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Gemma Hutchinson

May 1st, 2020

PB100 live from your living room

0 comments | 2 shares

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Gemma Hutchinson

May 1st, 2020

PB100 live from your living room

0 comments | 2 shares

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

“Prior to COVID-19, students had spent an entire academic year preparing a 3-minute pitch on a topic from PB100 Foundations of Behavioural Science. Changed circumstances meant that they had to adapt swiftly an present on a virtual stage instead. With just two weeks’ notice, they presented to peers and faculty from quarantine, dorm rooms, and basements from all over the world. As faculty, we were hugely impressed, and present to you the ideas of some of the prize-winning speakers.” – Dr Jet Sanders.

With their permission, the following are extracts from some of the students on PB100 who were awarded for their work Find out more about PB100: Foundations of Behavioural Science here.

Elise DescampsElise Descamps (Faculty award winner)

Dear Fear, How Can Loss Aversion Be Used To Reduce Bribery In Nigeria?

Why do we pay such close attention to losses? Well, we are loss averse. We fear more losses than gains (Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D., 1991). We give more importance to loss simply because it ‘hurts’ more but being loss averse is no bad thing; it can even be useful.

In Nigeria, the Behavioural Insights Team played on loss aversion by using SMS intervention to increase the likelihood of people carrying a form of ID and reduce the risk of bribery (De Filippo, A., & al., 2019). They did this by emphasising what they would lose by not carrying it.

In Nigeria, not having a valid form of ID during police intervention leaves you vulnerable to bribes. In this intervention, an SMS was sent encouraging people to pick up their (paid for) driver’s license, focussing on loss aversion using wording such as “don’t let 6350 nairas go to waste”, or “go get your money’s worth before it’s too late”. Randomized control trials showed that this text more than doubled the number of people who picked up their drivers’ licence. The text triggers a sense of urgency and fear by making the loss explicit ( as it is literally written on your phone ). Of course, many other factors could explain why more people picked up their driver’s license, such as simply forgetting or now having the time and means for transportation, however, focusing on people’s loss aversion adds some pressure, which is effective here. So next time you need the motivation to do that boring task, focus on what you are losing. 

Peter V. Masone (Faculty award winner)

Coronavirus Over Climate Change

Governments, businesses, and everyday citizens have instantly responded to coronavirus. There are travel bans, institutions closing, stockpiling, self-isolating and widespread panic buying. In fact, I didn’t even think I’d be able to give this presentation about coronavirus…because of coronavirus. Yet, everyone seems to be accepting of this new way of life. Throw climate change at us though and we’re hopelessly frustrated. Yet Coronavirus and climate change are strikingly similar. Both have an intense probability for disaster. Solving each problem requires ​the disruption of daily life. And there’s a need for ​immediate action. Climate change presents a far greater threat and that same urgency is missing. Why is that?

It’s because of the present bias. Present bias occurs when individuals place a greater value on immediate payoffs​. We find it difficult to put future threats before current needs. Coronavirus is an urgent risk with a nearby reward. Its uncertainty and rapid-growth create fear and anxiety which motivates us to act quickly.  However, climate change seems distant and ambiguous. There’s no incentive to act because the impacts will unfold over time. So, we aren’t willing to change our lives in the same way as we are for coronavirus.

Coronavirus has shown our ability to disrupt our lifestyles and created an interesting experiment for behavioral change that’s impacting all aspects of society. We’re changing our habits which is ironically similar to the change needed for the climate. Perhaps one global crisis can inform the other.

We can incorporate this knowledge about our behavior to improve climate change policies by better understanding the degree to which proximity and pay off has on the present bias of individuals. Future interventions need to consider individual time preferences and incorporate incentives and time-framing messages. This will make climate change more real and observable and make us better equipped to endure short-term costs for long-term benefits. When it comes to climate change, I hope we use our courage and empathy to diminish our present bias to suffer short-term costs for the long-term good.

Jeremy TeoJeremy Teo (Academic award winner)

Risk Preferences and Problem Gambling

Currently, regulations put in place fail to account for risk preferences of gamblers. Meet Cookie Monster. As we all know, Cookie Monster loves his cookies. But in Sesame Street cookies are very, very expensive. And Cookie Monster does not have a lot of money. Cookie Monster, being an ardent football fan, believes that he can read the game to make a quick buck. So he turned to gambling platforms.

Initially, he gained some success. Unfortunately, greed got the better of him. The more money Cookie Monster lost, the more he convinced himself that all he needed was one big break to earn everything back. And as can be seen here, Cookie Monster is now not only in debt, but he’s also depressed and taking shots of milk to drown his sorrows.

The theory

From a broader perspective, the issue of problem gambling can be analysed using the study of risk preferences. Using the Expected Utility Theory, gambling is essentially a choice made under uncertainty. Let’s take for example, Cookie Monster betting on the result of a football match. The odds for Team Elmo to win the match is at 2.0 and the odds for Team Oscar to win, stands at 5.0. Cookie Monster would therefore weigh and evaluate the probability and utility over all possible outcomes before placing his bet. In the eyes of Cookie Monster, the expected utility to be gained from gambling may therefore seem greater than not placing the bet at all. Yet, the unpredictable nature of sports means that Cookie Monster’s perceived probability may not be accurate. Unfortunately, as more bets are lost, Cookie Monster’s risk-seeking behaviour increases in order to win back his losses. This ultimately explains the downward spiral of Cookie Monster losing money and gambling even more. But what if Cookie Monster could make more informed choices?

