social cues

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1) Can the phrase “I look forward to receiving your information so I can process your case as soon as possible,” increase successful food stamp applications?

2) The city of Boulder, Colorado, is challenging its residents to be healthy and act sustainably. Hat tip: Kare Anderson.

3) A behavioral economics explanation for sticky prices and celebrity endorsers: We take our cues about price from others. Hat tip: Mostly Economics.

4) Do the new larger bars on your iPhone 4 make you feel better about your reception? Hat tip Pete Novosel.

5) National Geographic on smiling energy bills and friendly competition.

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From a Candid Camera-style program:


Hat tip: PsyBlog

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At Freakonomics, Ian Ayres, of, thinks the phrase, “I’ll be brief,” is cheap talk, and proposes a libertarian paternalism commitment device to stop speakers from blabbering on.

Groups might develop a norm to have speakers publicly estimate how many minutes they intend to speak before they begin: Instead of saying, “I’m going to be brief,” it would be a stronger commitment to say to the moderator, “Please interrupt me if I speak more than X minutes.”…

The individual speakers retain the freedom to speak as long as they want, and this new verbal convention would give all of us a credible commitment device. The problem of speakers droning on at conferences and meetings isn’t one of the biggest problems in the world — but it is an example where cognitive error leads to a persistent dysfunction.

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One married couple. Two smokers. One goes cold turkey. What happens to the other? Quit entirely? Smoke less? How much less? A paper by David Cutler and Edward Glaeser at Harvard’s Kennedy School investigate spousal influence on smoking. Measuring this influence on any behavior has always been tricky because both spouse’s decisions influence the other. To get around this problem, Cutler and Glaeser use a complex statistical model in which they use the presence of workplace bans for one spouse to measure the reduction in smoking by the other spouse.

Cutler and Glaeser estimate that the effect of one spouse’s quitting on the other is, on average, 40 percent. However, the influence is not symmetric. Wives have a bigger impact on husbands than husbands have on wives. Impacts are larger among spouses with higher education levels. The two also try to determine whether smoking bans have spillover effects beyond individual marriages. These effects show up at aggregation levels beyond individuals, which means that cities and states with workplace smoking bans have lower smoking rates overall. This need not be the case. People could simply shift their smoking patterns, which would not change state smoking rates dramatically. Since the evidence does not suggest this happens, they conclude that broader smoking bans that go beyond individual workplaces could reduce smoking. They write:

These results suggest that policy interventions that impact an individual’s smoking habit will have both direct effects and also indirect effects through on the smoking of peers. Workplace bans seem not only to have reduced worker smoking but also the smoking of the worker’s spouse. Our results also suggest that interventions are likely to have larger impacts when they are imposed at higher levels of aggregation, although we found little evidence suggesting that social interactions can explain the shape of the time series of smoking rates.

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Nudge has endorsed lapel pins with a small computer chip that calculates one’s aggregate carbon footprint minus any amount paid in carbon offsets, and displays this information publicly through color coded lights. The hope for these pins is to nudge others into thinking about and reducing their carbon footprints.

An inspired Philip Frankenfeld of Washington D.C. (inspired by the pins, that is) has composed some lyrics to an original song, “I don’t just hang ten, I wear my carbon footprint on my heart.” To be sung, he says, “incongruously or not…in the style of a Beach Boys surfer song.” We’re not sure which Beach Boys song, but we invite readers to apply their favorite Beach Boys tune.

To read the song’s lyrics click here. (Frankenfeld was pretty serious about this. He wrote three verses and two bridges.)

Carbon offsets is also an anagram from Castes Born Off. Pick your favorite here.

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If you took Psychology 101 in college you might have seen the Milgram experiment, one of the most famous in social science. A 50 minute edited video of it popped up recently on You Tube. We discuss the Milgram experiment in Nudge not to explain the rise of fascism – as has become the common view of the experiment today – but rather to make a point about how social pressures nudge people to accept conclusions that are at odd with their own views of reality, and then shape their behavior.

See the videos and continue reading the post here.

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As part of a grassroots campaign to fight homelessness, the City of Denver began installing “donation” parking meters last year. The meters are effort by the city to direct money – typically loose change – that would be given to panhandlers into community programs that provide meals, job training and education services, substance abuse help, and affordable housing.

parking meter

The meters are a well-designed nudge. They are hard to miss. They are painted red (the rest of Denver’s meters are gray). They are installed strategically on street corners where panhandling and pedestrian traffic is high. And they prompt people for change at the exact moment most people are fiddling with quarters to pay for their parking. There are now at least 86 “donation” meters featuring exhortations to help end homelessness, business and individual sponsors’ stickers, and references to Denver’s Road Home, the public organization tasked to lead the city’s 10-year policy plan. In the first month of operation, last May, the city raised almost $2,000 from 36 meters, which each hold up to $60 in change. The goal is to raise at least $100,000 per year. Denver’s officials said that people gave about $4 million a year to panhandlers.

Denver is not the only city that uses a parking meter nudge. Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Montreal and Baltimore have put in parking meters similar to Denver’s. Chattanooga, Tennessee, has installed meters to raise money for city artists. There is also this meter in Ohio that takes donations for parks. We haven’t seen any yet in Chicago, but we’re keeping out eyes peeled.

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So says MSN’s Health and Fitness section:

A visual nudge can help–but only if you notice it, says Paddy Ekkekakis, PhD, an exercise psychologist at Iowa State University. In one study, a sign urging people to use the stairs rather than the nearby escalator increased the number of people who climbed on foot by nearly 200%. Put your prompt near a decision point, Ekkekakis says–keep your pile of Pilates DVDs next to the TV; put a sticky note on your steering wheel to make sure you get to your after-work kickboxing class. Just remember: The boost you get from a reminder is usually short-term, so change the visuals often.

Continue reading the post here.

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Smokers are deterred by the warning labels on cigarette packages about health risks. Would warning labels about the effects of airline flights on global warming be as effective? The Institute of Public Policy Research thinks so. In a report, it recommends giving per person emissions data about flights to passengers, along with comparisons of energy consumption for similar trips on alternative transportation, like trains. Given that trains are, in general, more environmentally friendly than airplanes, it’s unlikely that any of the major carriers will want to advertise for their competition, but simple warning labels about airline energy usage might be feasible.

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