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We are all horny

Honking is so embedded in Indian driving etiquette that Audi India has confirmed, in media, having designed extra loud, ultradurable horns for vehicles sold in India. Meanwhile people face a rapidly growing problem with many side effects of noise pollution. Some of them being increased hyper-tension, blood pressure, hearing loss, increased risk of heart attacks and disturbed sleep patterns. Reports in Indian cities show that noise levels are way beyond the permissible limits. Truly we are all horny.

Honking like other behaviour, over time, becomes a habit. And habits are essentially automatic behaviour where one does not consciously think about the action, but rather, the decision-making happens automatically. So we thought that it was important to shift the driver from an automatic mode of honking as a habit, to make him deliberate on whether the situation really demanded that he honk. We needed to make the driver conscious of the habit of honking by giving him immediate feedback while the driver was still driving the car, so that the next time the driver honked only when he thought it was necessary, rather than honk indiscriminately.

This approach led us to create a ‘Horn Reduction System’ we’ve called Bleep that has proved to reduce honking amongst each and every one of participants by an average of 61%.

Bleep – A horn reduction system

Bleep is a device with a simple red button fitted in an easily accessible place on the dashboard of a car. The red button has a frown sketched on it and when the driver presses the horn, the red button begins to beep and flash. In order to switch the device off, the driver needs to press the red button.

The 6-month long experiment

Bleep has been tested on manual and automatic geared cars amongst 30 people including men, women and chauffeurs of private vehicles, over 6 months and over 3800 kms. The participants were given either of two cars – manually geared Swift or automatic Honda City, with Bleep fitted, to be driven for 4 days during the working weekdays. Two days with Bleep off and the next two days with Bleep on, so that we could compare the number of honks per kilometer in the control situation (pre-Bleep) with the experimental situation (post-Bleep). Bleep has been tested as triggering off every time the horn is pressed, which is a stricter version in the manually geared Swift car, as well as triggering off every third time the horn is pressed, which is more lenient, in the automatic Honda City. In the first phase of the experiment the drivers were not given any information about the experiment. In the second phase they were simply shown how the system works.

The results

We have found a reduction in honking in each and every one of the participants wherein honks per km reduced between 19% to 96% (on an average by 62.5%) when Bleep was triggered every time the horn was pressed (stricter version). A reduction in honks per km was found between 16% to 91% (on an average by 60.3%) when Bleep was triggered every third time the horn was pressed (lenient version). These numbers prove that the reduction in honking relates to indiscriminate honking that drivers can do without.

The science of Bleep

The science behind the effectiveness of Bleep is that it assists the driver in reducing honking by using a visual-cum-sound reminder. The driver gets instant feedback when the red light with the frown beeps and flashes when he honks, making the driver conscious about his inappropriate behaviour of honking and making him deliberate about when he really required to honk. The driver having to physically switch off the reminder further helps in persuading him to honk lesser. The frown on the device is designed to indicate that honking is socially inappropriate behaviour. A study called ‘Overcoming Intuition’ done by Alter, Oppenheimer, Epley and Eyre has shown that frowning helps the brain reduce the reliance on intuition and activates analytical reasoning. Another research at the Stanford University School of Medicine has shown that peak brain activity (arresting attention) occurred during a short period of silence between musical movements, which is evidence that sounds that have a pause in between make you more alert. That’s why a seatbelt reminder like sound was used in the beep.

Bleep comes with many other unique features like recording, displaying and transmission of vehicle data like number of honks, speed at time of honk, location, time, etc., inside the vehicle or at a remote location and many other customised features. Patent pending.

Bleep has got featured in the Times of India (click here), Radio One 94.3 (click here), Top Gear India’s June issue and HT Mint (click here).

What you wear can affect how you act

We feel confident when we wear good clothes, and may be not that confident when wearing clothes we feel not good enough. Seems intuitive. But did you know that if you wear a white coat that you believe belongs to a doctor, your ability to pay attention increases sharply. While if you wear the same white coat believing it belongs to a painter, you will show no such improvement.

Dr. Adam Galinsky, a professor at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and his colleague Hoja Adam call this phenomenon ‘enclothed cognition’ to describe the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes. That’s a play off the term ‘embodied cognition’, a line of research that examines the ways bodily sensations influence our thoughts and emotions.

