Archives for behavior



How to Make People Quit Smoking: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest Freakonomics Radio episode is called “How to Make People Quit Smoking.” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) The gist: the war on cigarettes has been fairly successful in some places. But 1 billion humans still smoke — so what comes next?

In the U.S., roughly 70 percent of smokers say they want to quit. But when they try, some 90 percent of them fail. So what does get people to smoke less? Something must be working: the smoking rate in the U.S. has fallen by more than half.

Kenneth Warner, an economist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, has been doing tobacco-policy research since the 1970’s. One of the most powerful smoking deterrents, he says, is making cigarettes more expensive. Read More »



“It’s Fun to Smoke Marijuana”: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “It’s Fun to Smoke Marijuana.” (You can subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) In it, a psychology professor argues that the brain’s greatest attribute is knowing what other people are thinking. And that a Queen song, played backwards, can improve your mind-reading skills.

In the episode, Stephen Dubner talks to Nicholas Epley. Here’s how Epley introduces himself:

EPLEY:  I’m a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago. I’m in the Booth School of Business, and I study mind-reading.

Read More »



A Herd-Mentality Nudge on the Singapore Subway

Our “Riding the Herd Mentality” podcast argued that one surprisingly effective way to encourage pro-social behavior is to simply tell people that everybody else is already doing it.

A reader named Freek Rijna — “Jep, that’s my real name and it’s typically Dutch. :-)” — sends in this example from the Singapore subway. “Thought you might enjoy it,” Freek writes. “Not sure about the penguins though …”

I see Freek’s point. Also, I might have to stop for a minute to think whether “alighting” means getting off or getting on …



Government Employees Gone Wild: A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “Government Employees Gone Wild.” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player in the post. You can also read the transcript below; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

It’s about a book that I’ve come to love — a most unusual book. What makes it unusual?

1. It is made available online, as a Word document, but is not actually published.

2. It is free (or, more accurately, it’s already been paid for — by U.S. taxpayers).

3. It is published by the U.S. Department of Defense.

This unusual book is called The Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure, and you can get it here (2013 additions here). What is it? It’s an ethics guide for  government employees, full of true stories about epic screw-ups. In the podcast, you’ll hear from the Encyclopedia‘s founding editor (Steve Epstein) and its current editor (Jeff Green). Read More »



Do You Really Want to Know Your Future? A New Freakonomics Radio Podcast

Our latest podcast is called “Do You Really Want to Know Your Future?” (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player in the post. You can also read the transcript; it includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.) 

If you could take a test that would foretell your future – at least your medical future – would you? And if you did, how would that affect the way you live your life?

The economist Emily Oster wondered how people at risk for the neurological disease Huntington’s answer those questions. Huntington’s is genetic: the children of a person with the disease have a 50 percent chance of carrying the mutation themselves. Symptoms usually surface in one’s 30s or 40s, worsen over time, and end in death. Oster wanted to know how people with the gene respond to the prospect of a shortened lifespan. Read More »



Boycotts and Jerks

A reader named Ert Dredge writes in with the following set of trenchant observations and questions:

Hiya, Dubner ‘n Levitt.

I was just listening to podcast #84 “Legacy of a Jerk,” and it brought to mind a long-standing cocktail party question of mine:  Is it reasonable to boycott what someone does for a living, if you think they’re good at it, because they’re privately a jerk?

Is it reasonable to never watch Braveheart again because of Mel Gibson‘s anti-Semitism or other issues?
…or never watch another Roman Polanski film?
…or to have not listened to Cat Stevens during the whole Salman Rushdie fatwa issue (misunderstanding?)

And, if so, does that mean that boycotting my local shoe repair guy’s business because he doesn’t clean up after his dog is reasonable.

Read More »



The Ongoing Battle Between Technology and Human Behavior

“It is conventional wisdom that it is possible to reduce exposure to indoor air pollution, improve health outcomes, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions in the rural areas of developing countries through the adoption of improved cooking stoves,” write Rema Hanna, Esther Duflo, and Michael Greenstone in their new working paper “Up in Smoke:  The Influence of Household Behavior on the Long-Run Impact of Improved Cooking Stoves” (abstract; Washington Post coverage).

But, as the scholars discovered, what seems like an obvious technology fix doesn’t always work. Because, remember, human behavior can be a lot harder to change than we think.

Or, put another way: bummer. Read More »



To Ask or Not to Ask: Experiments in Charitable Giving

Our recent podcast “What Makes a Donor Donate?” features economist John List, who has concentrated his research on the science of philanthropy. In short, when it comes to convincing people to give, some ways are better than others. But what about just directly asking them?

A new study from authors James Andreoni, Justin M. Rao, and Hannah Trachtman examines the way people behave when solicited for donations by bell-ringers from the Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign. The authors designed an experiment where bell-ringers were sent to a grocery store in suburban Boston, and positioned at either one or both of the store’s entrances. Read More »