would stop polluting our street?
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<![CDATA[When More is not Better — The story of Juan “the magical”]]>Wed, 10 Jun 2015 13:17:00 GMThttp://enbehaviouralbureau.weebly.com/blog/when-more-is-not-better-the-story-of-juan-the-magical
A couple of days ago, we had the chance of giving out a Behavioural Design talk in an innovation bootcamp for entrepreneurs. Fortunately, the talk went really well, and the young entrepreneurs found it very useful, however the whole experience left us with some fundamental doubts regarding the whole innovation culture that is currently thriving in Mexico. 

Most of the times we generate innovative ideas, we tend to visualise them as considerable improvements in efficiency and results over the current ideas that exist in the market. This would make a lot of sense if we were what we are not! Or in other words, this would make a lot of sense if we were fully rational agents.
Now, lets imagine that we want to innovate in the home-based coffee business. To improve the whole experience of drinking coffee at home, we might think of inventing a state of the art coffee-making machine which we probably would visualise as a machine capable of making high-quality coffee in 1 second, that uses an adaptive algorithm to predict our tastes and that gives us a daily news summary in a lovely British accent.

If we were fully rational agents, our innovative coffee-making machine would be a complete success. Not only are we reducing the preparation time to 1 second, but we are making the coffee machine accurately choose for us the flavour or kind of coffee we want to drink, saving us the pain of deciphering our tastes. And on top of that it is giving us the daily news as we enjoy our top-quality caramel macchiato espresso.

Unfortunately for us, we humans are irrational agents, and if we don´t consider this in the design phase of our idea, we would have invested a lot of time and money on R&D, tests and tastings just to find that our coffee-making machine is not compatible with our own irrationality, dooming it to failure. 

It might sound counter-intuitive, but “more is not always better”, and unfortunately this concept appears to be non-existent within the innovation culture in Mexico. Before we uncover the fundamental flaw in our hypothetical innovative coffee-making machine, let me tell you a story that will help clarify the concept of “more is not always better”.

Juan is a plumber that worked for my grandparents, then worked for my parents and he is now working with us. Juan has been a plumber for over 40 years and has acquired so much experience and ability that people know him as “the magical” as he is capable of finding and fixing a leak in under 15 minutes. Working with Juan is very enjoyable, as he is punctual and you don’t have to loose the whole day waiting for him to finish the job. However, Juan has told us his life as a plumber is not as enjoyable as we would’ve thought, as he is usually greeted by skeptical and unsatisfied customers when he delivers his job done just 20 minutes after arriving. 

On the other hand we have Andres, who is Juan’s brother in law, who jumped into the plumbing business when he saw the ease and elegance of Juan’s work. Naturally, Andres has little experience as a plumber and his work reflects that, as he takes 3 hours to complete what Juan does in 20 minutes. However, life for Andres is way easier, as he is used to receiving tips and his employers are usually happy when Andres finally leaves after fighting with the sink for over 3 hours.

But, why is this happening?

The key is in the FEELINGS that are involved when paying for the work of each of them, as the experience of paying for Juan’s work is completely different from the experience of paying for Andres’s work. Juan is charging us more for a higher quality job, however he is charging us for 20 minutes of work and unfortunately for Juan, WE PAY FOR THE EFFORT WE SEE!!

In the 20 minutes in which Juan applies all his expertise to solve your problem, we can’t really see all the effort that he’s exerting while Andres’s effort is easily visible for us, as he’s taking 3 hours to solve our problem. And if we weren’t aware of Juan’s quality and expertise, we would probably feel scammed or unhappy as we’re paying him for just 20 minutes work… We could’ve fixed that ourselves couldn’t we?

Juan’s case is useful to illustrate that “More is not always better”, as despite the fact that Juan is giving us a considerably better deal, (even though he charges more, he’s making a better job at solving our problem and he is taking less of our time) we feel a bigger sense of justice in paying for Andres’s work, which makes Andres’s work a much better deal to us in our minds!. This is completely irrational! How can we prefer to pay for Andres’s work even though he is giving us less value than Juan?

