May 11, 2012

"Objects characteristic of business environments, such as briefcases and boardroom tables, make people more competitive..."

"... less cooperative, and less generous. Smells matter too: mere exposure to the scent of an all-purpose cleaner makes people keep their environment cleaner while they eat. In both cases, people were not consciously aware of the effect of the cue on their behavior. Or consider this one: people’s judgments about strangers are affected by whether they are drinking iced coffee or hot coffee! Those given iced coffee are more likely to see other people as more selfish, less sociable, and, well, colder than those who are given hot coffee. This, too, happens quite unconsciously."

From Cass Sunstein and Richard H. Thaler, "Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness" (p. 71). From section of the chapter titled "Following the Herd," which deals with "priming," one of the influences on human behavior that government can figure out how to use.


I was searching through my ebook of "Nudge" today after writing that post about offering drug-addicted women $300 to get themselves sterilized. Offering money is the crudest way to incentivize behavior you don't want to compel (or can't — ethically or legally — compel), and I was interested in whether Sunstein and Thaler talked about sterilization. They don't, but they do talk about deterring pregnancy:
Teenage girls who see that other teenagers are having children are more likely to become pregnant themselves. Obesity is contagious. If your best friends get fat, your risk of gaining weight goes up.... (Page 55.)
Teenage pregnancy is a serious problem for many girls, and those who have one child, at (say) eighteen, often become pregnant again within a year or two. Several cities, including Greensboro, North Carolina, have experimented with a “dollar a day” program, by which teenage girls with a baby receive a dollar for each day in which they are not pregnant. Thus far the results have been extremely promising. A dollar a day is a trivial cost to the city, even for a year or two, so the plan’s total cost is extremely low, but the small recurring payment is salient enough to encourage teenage mothers to take steps to avoid getting pregnant again. And because taxpayers end up paying a significant amount for many children born to teenagers, the costs appear to be far less than the benefits. Many people are touting “dollar a day” as a model program for helping reduce teenage pregnancies. (Surely there are more such programs to be invented. Consider that a nudge to think of one.) (Page 234.)
Consider that a nudge to think of one? Are you nudged to rethink free birth control?

ADDED: The notion that hot coffee makes people less selfish and more "sociable" reminds me of the Coffee Party. Remember that? The liberal answer to the Tea Party.


DADvocate said...

A dollar a day buys just enough condoms to stave off pregnancy.

I wonder how well the dollar a day actually works. Do they have a control group? Seems having a baby would be enough to slow you down for a couple of years.

PatCA said...

Somehow I think of "grooming" when I hear their concept of "priming."

edutcher said...

Yeah, we're all one big herd to our betters (and they do everything they can to make as many of us as possible behave that way).

Man, the further down the road you go with these people, the more you can't distinguish between them and (Godwin alert) Germany in the 30s.

Chip S. said...

Sunstein was on the staff of the Harvard Lampoon as an undergraduate.

Should we consider the possibility that Nudge is intended as satire?

Mitchell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ricpic said...

I always get sleepy in a boardroom. Or in any office environment for that matter. It's the strategy of the animal that goes to sleep in order to avoid being eaten by fierce competitives. But I also want to smack cooperative generous types upside the head. A pox on both their houses.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Teenage girls who see that other teenagers are having children are more likely to become pregnant themselves. Obesity is contagious. If your best friends get fat, your risk of gaining weight goes up.

So, I guess the answer to that perenial parent question...."If all your friends jump of a cliff, are you going to?"

Is ....Yes.

Mitchell said...

I'll speak only for myself when I say that I'm nudged to say regrettable things in the presence of alcohol.

Seeing Red said...

When the welfare bennies dried up, so did the pregnancies.

I don't drink coffee, what does that make me?

The Crack Emcee said...

Are you nudged to rethink free birth control?

Sure - along with climate change, recycling, and other forms of "saving the planet" - constantly.

It's our equivalent of those gigantic billboards Middle Eastern leaders use.