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Ideas and results from Harvard, part II

3rd Dec 2012

In this post, we share our discussions at Harvard that we list under the second word in the simple mnemonic, EAST (Easy, Attractive, Social, Timely). EAST is the framework the Behavioural Insights Team uses to apply insights from behavioural science to public policy making.


Curiosity can be a powerful motive. Leslie John (HBS) is seeing if people can be encouraged to follow through on invitations to health checks by evoking curiosity: subjects are told that there’s a note written from a previous patient when they get there, or sending them a scratch card with an interesting question on it and asking them to book the appointment before finding out the answer. John is also seeing if people can be encouraged to go to the gym more regularly by showing them the average price per visit each time they go (falling with more visits).

Insights into cheating, with implications for the way we regulate. Cheating increases dramatically when a group of subjects are given the option of having their work checked to make sure they are not cheating. Cheating rates within this group are higher than they are in similar groups whose work is totally unchecked. Franseca Gino’s work suggests that the offer to ‘regulate’ simply highlights, or primes cheating.

Visual information is processed differently to text-based information. Specifically, text-based information evokes more ‘rational’ questions and responses (including cheating) than visual imagery containing similar information, which in turn evokes more emotional reactions.

Up-front costs can increase persistence. In an interesting test of the power of different effects, Todd Rogers (KSG) found that subjects who were asked to do virtuous acts that had significant costs to them were far more likely to subsequently persist in that good act in the future. This result fits with previous work on dissonance effects (people’s attitudes shift to fit with their behaviour (“I must think this is important since I’m doing it at cost to myself”)). In contrast, ‘licensing effects’ – where people feel they have done something good so giving them permission to next do something bad, only occur when the person hasn’t incurred a significant psychological cost.

Financial incentives still work sometimes, at least for economists. Raj Chetty found that offering economists $100 to do reviews for an economist journal made them much more likely to do them on time. Social comparison helped a bit, but nowhere near as much.

Borrowing a trick from resolving difficult negotiations. In difficult negotiations, such as in courts, opposing parties generally have an incentive to be unreasonable so they ask for the most they can and negotiate down. Deepak Malholtra (HBS) notes how some judges have begun to reverse these incentives by asking the opposing sides to make their ‘best offer’ between which the judge will choose one in its entirety. This creates a powerful incentive for the parties to instead focus on making the most reasonable offer, and induces cooperation instead of conflict.

In the next post, we’ll come to the third part of the mnemonic: Social.

Date posted: November 27, 2012 | Author: Behavioural Insights Team | 1 Comment »

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