Now lets think of our coffee-making machine. A coffee that takes one second to make is a considerable improvement in efficiency, but this probably won´t translate into a better coffee drinking experience, as a coffee that takes a second to make is probably not a top-quality coffee in our minds. Technology might give us the tools to make a top-quality coffee that takes a second to make, but if we don´t take the necessary steps to change people’s perceptions, our innovation will have no effect on the coffee drinking experience of our users. 

This is why it is imperative for us to understand and embrace the concept of “More is not always Better”. An innovation that does not take into account people’s perceptions and people’s irrational behaviours may find out the harsh way that innovation is not just about technological an efficiency improvements. That is why we believe that innovation in Mexico needs to change, as it is currently focused on efficiency an technology and shies away from studying the  human side of problems.



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<![CDATA[The Hidden Cost of Electricity]]>Mon, 04 May 2015 13:25:06 GMThttp://enbehaviouralbureau.weebly.com/blog/the-hidden-cost-of-electricity
During an after-dinner conversation with some friends a heated conversation came up regarding the next question. Why do we keep avoiding energy efficient light bulbs?

t’s a fact that technology has gradually allowed us to dispose the old 100-watt bulbs for ultra efficient light bulbs that consume 5 or even less watts. And it´s also a fact that it does not take any complex calculations to realise that led bulbs save an incredible amount of energy compared to conventional bulbs or compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). This should then facilitate the decision to buy LED or other energy efficient light bulbs; surely most people would agree in buying a LED bulb over any other options. But why is it that when we are in front of the shelf, facing 3 different bulb options we tend to keep away from buying the energy efficient bulbs?
Even though the benefits of LED bulbs are evident, a very curious phenomenon is involved. When the purchasing decision is taken from the table at the after-dinner conversation to an actual shelf at the Home Depot, price at face value over-powers our willingness to invest and save in future consumption even though we know that LED bulbs are good investments that will help us save.  

What is happening then? There are 2 things that are happening here that build a barrier for us to go into the consumption of energy efficient light bulbs. First, electricity is not like most of the consumption goods; electricity is an abstract good that we can’t touch or feel, and that we consume in such a natural way that for the majority it becomes a hidden cost. We know we have to pay forelectricity, but we’ve never seen it or felt it (hopefully), and because of this it is something that we cannot really quantify. How are we supposed to compare the difference between 7 and 100 watts? We definitely know 7 is way less than 100… but what does this watt reduction really mean in cash? When we’re facing 3 different bulbs, 7 watts and 100 watts is a relatively intangible difference that won't (momentarily) justify spending 10 times more, at face value, for a bulb. Not because it doesn’t deliver enough value, but simply because we can’t really identify the actual value that a 7-watt bulb that is pricier than a 100-bulb delivers in the long term.

Remember that we all think positively and are overconfident about the future! This is why, in an after-dinner conversation it’s a good idea to buy a LED bulb, as we are investing money to save in our future electricity bills. Never the less, in the present when we are in front of the shelf we don’t do it because paying ten times more for a bulb seems way too much. This is exasperated when we are going to save in something that we can’t really feel or measure accurately. 

What can we do to beat this irrational act without spending tons of money in consciousness campaigns about the excessive use of energy as governments tend to do? The easiest way to make consumers overcome the irrationality of leaning towards the inefficient light bulbs, is to make energy a tangible good for consumers. Meaning that when Irrational Cosi is facing the light-bulbs shelf, the difference between 7 and 100 watts is something he can understand, compare and that allows him to perceive the actual money he can potentially save in the future. Making electricity something understandable and easily quantifiable (in $) for Irrational Cosi will create an incentive to spend ten times more today and save even more tomorrow.

Our collegues from the Danish Nudging Network published an study focused on increasing the sales of energy-efficient washing machines in Norway. To achieve it they simply added a sticker informing about the long-term impact that the machine would have in the electricity bills of consumers. This made energy-efficient washing machines more economically attractive even though they were more expensive at face value than other conventional washing machines. 

