The second talk at Startuponomics was made by Dan Ariely and it concerned the problem of self control and how to go about motivating oneself better. A summary of the first talk is here – What Can Jam Teach you about Choice.
He discussed people always wanting something in principle but typically not wanting to act to get that something right now. There are many things in life where we are designed not to care about the right things. Typically long term decisions, decisions far in the future, decisions that take alot of time, decisions that have high complexity and decisions that we don’t have much impact over in the short term.
He discussed his own personal problem of liver cirrhosis which required him to take a painful dose of medicine regularly for 18 months. He went about motivating himself to take the injections on time by pairing the taking of the medication with watching his favourite movies. He calls this principle reward substitution.
Would you prefer a half box chocolate now or a full box in a week? Most people say a half box now. Yet phrase it as a half box in a year or a half box in a 1 year and a week, and people switch their preferences.
Part of the success of the Toyato Prius over its competition was due to how it looked. It looked distinctly different. It gave people ego utility. People were able to signal to others that they cared about the environment whereas this was not possible with other cars as they looked the same. This illustrates that making some things visible can improve behaviour. It shows that finding other types of motivations can make a difference.
Find other types of motivations. We care about competition, completion, image, accomplishment. These things motivate. Money, Guilt, Shame, Social proof, Ego.
Thinking about the global warming problem. It is a very hard problem to solve. This is because it is far in the future, it is uncertain, it will likely not ultimately affect us, it requries a change in entrenched behaviours and individually we can have very little impact on it.
Study – How do you go about getting patients that have had a 2nd stroke to take their medication? Apparently informing them that they have a high chance of death if they don’t take it is not enough. Some ideas are to notify kids if you don’t take it or give a reward if you take the medication. Sometimes a gift is more motivating than cash of the same value. You could also make something disappear if they stop using it, eg mobile phone not working. You could use fear of dying. you could create social connection to other people taking the medication. You could show a picture of someone getting fed today in a poor country if you take your pill (and not give the idea that they child will not be fed if you don’t). What worked best was letting people participate in a lottery related to the taking of their pill. On the first day they didnt take it, they were informed that they had won the lottery. They were then informed they wouldn’t be awarded the prize as they had not taken their pill. Taking the medication increased significantly.
Think about how long we need to sustain the motivation and what happens if we stop.
There is a point where giving money makes people moitvated (e.g. giving $1000 to floss your teeth, flossing would increase for most people).
A 1/1000 chance to win a thousand dollars is felt as more motivating than the same $1 value of the chance.
Regret is the emotion where you imagine another state of your life.
Study – Gold, bronze, silver example at the olympics. Gold and bronze are observed as the happiest. Why? Silver imagines themselves in the gold state and bronze is just happy to have avoided 4th.
Self control contracts are powerful. Ulysses and the sirens example. He knew he would be tempted so he tied himself to the ship.
Study – Rats were trained to press two buttons. One was the press a green lever and get a pellet of food. Another lever was to wait ten seconds and get ten pellets of food. Rats often chose the instant gratification of the first lever. But when a no temptation lever was added which disabled the green lever, some rats were able to press it. Implication is that imposing self control contracts can be powerful.
Examples of innovated product design using these principles – We are a different person at night compared with 6am in the morning regarding aiming to go for a morning run. the product called Clocky (hard to find alarm, have to find it to turn it off). Alarm clock connected to bank account and charity you hate. Imagine a website that is connected to your parents that tells them if you are watching porn.
People need red buttons. Need to encourage self control.
Not always about habit, it is about what decisions we can make that are sustainable.
Dieting vs no smoking example. Need different motivations for different goals.
Contract example of sending letter to mum about heroin use. You agree to send your parents a letter, write the letter and give it to a company that is bound to send it if you fail a drug test at any time in the future (tests are random). This idea was stopped as it created violations of human rights but it was also effective.