Transcriber: Leonardo SilvaReviewer: Denise RQ So, we all have some behavior that we would like to changeabout ourselves.
And we certainly all wantto help someone else change their behavior in a positive way.
So, maybe it's your kid, your spouse, your colleague.
So I want to sharesome new research with you that I think revealssomething really important about what gets peopleto change their behavior.
But before I do that, let's zoom in on one strategy that I think you probably use a lot.
So, let's say you're tryingto stop yourself from snacking.
What do you tell yourself? Well, most people, in a monologue, will say, “Beware.
You'll be fat.
” And if this was your kid, you would probably tell himthat smoking kills and, by the way, he's in big, big trouble.
(Laughter) So, what we're trying to do here is we're trying to scareourselves and others into changing their behavior.
And it's not just us.
Warnings and threats are really commonin health campaigns, in policy.
It's because we all sharethis deep-rooted belief that if you threaten people, if fear is induced, it will get them to act.
And it seems like a reallyreasonable assumption, except for the fact that the science shows that warnings havevery limited impact on behavior.
So, graphic imageson cigarette packets, for example, do not deter smokers from smoking, and one study foundthat, after looking at those images, quitting actually becamea lower priority for smokers.
So, I'm not saying that warningsand threats never work, but what I'm saying is, on average, they seem to have a very limited impact.
And so, the question is: why? Why are we resistant to warnings? Well, if you think about animals, when you induce fear in an animal, the most common response you will seeis freezing or fleeing; fighting, not as much.
And so, humans are the same.
So if something scares us, we tend to shut down and we tryto eliminate the negative feelings.
So, we might use rationalizations.
For example, you might tell yourself: “My grandpa smoked.
He lived to be 90.
So, I have really good genesand absolutely nothing to worry about.
” And this process can actuallymake you feel more resilient than you did before, which is why warningssometimes have this boomerang effect.
In other times, we simplyput our head in the ground.
(Laughter) Take the stock market for example.
Do you know when peoplepull their head out of the ground to look at their accounts — not to make a transaction, just to log in to check their account? So, what you're seeing here, in black, is the S&P 500 over two years, and in gray, is the number of times that people logged in to their account just to check.
And this is data from Karlsson, Loewenstein & Seppi, it's control [data] for allthe obvious confounds.
So, what do we see? When the market is high, people log in all the time, because positive informationmakes you feel good, so you seek it out.
And when the market is low, people avoid logging in, because negative informationmakes us feel bad, so we try to avoid it altogether.
And all this is true as long as bad informationcan reasonably be avoided.
So, what you don't see hereis what happened a few months later, in the financial collapse of 2008, when the market went drastically down and that was when peoplestarted logging in frantically, but it was a bit too late.
So, you can think about it like this –it's not just finance: In many different parts of our life, (Laughter) we have warning signsand bad behaviors now.
And they could potentially leadto all these bad outcomes later, but not necessarily so, because there are different routsfrom your present to your future, right? It can go this way, it can go that way.
And, as time passes, you gather more and more informationabout where the wind is blowing.
(Laughter) And, at any point, you can intervene and you could potentiallychange the outcome, but that takes energyand you might tell yourself: “What's the point about worryingabout something that might happen? It might not happen.
” Until we reach this point, at which time you do jump into action, but sometimes it's a little bit too late.
So, we wanted to know, in my lab, what type of informationdoes leak into people.
So, we conducted an experiment where we asked approximately 100 peopleto estimate the likelihood of 80 different negative eventsthat might happen to them in the future.
So, for example, I might ask you: “What is the likelihood that you'll sufferhearing loss in your future?” And let's say you think it's about 50%.
Then, I give you the opinionof two different experts.
So, expert A tells you: “You know, for someone like you, I think it's only 40%.
” So, they give youa rosier view of your future.
Expert B says: “You know, for someone like you, I actually thinkit's about 60%.
” So, they give youa bleaker view of your future.
What should you do? Well, you shouldn't changeyour beliefs, right? Wrong.
What we find is that peopletend to change their beliefs towards a more desirable opinion.
In other words, people listento the positive information.
Now, this study was conductedon college students, so you might say: “Well, college students are delusional, right? We all know that.
” (Laughter) And surely, as we grow older, we grow wiser.
So we said: “OK, let's test that.
Does this really generalize? Does it generalize to your kid, to your parent? Does it generalize to your spouse?” And so, we tested peoplefrom the age of 10 until the age of 80, and the answer was yes.
In all these age groups, people take in informationthey want to hear — like someone telling you you're more attractive than you thought — than informationthat they don't want to hear.
And the ability to learn from good news remained quite stablethroughout the life span, but the ability to learn from bad news, that changes as you age.
So, what we found wasthat kids and teenagers were the worse at learning from bad news, and the ability becamebetter and better as people aged.
But then, around the age of 40, around midlife, it started deteriorating again.
So, what this means is that the most vulnerable populations, kids and teenagers on the one hand, and the elderly on the other hand, they're the least likelyto accurately learn from warnings.
But what you can see here is that it doesn't matterwhat age you are.
You can be 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60; everyone takes in informationthey want to hear more than information that they don't.
And so, we end upwith a view like this of ourselves.
(Laughter) Our mistake as teachers, as mentors, as employers is that, instead of workingwith this positive image that people so effortfully maintain, we try and put a clear mirrorin front of them.
We tell them: “You know, the image is just going to get worseand worse and worse.
” And it doesn't work.
It doesn't work because the brainwill frantically try to distort the image, using Photoshop and fancy lenses, until it gets the image it's happy with.
But what would happenif we went along with how our brain works and not against it? Take handwashing, for example.