Current regulations fail to account for the risk preferences of gamblers. Applying Kahneman’s Prospect Theory* I propose maximising the risk aversion to gamblers by making it legally mandatory for betting companies to reframe the way odds are displayed using personal disclaimers. For example, if there is a 5% chance of winning the bet, gamblers like Cookie Monster will be prompted that there is a 95% chance of losing the amount placed. This gives Cookie Monster the chance to make more informed and objective decisions by being made aware of the actual probabilities of winning each bet.

*demonstrates how people think in terms of expected utility relative to a reference point rather than absolute outcomes

Diane Cordier (Academic award winner)

Defeating Fast Fashion Culture with Self-Persuasion

Picture Black Friday. The pinnacle of consumerism. Millions of mainstream consumers swarming into Primark, Zara, and Uniqlo hoping to get the coolest new trends at the lowest prices. We are used to buying fast, cheap and too often. However, this “fast fashion” has extremely harmful environmental and human impacts. 

Fashion is the second most polluting industry on Earth, responsible for 10% of the world’s emissions and immense amounts of water and air pollution. It is also responsible for millions of tons of textile waste. Fast fashion leads to over consumption; we tend to buy more items than we actually need so they end up in the trash.

Most of us know fast fashion’s harmful effects, and we like to say we care about our earth, right? And yet, right now a majority of us are wearing fast fashion products. 
This type of inconsistency is called cognitive dissonance. It’s that uneasy feeling when you have two simultaneous and conflicting ideas or feelings.

However, cognitive dissonance can be used to modify behaviour. In a field experiment on water conservation, researchers from Berkeley found that subjects who made a public commitment to take shorter showers increased their own efforts to conserve water. The most effective way to reduce fast fashion is this kind of self-persuasion generated by dissonance. We can use cognitive dissonance to create an uncomfortable sentiment of hypocrisy in consumers by having consumers publicly voice if they believe in environmental conservation. Consumers will be motivated to get rid of this uncomfortable feeling by modifying their behaviour and their attitude towards fashion. To illustrate my point: in my case, after having delivered this 3-minute pitch to a relatively large group of people, I will probably feel very hypocritical every time I’m shopping at Zara or H&M from now on -which will most definitely discourage me from doing so. 

Nicole George (Academic Award winner)

Nudging Obesity

When you think of the USA what comes to mind? Hollywood? The statue of liberty?  Obesity?

It is estimated that the obesity crisis causes 400,000 death per year in the USA alone, and 2.8 million deaths a year worldwide (WHO data). And in a world where fast food restaurants line the streets, our newsfeeds are filled with tasty treats, and a man on a motorbike will deliver food straight to your door, is it any wonder that obesity is on the rise?

When faced with these convenient, but not so healthy choices, how do we make the healthier one? The answer could be as simple as coloured tape- but we’ll come back to that.

Nudge was first presented by Thaler and Sunstein in 2008. The basic premise of a nudge is to “alter people’s behaviour in a predictable way, but without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives” (Thaler and Sunstein, 2008). In essence, a nudge exploits the fact that we as human beings are lazy. Countless research has shown humans will mostly likely stick with the default choice made for them, despite having the ability to make a different one. (Li, Hawley, Schnier, 2013). Nudges are already being used in behavioural policy around the world; so why not use it for obesity too?

The causes of obesity are of course multi-facetted, and the result of cumulative choices made by the individual; but a good place to start could be with purchase decisions made in supermarkets. A study in the state of New Mexico (Bannister 2010, Hector, 2012) looked at the effect of sticking coloured tape down the centre of supermarket trollies. The left-hand side of the trolley was labelled as fruits and vegetables, and the right was labelled everything else. This caused a massive increase of 102% in people buying fruits and vegetables, without affecting supermarket profitability.

The tape didn’t prevent people from buying anything they normally would, nor did it physically limit what could and couldn’t be put in the trolley. It simply nudged people to buy more fruits and vegetables, a healthier choice. Whilst this wouldn’t stop people from still buying and consuming unhealthy foods, it is certainly a step in the right direction.

We can think of leading a healthy lifestyle as climbing up a ladder. One healthy choice is like one step up. We can see the effects of nudging in numerous other contexts: Food posters promoting consumption of healthy foods increased healthy choices made in a canteen (Mollen et al 2013). Cafeteria workers asking school children if they would like fruit or juice prompted a 70% increase in student fruit consumption (Hector 2012).

Nudges can be implemented easily into daily life, and the literature suggests they are effective. In our busy lives, a nudge in the right direction can make it easier for people to make the healthier choice.

The future for tackling obesity is bright, and it’s clearly marked with coloured tape.


About the author

Gemma Hutchinson

Gemma is the Editor of the PsychologyLSE blog and Communications Manager in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science.

Posted In: Behavioural Science | PB100 Foundations of Behavioural Science

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