If Irrational Cosi could easily see the cost of a LED bulb at $0.07 per hour and the cost of a 100-watt bulb at $1.00 per hour, do you think Cosi would still be Irrational and buy conventional 100-watt bulbs?
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<![CDATA[Should I choose the best of the worse or the worst of the best?]]>Thu, 30 Apr 2015 13:49:31 GMThttp://enbehaviouralbureau.weebly.com/blog/should-i-choose-the-best-of-the-worse-or-the-worst-of-the-best
Usually when we’re in the supermarket we tend to have a certain bundle of products that we purchase simply by habit, and others that have to go through an evaluation phase before we decide to actually buy them. We commonly take the decision to buy these products in two different ways: a) When we evaluate the product we take into account the attributes that the brand offers, this is called the category effect; and b) We take into account only the products’ tangible characteristics, this is known as the ranking effect. These 2 effects are the reference that we have to properly evaluate products. Depending on how we buy a product, we’ll have a different evaluation of it; either we transfer to it the value and characteristics of the brand or we take into account the attributes that put it in a certain rank of its own category. These weighting applies to any product like clothing, electronics, musical instruments, etc.
Evaluating a product using the ranking effect is easier, regardless of its actual value. For this reason, sometimes people tend to evaluate more favorably a product of a lower price and a higher quality in its category than one with a higher price and a lower quality in a better category (rank). 

For example, lets imagine Irrational Cosi wants to buy a gift for his girlfriend. He is undecided between buying a smartphone of the best quality that costs $500 or buying a tablet of a low quality that costs $500. Irrational Cosi probably evaluates the products under the ranking effect and ends up buying the smartphone (and his girlfriend will most likely be happier with that decision), but is a cellphone better than a tablet?.


This behavior occurs even when there is clear information from other categories that allows a direct and easy comparison. Leclerc, Hsee y Nunes (2005) call this “narrow focusing”, because people prefer to focus on the category that a specific product belongs to, in other words, people prefer to narrow/simplify information. 


To prove this, Leclerc, Hsee y Nunes (2005) carried out an experiment where three groups of students were asked to imagine that they were going to buy a car. The first group had a list with four models of Volkswagen and four Audis. The horsepower in the Audis varied from 190 to 300 and the horsepower in Volkswagens form 100 to 190. They were told they had to choose between the Audi A4 (the lowest model in the high status category) and the Volswagen Passat V6 (the highest model in the low status category). They knew each car costed around $30,000, and they were asked to disclose how much they were willing to pay for each one. The second group had only a list of four Audi models and were told they were interested in the A4 (the lowest model in the high status category), and had to value it. The third group had a list with four Volkswagen models and were told that they were interested in the Passat V6 (the highest model in the low status category), and were asked to value it. 


The first group showed they were willing to pay more for the “worst” Audi ($24,742) than for the “best” Volkswagen ($23,953); The interesting thing occurs when there is no reference point, as the third group was willing to pay more for the “best” Volkswagen ($24,855) than for the “worst” Audi ($22,879).


The first group demonstrated the influence that brands have as reference points of what we desire. But the second and third group demonstrated how we are inclined to better evaluating a product of a lower price and a higher quality within its own category, compared to one of a higher price and a lower quality within its category. When a separate evaluation is made, we use the category, and what’s in it, as point of reference, as we focus in only one subset of information.


Be careful however, this doesn’t mean that if we have a product of less quality (compared to another brand) we have to isolate it or force the comparison against another with less quality; it simply means that we can compare it against ourselves (not necessarily against the competition), or we could simply create a new category in which Irrational Cosi can perceive it as the best in its category, assigning that way more value to our product.
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<![CDATA[More Options = Better Decisions?]]>Mon, 27 Apr 2015 03:32:37 GMThttp://enbehaviouralbureau.weebly.com/blog/more-options-better-decisions
“Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers.” – Irvine Welsh.

Nowadays we have the fortune (or misfortune) of being able to choose a product out of hundreds of brands with various different characteristics; some would think the more, the better. And it is because of this “The more, the better” mind frame that we have so many options available for almost everything in our lives. This is why we can find entire supermarket aisles dedicated to just one type of product like milk or cookies, stores with hundreds of similar mobile phones, and even crucial life decisions tend to be full of options like which career to choose. 
This multiplicity of options has been mostly designed assuming we’re able to understand and process all the available information in order to come up with the best possible choice in a repeatable, predictable consistent way. When in fact, having too many options turns the decision making process into a frustrating one, specially if we aren’t satisfied with our final choice.

