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How do you help people fight petty corruption in their country? An NGO called 5th Pillar has come up with an ingenious idea that works in India: A zero rupee note. More than one million have been given out. Public officials recoil when citizens hand them one.

(5th Pillar President Vijay) Anand explained that a number of factors contribute to the success of the zero rupee notes in fighting corruption in India. First, bribery is a crime in India punishable with jail time. Corrupt officials seldom encounter resistance by ordinary people that they become scared when people have the courage to show their zero rupee notes, effectively making a strong statement condemning bribery. In addition, officials want to keep their jobs and are fearful about setting off disciplinary proceedings, not to mention risking going to jail. More importantly, Anand believes that the success of the notes lies in the willingness of the people to use them. People are willing to stand up against the practice that has become so commonplace because they are no longer afraid: first, they have nothing to lose, and secondly, they know that this initiative is being backed up by an organization—that is, they are not alone in this fight.

The full story over at the World Bank’s Public Sphere blog is definitely worth a read.

Hat tip: Ana Nelson

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This past weekend the Washington Post featured a wonderful, albeit tragic, story about parents who leave their children behind in hot, parked cars for hours. Every year, 15-25 children die from these parental mistakes. The question beneath all of the individual stories was this: Should this kind of absentmindedness be a crime? Among the 516 comments are examples of nudges that can prevent these kinds of future tragedies.

  • Several products are available to remind a parent if a child remains in a car seat after the car is turned off. One of the more popular is Cars-N-Kids Car Seat Monitor, which turns on upon sensing a child’s weight and sounds a lullaby when the car has stopped; it retails for about $40 and is available online.
  • KidsAndCars.org, an advocacy group for child vehicle safety, urges some basic measures to prevent the tragedy of children being inadvertently left in vehicles: 1) Always put something you’ll need for work — cellphone, handbag, employee badge, etc. — on the floor of the back seat, near the child. 2) Keep a large teddy bear in the child’s car seat when it’s not occupied. When the child is placed in the seat, put the teddy bear up front in the passenger seat. It’s a visual reminder that anytime the teddy bear is in the passenger seat, the child is in the back. 3) Make arrangements with your child’s day-care provider or babysitter that you will always call them if your child will not be there on a particular day as scheduled. Ask them to always phone you if your child does not show up when expected.
  • Keep your car key separate from your house and office keys. When you put your kid in the back seat, put your office and house keys back there too. Put your cell phone and blackberry back there while you’re at it.
  • “I have two thoughts on ways to add more “Swiss cheese” layers of defense. One: each parent develops a system of wearing a badge or string or something when the kid is in the car, like the person who talked about their company’s lock-up procedures. Two: drive with the windows cracked a little, even during summer when the A/C is on (but not cracked too much; you don’t want your car stolen with the baby inside, either). Sure, it’s energy inefficient, but even if the horrible happens and the baby is forgotten, I’d think that’d buy him/her a few precious hours for the parent to realize their mistake or for a passerby to notice.

Hat tip: Hugo Mercier

Reader Ben Ullmann writes us:

For many years, buses in London have had CCTV cameras so that the driver can see what’s happening on the top and bottom decks. Petty crime on buses and other forms of transport has been a problem for a long time in the capital.

On some newer bus types however, they not only install a screen for the driver to see the cctv footage, but have also added screens for the passengers to see. (see picture) A little ‘nudge’ to discourage potential disruptive passengers who not only see their behaviour played back to them, but also know that others are watching!

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The always clever Rory Sutherland puts chapter 5 of Nudge to excellent use.

Amazingly there is a single item in your home which defies all three of these Nudge principles. It is the DVD player — a hateful example of bad design.

1) Feedback. Every input to a DVD player has no observable effect for four seconds. Simply ejecting a disk means pressing ‘eject’ then making a cup of tea while you wait for the machine to wrestle with its inner demons. ‘HAL, open the disk bay door!’ ‘I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t allow you to do that.’

