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Persuasion

Stare at your own risk

Just glancing at a photo of a rich and gooey chocolate cake can set your brain circuits sparking, switching on cravings and revving up your appetite.

The proof is in the brain scans. Researchers found that when people stare at sugary treats, regions of the brain known to be involved in appetite control and pleasure and reward light up, according to the study presented at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society.

The new study parallels earlier research in cocaine addicts. When addicts were shown anti-drug commercials that included crossed-out needles, the brain regions associated with pleasure fired up and the addicts reported increased craving. Contrary to public health officials’ plans, only the needles registered in the addicts’ brains, not the big red Xs crossing them out.

Dr. Kathleen Page, a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California says “We see parallels between substances of abuse, like cocaine, and highly palatable foods. Some of the same brain regions light up.”

Page and her colleagues scanned brains of obese Hispanic women looking at images of alluring foods such as cupcakes, chocolate cake and chocolate chip cookies. “What we saw was that the regions of the brain that are involved in reward and hunger lit up,” Page said. The women, who were also asked to rate their appetite at the beginning and end of the experiment, reported greater hunger and desire for food after looking at the photos.

And in an intriguing second experiment, the researchers asked the women to each consume a sugary drink of approximately 200 calories. Then the researchers repeated the scans as before with the women looking at photos of tasty treats.

“Surprisingly, consumption of the sugar drink actually increased the ratings of hunger and desire,” Page said. “We didn’t predict a hunger increase with the sugar drink. Apparently the brain saw it as an appetizer.”

It’s not clear how average people can protect themselves from photos of tempting treats, Page said. And it’s funny, but when I conducted the studies and looked at the pictures myself, I was thinking, I could eat a piece of chocolate cake right now.

Feel like having one?

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

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Playing games could ease traffic congestions

Billions of hours, fuel and money gets wasted in traffic congestions. Though there has been some progress in the last few years in Mumbai with the starting of the Bandra-Worli sea-link and the fly-overs being built, there’s a strong feeling that it may not be enough. Take the case of Delhi. Delhi is most privileged to have more than 21 per cent of its geographical area under road space. Delhi has built the maximum roads and flyovers. Yet its roads are totally gridlocked. While the government has targeted to increase the usage of public transport from existing 40% to 80% by 2020, it will extremely difficult to curb the ‘status’ tag of cars.

Singapore has had the ERP (Electronic Road Pricing) system that charges extra dollars for using congested zones during peak hours. So do London and Stockholm. However congestion charging has come under criticism that it favours the rich and that it adversely affects retail businesses in the congested zone. So could gaming come to the rescue?

Two experimental transportation projects are under way in Singapore and Silicon Valley that aim to improve commutes through gaming. In one of the experiments, conducted by Balaji Prabhakar, a Stanford engineering professor, more than 17,500 Singapore commuters have enrolled. Participants in the Singapore program shift their commutes to off-peak hours to earn credits, which can be traded for a chance to win cash.

So rather than only punishing traveling in peak hours, this program also rewards traveling in non-peak hours.

Balaji Prabhakar said during a recent talk at the university’s campus in Palo Alto, California, that 11-12 percent of users in Singapore have shifted off-peak. Men tend to shift later, he said, while women generally shift earlier. He says that 11% might not seem much, but they’re enough to make a difference in traffic flow. He ran a successful project for employees of Infosys called INSTANT (Infosys-Stanford Traffic project) in Bangalore in 2008-2009 and is now running the project at Stanford University as well.

I’m wondering how this could be implemented in Mumbai as public transportation is neither electronically controlled nor linked to each other. However prices of public transport can be controlled manually. So imagine the ticket prices of road transport – bus, rickshaw, taxi and the sea-link like toll is increased by 25% in peak hours (8:30-10am and 6:00-7:30pm), but is also decreased by say, 10% during off-peak hours. Could it work?

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Words can work like drugs

Words have been known to have the power to affect behaviour change when used appropriately. As Rudyard Kipling said, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

Here’s an interesting case that illustrates this point. Richard Wiseman, an experimental psychologist and author wanted to find out if it was possible to increase donations by creating the perfect charity box. He created four charity boxes. Each identical in shape and size, and all advertised the same charity – National Literacy Trust. He placed each box at one of the four randomly selected tills at the Borders bookstore, UK. Each carried a message that psychologists believed would be effective:

‘Please give generously’

‘Every penny helps’

‘Every pound helps’

‘You can make a difference’

Which one do you think collected the most amount of cash?

‘Every penny helps’ worked best, containing 62% of all contributions. ‘You can make a difference’ was at second place, ‘Please give generously’ at third and ‘Every pound helps’ was last at fourth place.

Why did this happen? According to work done by psychologist Robert Cialdini from Arizona State University, many people are concerned that putting a very small amount of money will make them look mean, so end up giving nothing at all. ‘Every penny helps’ legitimizes, and therefore encourages, the smallest of contributions. In contrast ‘Every pound helps’ had the reverse effect.