Just don’t get me wrong, having a big range of options is not always a bad thing. An increased amount of options available makes for easier access to specialised products that we need for a certain uncommon project or idea that we want to carry on, like going to a paper store, and finding the Kodak photographic paper with matt detail that we wanted so much. But what happens if we don’t really know what we want, and we went just looking for photographic paper? Then we’d probably have to deal with the issue of facing a complex decision. 

It’s been proved that when a person is undecided and the number of alternatives increases, the subject experiences conflict and tends to postpone the decision, look for other alternatives and end up choosing the default option, or simply not choosing anything at all. When the available options and information increases, people are prone to considering fewer options and to analysing less information. The tasks of selecting, evaluating and processing information are depend on the number of options we face. When a choosing process gets complicated (increased available options), people tend to rely on heuristics to simplify the decision-making process. And sometimes, if the decision-making process is tedious enough, we simply turn to an elimination strategy to choose what we think we “really want”.

To prove that having a great range of options can be demotivating, Iyengar and Lepper (2000) made a study involving daily situations and products. We now analyse their findings in the next paragraph.

The first study was made in a supermarket, where consumers could approach a display with a limited (6) or increased (24) selection of flavoured jams. The idea was to measure the attraction of clients towards the stand, and the subsequent purchase behavior. To discard any flavor-bias, the two most traditional flavors and the two most exotic ones, were taken out from the sample.
During the experiment, consumers that approached the display could taste as many jams as they wanted, and a discount coupon was given to them to measure the subsequent purchasing behavior. If a costumer wished to buy a jam, he/she had to go to the shelf to take it, where he would face the 28 jams. From the total number of people that encountered the display, more people felt attracted and stopped by the increased selection (60%), while in the limited selection only 40% stopped to have a look. Surprisingly there were no significant differences in the number of jams that they tested, as in the increased display, consumers tasted 1.5 jams in average, and in the limited one they tested 1.38 jams. Regarding the subsequent purchasing action, 30% of consumers in the limited sample decided to buy a jam, while only 3% decided to buy a jam in the extensive sample. Consumers exposed to limited options proved they were more inclined to buy a jam than those who were exposed to increased options. An extensive variety of options can appear attractive to consumers (and to marketers), but it can reduce consumer willingness to buy.

The second study was made in a university, and it also consisted of a limited (6) and an increased (30) selection, but in this case it involved the sampling of chocolates. The goal of the experiment was to measure students' initial satisfaction with the decision-making process, their expectations regarding the choices they made, their subsequent satisfaction, and their purchasing behavior. To measure the initial satisfaction, expectations and the subsequent satisfaction, participants were asked to fill a questionnaire before tasting the chocolate and after tasting it. To measure purchasing behavior, the participants had to choose one of two rewards, $5 dollars or a box of chocolates from their selection with a $5 dollars value.
Participants in the increased selection group felt that the number of available chocolates (options) was “too many”, while participants in the limited group felt that it was “about right”. In contrast with the limited group, the participants in the increased group enjoyed more the decision-making process, but at the same time they found it more difficult and frustrating. In both groups it was clear that despite the difference in available options, participants were sure that they would like the chocolate they chose. After tasting the chocolate, the limited group significantly enjoyed more the chocolate than the extensive group. Regarding the purchase decision, the limited group was more prone to receiving (buying) a box of chocolates (48%) than the extensive group (12%). 

Apart from enjoying the possibility of choosing among different options, the participants of the extensive group showed more regret and less satisfaction with their decision, making them more likely to accept the money instead of the chocolates.

Having a great number of options to choose presents diverse opportunities to exploit, which can make us feel that we have control over what we want, but at the same time it makes us feel more responsible for our good and bad decisions, making us feel insecure and questioning our own choices, which can be frustrating. Having a limited number of options can make us feel more secure, as it’s easier to have control over them, and we can easily compare them with things we already know and not with what “we could have chosen”, increasing the satisfaction of our decisions.