We all know that handwashingis the number one way to prevent the spread of disease, and this is really important in hospitals.
So, in a hospitalhere in the United States, a camera was installed to see how often medical staffdo, in fact, sanitize their hands before and after entering a patient's room.
Now, the medical staff knewa camera was installed.
Nevertheless, only one in ten washed their hands before and after enteringa patient's room.
But then, an intervention was introduced: an electronic board that told the medical staffhow well they were doing.
Every time you washed your hands, the numbers went up on the screen and it showed youyour rate of your current shift and the rate of the weekly staff.
And what happened? Boom.
Compliance raised to 90%, which is absolutely amazing.
And the research staff were amazed as well, and they made sure to replicate itin another division in the hospital.
Again, the same results.
So, why does thisintervention work so well? It works well because, instead of using warnings about bad things that can happenin the future, like disease, it uses three principles that we knowreally drive your mind and your behavior.
Let me explain.
The first one is social incentives.
In the hospital study, the medical staff could seewhat other people were doing.
They can see the rates of the shift, the rate of the week.
We're social people, we really care what other people are doing, we want to do the sameand we want to do it better.
This is an image from a studythat we conducted, led by PhD student Micah Edelson, and what it's showing you is a signalin the emotional center of your brain when you hear about the opinion of others.
And what we found wasthat this signal can predict how likely you areto conform at a later time, how likely you are to change your behavior.
So, the British governmentare using this principle to get people to pay taxes on time.
In an old letter that they sent to peoplewho “forgot” to pay taxes on time, they simply stressedhow important it was pay taxes, and that didn't help.
Then, they added one sentence, and that sentence said: “Nine out of ten people in Britainpay their taxes on time.
” And that one sentence enhanced compliancewithin that group by 15%, and it's thought to bring into the British government 5.
6 billion pounds.
So, highlighting what other people are doing is a really strong incentive.
The other principle is immediate rewards.
So, every time the staff washed their hand, they could see the numbers go up on the board and it made them feel good.
And knowing that in advancemade them do something that they, otherwise, may not want to do.
Now, this works because we valueimmediate rewards, rewards that we can get now, more than rewardsthat we can get in the future.
And people tend to think it's becausewe don't care about the future, but that's completely wrong, we all care about our future, right? We want to be happy and healthyin the future, we want to be successful, but the future is so far away.
I mean, maybe you'll behave badly nowand you'll be fine in the future, and maybe you'll be altogether dead.
(Laughter) So, the here-and-now you would rather have that tangible drink, that tangible T-bone, rather than somethingthat's uncertain in the future.
If you think about it, it's not altogether irrational, right? You're choosing something sure now rather than somethingthat is unsure in the future.
But what will happenif you reward people now for doing actions that are goodfor them in the future? Studies show that giving peopleimmediate rewards make them more likely to quit smoking, more likely to start exercising, and this effect lasts for at least six months, because not smokingbecomes associated with a reward, and exercising becomesassociated with a reward, and it becomes a habit, it becomes a lifestyle.
So, we can reward ourselves and others now for behaving in waysthat are good for us in the future and that's a way for usto bridge the temporal gap.
And the third principleis progress monitoring.
So, the electronic board focusedthe medical staff attention on improving their performance.
This is an image from a studythat we conducted, that shows you brain activity suggestive of efficient codingof positive information about the future.
And what we found was that the braindoes a really good job at this, but it doesn't do such a good job at processing negative informationabout the future.
So, what does this mean? It means that, if you're tryingto get people's attention, you might want to highlight the progress, not the decline.
So, for example, if you take that kid with the cigarette, you might want to tell them: “You know, if you stop smoking, you'll become better at sports.
” Highlight the progress, not the decline.
Now, before I sum up, let me just sharethis small anecdote with you.
A few weeks ago, I got homeand I found this bill on my fridge.
And was really surprised becausethere's never any bills on my fridge.
So, I was wondering why my husbanddecided to put that on our fridge.
And so, looking at the bill, I could seethat what this bill was trying to do is get me to be more efficientwith my electricity use.
And how was it doing it? Social incentives, immediate rewardsand progress monitoring.
Let me show you.
Here are the social incentives.
In gray is the energy use on the average energy use of people in my neighborhood.
And in blue is my energy use, and in green is the mostefficient neighbor.
And my reaction to this was — my immediate reaction was: “I'm a little bit better than average”(Laughter) — a tiny bit, but still.
and my husband had exactly the same reaction — and “I want to get to the green bar.
” And then, I got a smiley face.
That was my immediate reward and it wastelling me, “You're doing good, ” and it made me wantto put this on my fridge.
(Laughter) And although I have this one smiley face, I can see an opportunity thereto get two smiley faces.
(Laughter) So, there's an opportunity for progress and it's showing me my progressthroughout the year, how my energy use changesthroughout the year.
And the last thing this bill gave me: it gave me a sense of control.
So, it gave me a sense of I wasin control of my use of electricity.
And that is a really important thing, if you try to get peopleto change their behavior, because the brain is constantly tryingto seek ways to control its environment.
It's one of the principlesof what the brain is actually doing.
And so, giving people a sense of controlis a really important motivator.
So, what am I not saying? I'm not saying that we do not needto communicate risks, and I'm not sayingthat there's one-solution-fits-all, but I am saying that, if we wantto motivate change, we might want to rethink how we do it, because fear, the fear of losing your health, the fear of losing money, induces inaction, while the thrill of a gain induces action.
And so, to change behaviorin ourselves and in others, we may want to trythese positive strategies rather than threats, which really capitalizeon the human tendency to seek progress.