Meanwhile I thought I’d end the year with a tweet I read recently – ‘Do not worry about the past & the future. This moment needs your attention, this is where your life exists.’

Wish you Merry Christmas and a rocking 2013.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Its all about the food, bugger

Want your meeting to go well? Want to get that much needed approval from your client in that meeting? Want the participants at your workshop to be in a good mood? Want your wedding reception to be remembered?

You got it. Serve good food.

To understand how food can make you happy, it’s important to understand how the brain regulates mood. The brain uses neurotransmitters as communication signals to communicate with the rest of your body and to issue its commands. Typically, serotonin is the neurotransmitter most linked to happiness. Foods that aid serotonin production include fish, chicken, cheese, spinach and bananas.

While some foods have been proven to physically affect your brain chemistry, others make us feel good just by eating them. These are Comfort Foods.

Psychological studies have turned up evidence that the comfort foods we crave are actually artifacts from our pasts . We all have memories of happier times, and by eating foods that remind us of those times, we symbolically consume that past happiness. Comfort foods can also be linked to specific people in our lives: Eating a specific food that a loved one favored can produce happy thoughts by triggering fond memories or associations of that person . This makes comfort foods fairly unique to each individual. If your childhood birthday parties represented the pinnacle of happiness for you, you’d likely crave birthday cake or some variation of the dessert when you’re feeling the blues.

Although comfort foods (or the events attached to them) vary from person to person, the foods we associate with comforting or happy emotions vary by gender, as well. A 2005 Cornell University survey of 277 men and women found that females tend to seek comfort in sweet and sugary foods like ice cream, while males prefer savory comfort foods like steak .

So know the food that leads to happiness and know the likes of whom you are serving to.  Foods’ the reason for Laughing Buddha’s happiness and could well be the reason for your happiness too.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Goddess of magic can save you fuelRemember being told by a kid in an ad sometime back, to switch our cars off at signals, because saving fuel meant saving money? If you didn’t, crores of tax payers money (in India), in the form of TV, radio, outdoor advertising went down the drain. Ok, so you are one of the few who do recall this message. Have you changed your behaviour? Do you now switch off your car at traffic signals? Does your driver do it? Have you asked your driver to do it? Ever?

Most of us don’t. It’s too much effort. You would first need to switch the AC off and then turn the ignition switch off, to turn the engine off. And when the signal turns green, you gotta turn the ignition key on, get frantically honked at (we’re talking India remember), change the gear from neutral to first, get frantically honked at again, put the hand brake down, and finally get moving. Oh yes, turn the AC on again. Even if you are highly eco-conscious or highly stingy, it’s still too much effort.

Here comes the Goddess of Magic. Isis, the Greek Goddess of Magic, is the inspiration behind the name of an innovative automobile product called, the same in capital letters – ISIS – Intelligent Stop Immediate Start!

Intelligent Stop Immediate Start (ISIS) is a device, which if fitted inside your car, can save you anywhere between Rs. 500 – Rs. 2,500 for every Rs. 10,000 you spend on fuel. The way it works is that when your car comes to a halt at a traffic signal or while in stop-and-go traffic, and you put the car in neutral, ISIS switches the engine off automatically. To start the engine back, you simply have to press the clutch. No additional effort required. Solutions made keeping in mind that humans are built lazy, work well.

What about the AC you must be wondering. ISIS comes with a built-in sensor, which detects even a minor drop in cabin temperature. If ISIS detects a drop in temperature beyond what is set by the driver, it restarts the engine automatically. As per tests conducted, the cabin temperature remains constant for about 1-2 minutes when the engine is switched off. Most signals restart, within 60 seconds in any case. And if you wish to start the engine/AC at any time, you simply need to press the clutch and the engine with the AC starts again.

One more benefit of the Goddess of Magic, besides saving fuel and money – the reduction in particulate matter, hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide – the stuff that’s weakening our lungs.

ISIS has been developed by Indent – Dhruv Chaudhry’s company. Indent is an auto research and development company, which focuses on creating innovative auto products that, benefit the environment and improve safety. To know more about ISIS click here.

Our advice to the PCRA (Petroleum Conservation Research Association) and Mr. S. Jaipal Reddy, (Union Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas, India) – instead of spending crores on building awareness for saving fuel via advertising, change actual behaviour by promoting products like ISIS and help India save trillions worth of fuel.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Music by design

Music they say has healing powers. True that. It can lift your spirit. It can relax you. It can set your heart pumping faster. But could music influence you to buy wine from a particular country?

In a study of exactly that question, four French and four German wines, matched for price and dryness, were placed on the shelves of a supermarket in England. French and German music were played on alternate days from a deck on the top shelf of the display. And indeed, on days when the French music played, 77 percent of the wine purchased was French, while on the days of German music, 73 percent of the wine purchased was German. (Source: Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow)

As people strolled down the aisle they looked at different wines, pondering on each label concerning the grapes each wine is made from, the wine’s vintage, cost, etc. They consciously weighed all that information, and in addition they’d probably considered what they’ll be eating with the wine. But what worked on their sub-conscious mind was the music. And a little nudge like music turned out to be key in influencing their decision of the origin of wine.

