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 …
From a Freakonomics Radio listener named Luke Charley:
I am a 21-year-old male college student in Bismarck, ND. I listen to your podcast quite a bit, and I found the one about the energy saved by houses — I believe it was in the podcast titled “Riding the Herd Mentality.” Well, the weight room I frequent often had plates not racked back up after people were done working out. They would just leave them on the floor and it bothered me quite a bit. So I decided to write a sign saying, “Everybody else racks their weights, please do the same.” In the past two weeks since I have done that, every day when I have been in there, there were no weights on the floor! Applying what you learn on a podcast to a weight room is quite invigorating.
Way to go, Luke! Delighted this worked out (so far, at least) …
Very recently I drove through a couple of small villages in the northwestern part of Belgium (near the border with France). A couple of road signs caught my attention. When you reach a village there’s a sign (in Dutch) saying “here, X percent of the drivers stay within the speed limit.” Then when you reach the next village there’s the same sign except that the percentage is different. Usually it’s around 90% (87% in one village, 91% in another, etc.).
I don’t know how they collect the data or even if the numbers are real. I also wish I knew the trends, how often they change the signs, how many villages participate in this safety initiative, etc. Then I wondered: where does this idea come from? Have you heard of anything like this before? If yes, is this effective to slow cars down?
At the 2012 Sydney Festival, we created a sophisticated set of interactive dashboards showing which artists were buzzing (on Twitter and Facebook) in real time, where people were coming from, interesting facts and live photos.
To my astonishment the most popular tool simply allowed you to see which show other people from your postcode were going to see. Viewed through the lens of behavioral economics, this makes perfect sense but it’s the opposite of what I would have predicted instinctively. In fact it almost didn’t get deployed because it was too simple.
In our recent podcast “Riding the Herd Mentality,” we discussed how the actions of people around you significantly affects your behavior. A new paper studies garbage and litterers, and whether more garbage begets more garbage. Researchers Robert Dur and Ben Vollaard collected data for three months in a densely populated residential area in Rotterdam for some 4,000 households. The abstract:
Field-experimental studies have shown that people litter more in more littered environments. Inspired by these findings, many cities around the world have adopted policies to quickly remove litter. While such policies may avoid that people follow the bad example of litterers, they may also invite free-riding on public cleaning services. This paper reports the results of a natural field experiment where, in a randomly assigned part of a residential area, the frequency of cleaning was reduced from daily to twice a week during a three-month period. Using high-frequency data on litter at treated and control locations before, during, and after the experiment, we find strong evidence that litter begets litter. However, we also find evidence that some people start to clean up after themselves when public cleaning services are diminished.
Now, this is disappointing: three mathematicians go to the trouble to model bus waiting strategy — is it better to wait or to walk to the next forward stop? — and conclude that waiting is the best option. Why am I disappointed? Because they didn’t even consider an alternative bus waiting strategy discussed earlier on this blog: walking backward one . . .