As a test of the ‘enclothed cognition’ perspective, their research explored the effects of wearing a lab coat on ordinary people. They had to look at two very similar pictures side by side on a screen and spot four minor differences. It was found that attention (finding more number of differences) did not increase when the coat was not worn or associated with a painter. Attention only increased when the coat was a) worn and b) associated with a doctor. The effect occurs only if you actually wear the coat and know its symbolic meaning — physicians tend to be careful, rigorous and good at paying attention.

“There is a huge body of work on embodied cognition”, says Dr. Galinsky. “The experience of washing your hands is associated with moral purity and ethical judgments. People rate others personally warmer if they hold a hot drink in their hand, and colder if they hold an iced drink. Other experiments have shown that women who dress in a masculine fashion during a job interview are more likely to be hired, and a teaching assistant who wears formal clothes is perceived as more intelligent than one who dresses more casually.”

Illustration by (now you don’t need to wear a labcoat for guessing that)

You should sleep over it

Warning: If you are a consultant you may not like this post, but if you are a client you are likely to love it.

That’s because solution providers don’t particularly like to hear the words ‘Let’s sleep over it’, but this phenomenon is proven to be good for complex cognitive skills like decision-making.

In one of the first studies of its kind, Dr. Rebecca Spencer and postdoctoral fellow Edward Pace-Schott investigated the effects of sleep on affect-guided decision-making, which is decisions on meaningful topics where subjects care about the outcome, in a group of 54 young adults. They were taught to play a card game called the Iowa Gambling Task, for rewards of play money in which wins and losses for various card decks mimic casino gambling.

The researchers gave two groups of 18- to 23-year-old college undergraduates a brief preview of the gambling task, so brief that it was not possible for them to learn its underlying rule. Subjects were then asked to come back in 12 hours. The 28 subjects who got the preview in the afternoon went home to a normal evening and their usual night of sleep, while the 26 who received the game preview in the morning came back after a day of normal activities with no naps. On the second visit, subjects played the full gambling task. (You can read the detailed study in the online issue of the Journal of Sleep Research)

Subjects who had a normal night’s sleep as part of the study drew from decks that gave them the greatest winnings four times more often than those who spent the 12-hour break awake, and they better understood the underlying rules of the game.

“There is something to be gained from taking a night to sleep over it when you’re facing an important decision. We found that the fact that you slept makes your decisions better.”, says Dr. Rebecca Spencer.

She believes this sleep benefit in making decisions may be due to changes in underlying emotional or cognitive processes. “Our guess is that this enhanced effect on decision-making is something that depends on rapid-eye-movement or REM sleep, which is the creative period of our sleep cycle.”

Not convinced? May be it’s a good idea for you to sleep over it.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Shaken, not stirred and Tall, not short

How many?

Many people attempt to diet, but a few also attempt to cut down on their drinking habit at some point in life. However, majority fail, often blaming it on a lack of motivation.

What we found here is an interesting factor at work, which could help reduce the intake of alcohol.

In an experiment, Brian Wansink and Koert van Ittersum from Cornell University asked students to pour a single shot of whiskey from a full bottle into a glass. Those given a short, wide glass poured, on average, 30% larger shots than those given a taller, narrower glass. This happened because we use the depth of the liquid as an indication of the amount of liquid in the glass, not noticing that one glass was far wider than the other. These researchers then repeated the experiment with experienced bartenders and discovered that they poured, on average, 20% larger shots into the short, wide glass.

So if you want to reduce your drinking, stay away from short, wide glasses, and stick to tall, narrow ones. But of course, if you want to get drunk faster or get someone else drunk faster, use short, wide glasses.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

 

The Power of Scent

We usually use scents (perfumes) to feel fresh, confident, smell good and to attract the opposite sex (well, same sex in some cases). But scents can have uses beyond our imagination. Here’s one brilliant way, designers at Rodd Design and The Olfactory Experience have used the power of scent.

They’ve created a product called Ode. Ode is a product that releases authentic, high-quality food aromas at particular times in the day to help stimulate appetite and rekindle an interest in eating – discreetly and unobtrusively.