When asked whether the music influenced their choice, only one shopper in seven said that it had, while the truth was just the opposite. And that’s because we don’t realize the extent of influence our environment has in our decision- making.

The next time you visit McDonalds, notice the pace of music. Greater the crowd, faster the music. Faster the music, quicker the food consumption. Quicker the food consumption, quicker the tables turn free. I’m not sure if they play slow music when the restaurant is relatively empty. Though that could make people eat slower and sit longer, creating the perception that the restaurant has a good number of visitors and is therefore doing well.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

We have often heard the phrase ‘Eyes are the window to the soul’. I believe it too, but I have found it difficult to explain how exactly looking into someone’s eyes says something about them or about what was going in their minds. Here’s an interesting finding.

In which one of the photographs, do you find the model more attractive? A or B?

Most of the men find picture B to be more attractive (unless you are into the ‘bitchy’ kinds). While both the pictures are the same, in picture B the size of pupils has been dilated.

Studies have shown that our pupils dilate wider than normal when we are excited about something and even someone. In 1965, pupillometry pioneer and psychologist Eckhard Hess asked men to compare the attractiveness of images of women with average-sized pupils to drawings in which the women’s pupil sizes were enhanced. Hess noted that “none of the men reported noticing the difference in pupil size” between the pictures, but the subtle change seemed to subconsciously influence the level of attraction they felt for the woman. When the woman had large pupils, she was said to be soft, more feminine and pretty, while when the very same woman had small pupils, the men described her as cold, hard and selfish. Therefore, men may unwittingly read pupil dilation as an advertisement of interest. Now I know why everyone seems so attractive at candle-light dinners!

Are women attracted to men with large pupils? The answer is sometimes. Apparently for women, smaller pupils being more attractive in a mate holds true, if they are into the ‘bad boy’ type or are seeking a short term fling. While women who preferred men with larger sized pupils sought long term relationships with ‘nice guys’ more often than not.

Given the above, I now feel the eyes are less of a window to one’s soul and more of a window to his or her bedroom.

Trust building marketing initiativeBack when I used to work at Lowe Lintas, I used to strategize for a brand called Pureit, the water purifier from Hindustan Unilever. The product was test marketed in Chennai and at that point in time, 83% of households used to boil water for drinking purposes, as the water condition in Chennai was (and is) extremely bad. Moreover doctors had always been recommending to boil water. So boiled water was considered the gold standard in drinking water.

The challenge for us was to create the market for water purification systems and more precisely, to change the behaviour of the conservative Tamilians, who had been boiling water for generations, to let go of their old ‘boiling’ habit and switch to Hindustan Lever Pureit. We had created an ad campaign for Pureit, which ultimately went on to win an EFFIE – the advertising effectiveness award, but the ad campaign started only months after the actual launch.

Here’s the interesting part and probably the most effective piece of behavioural design we had implemented – we placed Pureit water purifier at doctor’s clinics. We requested doctors in Chennai to keep Pureit in their clinics as a service to their patients. Doctors agreed and Pureit was placed in thousands of clinics, with a sticker of it being ‘As safe as boiled water’ and another sticker of the toll-free number, which people could call to find out more. This simple intervention served as a sampler, product demonstrator, trial generator, doctor endorser, people-convincer and lead generator all in one.

People believed that the doctor wouldn’t keep the purifier in his clinic, if it weren’t safe enough for his patients to drink. So they drank without worrying, and many Tamilians changed their habit of boiling water, by switching to Pureit.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Give and take

The headline translates to ‘Give with one hand, take with the other’. Right from the time we were 2 years old we’ve been taught how important it is to give and share our toys with others. But little do we realize that we can benefit immensely if we use this philosophy by design, to affect persuasion in our daily lives or even in business.

Here’s an interesting experiment conducted by psychologist Dravid Strohmetz that illustrates how spontaneous favors can elicit the need to reciprocate. In the experiment, waiters of a restaurant handed over bills to their customers, with or without sweets. In the first situation, diners were given their bills without any sweets at all. Then a second group was given one sweet. This simple gesture of kindness resulted an increase in tip of a mere 3%. The third group of diners received two sweets each; and compared to the first group, they gave 14% larger tips. Not bad. However, here comes the clever bit. For the fourth group, the waiter was asked to present the bill to the customers along with one sweet each, then, just as he was about to turn away from the table, he reached into his pocket and quickly handed everyone a second sweet. In terms of sweets per customer, everyone ended up with two sweets – the same as the customers in the third group. But psychologically this was very different. The waiter had just carried out an unnecessary and nice favor, and because of that, tipping increased by 23% as a result of the need of reciprocating the favor.

Simply put, we like people who help us, and we help people we like. So if you want help, try helping others first.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

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