2) Choice architecture. The standard DVD remote control is covered by 37 buttons all of an equally fiddly size, 32 of which perform no useful function whatsoever.

3) Defaults. When I load a disk, it’s because I want to watch the film. From the start. In bloody English. The remote is by now somewhere under the sofa, so the last thing I need is a menu screen asking whether to ‘a) play the main feature? or b) watch 17 minutes of unreleased footage with a spoken commentary and Flemish subtitles?’ Default to a), damn it!

While we’re at it, kill that advertisement at the beginning of every DVD which suggests that piracy is no different from car theft. First, this admonition only appears on legal DVDs, so the target audience won’t see it. Second, it’s insane to claim piracy is equivalent to physical crime. ‘You wouldn’t desecrate a cemetery,’ it suggests, ‘and you wouldn’t burgle a pensioner’s flat while smearing excrement over the walls. So what makes you think Cameron Diaz doesn’t deserve a bigger yacht?’

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Why do teachers think scaring teenagers is the best way to get their attention? Scare tactics are common for sex, crime, parenthood, and alcohol and drug abuse. For years, schools have tried to warn students about the dangers of drunk driving by hauling in smashed cars (or smashing them on school property), using fake blood and stage make-up to recreate the effects of accident injuries, or having a teacher dress in costume as the Grim Reaper and pull students out of class who have “died” in an auto accident. This week, El Camino High School in San Diego, California, is defending a routine that involved local cops delivering some tragic news.

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Why do teachers think scaring teenagers is the best way to get their attention? Scare tactics are common for sex, crime, parenthood, and alcohol and drug abuse. For years, schools have tried to warn students about the dangers of drunk driving by hauling in smashed cars (or smashing them on school property), using fake blood and stage make-up to recreate the effects of accident injuries, or having a teacher dress in costume as the Grim Reaper and pull students out of class who have “died” in an auto accident. This week, El Camino High School in San Diego, California, is defending a routine that involved local cops delivering some tragic news.

From the Associated Press report:

Highway patrol officers visited 20 classrooms at El Camino High School to announce some horrible news: Students had been killed in car wrecks over the weekend.

Classmates wept. Some became hysterical. A few hours and many tears later, though, the pain turned to fury when the teenagers learned that it was all a hoax — a scared-straight exercise designed by school officials to dramatize the consequences of drinking and driving.

At PyschCentral, Renée M. Grinnell thinks these stunts work better on reporters than they do on teens. He cites an op-ed by Michael Haines, a member of the National Social Norms Institute (NSNI), that reported increased drinking after a 1989 “scare-tactic” campaign at Northern Illinois University. At the Nudge blog, we think harnessing social norms is an underutilized strategy for changing behavior. NSNI has embarked on a number of innovative and successful experiments to reduce drinking, smoking, and drug use, and increase seat belt usage and tax compliance in states around the country.

One such strategy was a 15-month DWI awareness campaign in Montana targeted at 21-34-year-olds. Using a controlled randomized experiment approach, researchers communicated their messages through many of the standard channels (radio, TV, posters and billboards), most of which used the sentence, “MOST Montana Young Adults (4 out of 5) Don’t Drink and Drive” At the end of the campaign, researched reported changes in behavior and even higher acceptance of tougher drunk driving laws.

  • A 14% relative decrease in the percentage who reported personally driving after drinking.
  • A 17% relative increase in the percentage who supported passing a law to decrease the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) legal limit for driving to .08%.
  • A 15% relative increase in the percentage always using non-drinking designated drivers.

NSNI has adapted these sorts of social norms campaigns to individual schools, including an alcohol and tobacco awareness program at the high school in Evanston, just north of Chicago, that used posters like this one to mix romantic angst with smoker’s breath. These types of campaigns are particularly flexible in that they can incorporate not only age specific codes or language, but school specific ones as well. Maybe next year El Camino High School will trying something different.

Addendum: Be sure to read the Drug Education Forum post referenced in the comment below for an interesting finding on Scared Straight programs to prevent crime. A great find!