Sometimes product diversification in a category has grown to excess because of fierce competition in the market. We definitely not advocate for firms to limit improvements and innovation in their products to just one single version, but what about thinking in simply reducing them; as Robert Browning said in one of his poems, and as Mies van der Rohe did with his architecture… less is more

If Irrational Cosi had less ice-cream options to choose from, do you think that he would give himself a break for the raisins ice-cream that he chose?

Reference: Iyengar, S. S., & Lepper, M. R. (2000). When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 79, No. 6 , 995-1006.
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<![CDATA[BACK TO THE PRESENT...]]>Wed, 25 Mar 2015 02:52:27 GMThttp://enbehaviouralbureau.weebly.com/blog/back-to-the-present
We are always setting goals to reach our objectives, it doesn't matter if our goal is something trivial like fixing the leak in the sink, arranging a meeting with a friend that we haven’t seen in a long time or removing the Christmas lights; or something that takes more time and effort like exercising three times a week, saving money for a new car or finally writing that novel that we’ve always wanted to write.
In order to achieve these goals, most of the time we put ourselves future deadlines that can be days, months or years on. The only problem is that sometimes (most of the times actually) we comply with these deadlines, rushing everything at the last moment, and sometimes we don’t even comply with them! and they have to be postponed or even cancelled. 

For example, take our friend Irrational Cosi who wants to visit the national museum to watch the exposition of the great renaissance master Emilín. Even though the exposition will only last one month, Cosi has the perception that there is a lot of time to plan the visit and he’ll probably pay attention to other things that he considers more important at the time. However, just as the end of the month approaches (deadline to watch the exposition) he’ll realise he doesn’t have more time and will probably go to the museum on the last weekend of the month (along with thousands of people that think just like him).

We’re always overconfident about the future, as in it, we visualise ourselves accomplishing all of our goals in time and shape. But why is it always so hard to accomplish our deadlines? Could it be because the future is well… in the future, and right now  we see it as something distant with not much importance? The fact that time passes doesn’t mean that our perception of it is the same. Sometimes we think we’ve plenty of time to do things, but the truth is we don’t. Sometimes the real problem is just that we start doing things too late.

Tu & Soman (2014) said people categorise the timing of future events into two main categories: “like-the-present” and “unlike-the-present”. In the first category people deal with future events and tasks in the same temporal space as the present, making them more prone to start a task sooner in order to achieve a goal than in the second category. To prove this categorisation they ran five different studies, we now comment two of them.

In the first of the experiments, they asked two groups of farmers in India  to open a bank account and save 5,000 Rs at the end of six months; if they achieved it, they would get a monetary gratification. The first group was asked to start in June with a deadline in December, and the second was asked to start in July with a deadline in January; they had total freedom to open the account and start saving whenever they wanted. Even though they had, in both cases, six months to achieve the objective, the farmers with a deadline in December were more prone to open an account right away (31.86%) than those with a deadline in January (8.09%). In the same way, the first group was more prone to save the required amount (27.95%) than the second (4.42%). A similar test was conducted in the lab with students from the University of Toronto, getting very similar results.

In a different experiment, participants were asked to answer how soon they would start working in a certain task if they had to start in April 24 (vs. 25, vs. 26, vs. 27) with a deadline in April 29 (vs. 30, vs. 1 of may, vs. 2 of may). Results showed that the willingness to start working diminished considerably when the deadline moved from one month to another even though they had the same amount of days to do it.

In both cases, the change of year and month, respectively, served as a reference point to categorise the time that participants had to achieve their goals. The participants with deadlines in December and April categorised their deadline as “like-the-present”, and the perception of immediacy moved them to act, while the participants with deadlines in January and May categorised theirs as “unlike-the-present” and the perception they had of being “far away” did not make them focus to accomplish their goals on time.

A simple and adequate categorisation of the time we have to achieve a certain goal can generate a change in our perception of time and may help us avoid stress, sleepless work nights and problems. If Irrational Cosi starts framing his deadlines in a way that he perceives them, as being in the present and not in the future, do you think he’ll be more likely to accomplish his future goals like buying a sailing boat?
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