Ode has been created as part of Design Council and Department of Health’s design challenge program ‘Living well with Dementia’. It’s a project to find new solutions for the people of UK that have been diagnosed with dementia. Dementia is a decline of mental abilities such as thinking, reasoning and memory. Dementia usually occurs in older age. It is serious enough to diminish everyday functions in a person’s life such as driving, everyday duties like personal hygiene, dressing, and feeding.

Weight loss is common to most people with late-stage dementia and can be an early indicator of the condition’s onset. Ode is a discreet system that is less stigmatizing and more inspiring than an alarm or constant reminders to eat. Initial research suggests it can stimulate real hunger subliminally.

Fragrances are released in short sharp bursts, acting as a strong appetite trigger and then dissipating rapidly so users won’t become inured to the effect. A subtle light indicates the device is working and also communicates when fragrances need refilling.

Ode is a beautiful and subliminal way of changing behaviour. It can have implications much beyond the application of stimulating hunger amongst people with dementia. It can be used by hospitals to stimulate appetite amongst various kinds of patients or by spas to improve relaxation or by offices to promote alertness. The possibilities are endless. What applications come to your mind?

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

You will never lose your mobile againLet me tell you how. Here’s an interesting story of an experiment conducted by my favorite guy – Richard Wiseman, an experimental psychologist, author and magician.

Sometime ago, he bought 240 wallets and filled them with the same set of cash, fake credit card, address of the owner, etc. In the first batch of 40 wallets he put the photograph of a smiling baby. In the next 40, the photograph of a cute puppy. Next 40, a happy family. Next 40, a happy elderly couple. Next 40, had a card which indicated that the owner had made a contribution to charity. In the last batch of 40 wallets, nothing additional was added. These were secretly dropped on the streets of Edinburgh away from post-boxes and dustbins.

Within one week, 52% of the total 240 wallets were returned. The percentages of wallets returned as per each batch were as follows: 6% of those that contained no additional element, 8% of those containing the charity card, 11% of those containing the photograph of elderly couple, 19% of those containing the photograph of cute puppy, 21% of those containing the photograph of happy-looking family and the winner with a huge margin – 35% of those containing the photograph of the smiling baby.

Why did that happen? Brain scanning scientists at the University of Oxford say that activity in the section of the brain directly behind the eyes (medial orbitofrontal cortex) kicked in, in 1/7th of a second after seeing the baby’s face and that it happened as an automatic response to the image of big eyes, forehead and button nose. This part of the brain is associated with people receiving a nice reward, like a chocolate or lottery. Scientists say that this ‘baby-aww’ linkage is a deep seated mechanism, evolved over thousands of years, that causes us to get in touch with our inner parent, become happier and caring, and thus increase the likelihood of returning the wallet.

So if you want to increase the chances of your mobile being returned if lost, go click the happiest cutest baby and set its picture as your mobile wallpaper.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney. Say hi to little Ettan in the illus-photo (Mayur’s elder son).

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.

Beware of large crockery from the blog Behavioural DesignSo you’ve been trying to lose weight since sometime. And you’ve bought new fitness wear, taken membership to the gym, tried yoga, consulted a dietician, gone on different kinds of diets, even skipped meals, bought your favorite dress a size smaller so that you will motivate yourself to lose weight, but nothing has helped?

Try a simpler way. A few years ago, Brian Wansink invited a group of friends to a party and secretly conducted an experiment. Each guest was randomly given a Medium or Large sized bowl accompanied with a Medium or Large sized spoon respectively. The guests then helped themselves to ice-cream. Seconds before the guests took their first mouthful, the researchers weighed the bowls. Results revealed that those who were given the Large bowls and Large spoons had, on an average, taken 31% more ice-cream than their Medium bowls and spoons counterparts. Andrew Geier and his colleagues from University of Pennsylvania demonstrated that this effect is not confined to ice-cream and parties. In their study, a bowl of M&Ms was left in the hallway of an apartment, along with a spoon and a sign saying ‘Eat your fill: please use the spoon to serve yourself’. On some days they kept a teaspoon and on others a tablespoon. Findings revealed that using the larger spoon caused people to take almost twice as many M&Ms from the bowl.

So try replacing your crockery and cutlery with smaller sized ones and let me know if it works.

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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