Other researchers have determined that mirrors can subtly affect human behavior, often in surprisingly positive ways. Subjects tested in a room with a mirror have been found to work harder, to be more helpful and to be less inclined to cheat, compared with control groups performing the same exercises in nonmirrored settings. Reporting in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, C. Neil Macrae, Galen V. Bodenhausen and Alan B. Milne found that people in a room with a mirror were comparatively less likely to judge others based on social stereotypes about, for example, sex, race or religion.
“When people are made to be self-aware, they are likelier to stop and think about what they are doing,” Dr. Bodenhausen said. “A byproduct of that awareness may be a shift away from acting on autopilot toward more desirable ways of behaving.” Physical self-reflection, in other words, encourages philosophical self-reflection, a crash course in the Socratic notion that you cannot know or appreciate others until you know yourself.
Archive for July, 2008
Marketers are masters of habit creation. Teeth brushing, skin moisturizing, water purifying, air humidifying, fabric softening – at some point in history these all were conscious chores, not unconscious habits. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported on Val Curtis, the director of Hygiene Center at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who turned to three global conglomerates – Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever – to help establish hand-washing habits in developing countries that would prevent deadly diseases caused by dirty hands (ie. diarrhea).
Watch the six minute video from Democracy Now.
Sunstein advocates for the immediate implementation of a Greenhouse Gas Inventory program, and tells viewers what they should know about Barack Obama.
Do comprehensive pictures of your finance help keep you out of debt? Guest blogger Julia Thomson thinks so. Online brokerage accounts often offer up-to-the-minute portfolio values, but Thomson has a much more comprehensive idea in mind, one involving all of someone’s assets and liabilities. Thomson is a former financial adviser, recently retired, who lives in Arizona with her husband, Gerald — “an Econ in the flesh,” she says.
Curious about empirical findings that people showing symptoms of an illness avoid visits to a doctor, Ksenia Panidi constructs a formal model that draws heavily on the concept of loss aversion and reference points. The model shows why loss averse people have incentives to avoid visiting a doctor when threatened with a high risk of illness and when the benefits of getting treatment are low. The intuition is that any “gains” of good news about a treatment will be weighed against the reference point of seriousness of the illness. Given an aversion to losses, a person will avoid many potentially salutary treatments, since they tend to come with considerable risks. Panidi’s model is different because of its emphasis on the emotional costs and benefits of sickness and treatment rather than the financial ones.
A point of caution about Panidi’s predictions. As she notes, her model considers decision making in a single time period. Loss aversion is most pronounced at the initial reference point – the origin on a simple x,y graph. In the original prospect theory graph as one moves away from the origin in the loss direction, the strength of aversion weakens. What this means is that eventually, we should expect someone, even a very sick, very loss averse someone, to visit a doctor and accept treatment. Nevertheless, Panidi’s model suggests loss aversion may be a phenomenon worth paying more attention to as policymakers look for ways to expand preventative care.
A couple months back, we blogged about two experiments where trays were removed from cafeterias in order to reduce waste. Looks like the idea is catching on at “dozens” of universities, including New York University, Minnesota, Florida, and North Carolina. The typical effect is a 50 percent reduction in food waste.
(At NYU this) fall, one dining hall that serves 1,000 meals a day will be trayless. By the end of the first semester, 50% of the campus will be trayless, says Owen Moore, director of dining. Food waste has been cut from 4.03 ounces per tray to less than 2.37 ounces.
According to a survey of 92,000 students by catering conglomerate Aramark, 79 percent supported the idea of trayless cafeterias. Aramark likes the idea too because saving food in many cafeterias – think dorms with meal plans – means saving money.
Denver’s program to fight homelessness through parking meters is an excellent nudge because it prompts people to consider donating their spare change at the precise moment when they are already using change to pay for parking. At the web site for Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres’ book Why Not? How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small, we came across an unnamed reader’s interesting idea for where else a coins-for-charity nudge could work.
I have always thought it would be ideal if charities would be allowed to put collection boxes near airport screening stations. Every time I approach an airport screening station, Ialways have a pocket full of change. I would much prefer to take that change and drop it into a charity collection box instead of fumbling around with it as I make my way through the metal detectors. The change usually is mixed in with my keys and watch in those little plastic trays they give you and I always drop the change on the floor as I try to collect myself after making it through the metal detector. I believe charities would make more money at these airport screening stations then they would at the counter of 7-11 stores.
Nalebuff himself liked the idea and proposed an extension. “McDonalds could say that they will get rid of the penny and that they will either round to the nearest nickel or roundup and give the extra to charity.”
John McCain’s vice presidential search is heating up with talk that McCain may announce his pick as early as this week. Near the top of the potential veep list is Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. When he’s not running the state’s government, Pawlenty hosts a Friday morning call-in radio show called Good Morning Minnesota. In May, Pawlenty welcomed Thaler for a discussion about Nudge. (The link to the full show is here. Thaler shows up about halfway through. Unfortunately, the web controls do not show time elapsed.) Those who’ve listened to Thaler’s podcasts before will be familiar with much of the discussion. Pawlenty’s questions seem to indicate that he’s read Nudge, but he doesn’t tip his hand with exactly what he thinks about it.
High school English teacher and reader Nate Stearns poses three questions to Nudge blog readers:
- Would struggling students work harder if they were placed in a classroom with hard-working students?
- Would students work harder if they did all their work inside a classroom instead of relying on homework?
- Does immediate feedback affect work ethic? Do students respond differently to instant electronically graded quizzes or essays than to those that are graded by teachers, one-by-one and returned a week later?