The Science Of Creating New Year Resolutions That Actually Work

Notebook and penResearch shows that people tend to make big life decisions at the first of the year, which gives us New Year Resolutions. This is the right time for changes both large and small. (FYI,  If you are in a “9” year i.e., 19, 29, 39 and so on, research shows you are even more likely to make a big life decision.)

Instead of following some of the usual folksy advice about how to make and keep New Year’s resolutions, you could, instead, use brain and behavioral science to craft New Year’s resolutions that will actually work.

Here are some ideas of how to do that, and the science behind them.

1, Pick small, concrete actions. “Get more exercise” is not small. “Eat healthier” is not small. This is one reason New Year’s resolutions don’t work.

A lot of New Year’s resolutions are about habits —  eating healthier, exercising more, drinking less, quitting smoking, texting less, spending more time “unplugged” or any number of other “automatic” behaviors.  Habits are automatic, “conditioned” responses. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not hard to change habits IF you do so based on science.

If it’s a habit and you want a new one it MUST be something really small and specific. For example, instead of “Get more exercise” choose “Walk for at least 20 minutes at least 4 times a week” or “Have a smoothie every morning with kale or spinach in it”

2. Use visual and/or auditory cues. Want to go for that walk everyday? Set up a place in your home where your walking shoes are. Don’t put them away in a closet. Put them in a place where you will see them when you get home from work or first thing in the morning. The shoes will act as a visual cue. And/or set an alarm on your phone called “Go for a walk” and have the alarm go off every morning at 7:30 am. People become conditioned to auditory and visual cues and that makes it easier for an action to become a habit.

3. Decide what you want, not what you DON’T want. Instead of setting a resolution of “I’m not going to check my email 10 times a day,” set it for what you ARE going to do: “I’m going to use “batching and check my email only twice a day.” Instead of “I’m going to drink less soda”, set the resolution as “I’m going to replace drinking a soda with drinking water.” Although this may seem not that different, it’s important. It’s easier for your brain networks to work on an intention stated in the “affirmative” than it is stated in the “negative”.

4. Write a new self-story. The best (and some would say the only) way to get large and long-term behavior change, is by changing your self-story.

Everyone has stories about themselves that drive their behavior. You have an idea of who you are and what’s important to you. Essentially you have a “story” operating about yourself at all times. These self-stories have a powerful influence on decisions and actions.

Whether you realize it or not, you make decisions based on staying true to your self-stories. Most of this decision-making based on self-stories happens unconsciously. You strive to be consistent. You want to make decisions that match your idea of who you are. When you make a decision or act in a way that fits your self-story, the decision or action will feel right. When you make a decision or act in a way that doesn’t fit your self-story you feel uncomfortable.

If you want to change your behavior and make the change stick, then you need to first change the underlying self-story that is operating. Do you want to be more optimistic? Then you’d better have an operating self-story that says you are an optimistic person. Want to join your local community band? Then you’ll need a self-story where you are outgoing and musical.

In his book, Redirect, Timothy Wilson describes a large body of impressive research of how stories can change behavior long-term. One technique he has researched is “story-editing”:

Write out your existing story. Pay special attention to anything about the story that goes AGAINST the new resolution you want to adopt. So if your goal is to learn how to unplug and be less stressed, then write out a story that is realistic, that shows that it’s hard for you to de-stress, for example, that you tend to get overly involved in dramas at home or at work.

Now re-write the story — create a new self-story. Tell the story of the new way of being. Tell the story of the person who appreciates life, and takes time to take care of him/her-self.

The technique of story-editing is so simple that it doesn’t seem possible that it can result in such deep and profound change. But the research shows that one re-written self-story can make all the difference.

Give it a try. What have you got to lose? This year use science to create and stick to your New Year’s resolutions.

What do you think? What has worked for you in keeping your resolutions?

For more info:

Timothy Wilson’s book Redirect:

Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit:

My book, How To Get People To Do Stuff

B.J. Fogg’s website:  tinyhabits.com

A Rant About User Research: The Latest Episode Of The HumanTech Podcast


Logo for HumanTech podcast
For this episode of the Human Tech podcast, Susan Weinschenk goes solo at the microphone to talk about user research:

What it is
Why you can’t skip it
What kind of user research to do
Making the ROI case for user research


If you want to learn more about user research by the way, we have an online video course on the topic.

 

 

7 Persona Mistakes

Man in hood without face putting hand out to say stopMany UX, Design, and Marketing professionals create and/or use personas. Personas have become so common that some would say that they are over-used.

Should we let go of personas? Should we stop using them?

One of the reasons that personas may be looked down on these days in some design circles is because people are making mistakes in how they create or use them. Below I’ve outlined some of the common mistakes I see around personas when I’m called in for consulting on a client project. And after discussing the mistakes, I offer a suggestion for an alternate tool in your Target Audience Toolbox. First, the mistakes:

  1. Irrelevant information — a persona should only contain information that is relevant and useful to how the persona is going to be used. If you are creating a persona for Zoe, a potential customer opening up a bank account, then it’s probably not important to include how many cats Zoe owns. Don’t conflate trying to make Zoe realistic with what you really need to know and remember about Zoe.
  2. Information that belongs elsewhere —  One of the most important tools to use during design are scenarios — quick small stories of how your target audience will do the most important and/or frequent tasks when your new service or product is available for them to use. Scenarios are so important, that they need to be on their own. Don’t try to include scenarios in your personas. It makes the persona too complicated, and doesn’t do justice to the scenarios.
  3. Too many personas — If you feel you must segment  your target audience into 7 different slots (and I may argue with you about that need), that doesn’t mean you have to create 7 scenarios. You can’t optimize your product or service for 7 different personas at the same time, so don’t even try. Pick the most important 2 or at most 3 and create personas for them. Which brings us to the next mistake…
  4. Using standard “Enterprise” personas — There’s nothing inherently wrong with creating lots of personas that different projects and teams can peruse and pull from to create their project personas as needed. But don’t forget the important step of reviewing and customizing persona before you use it. Enterprise personas should be a starting point. Some aspects of the personas may have changed over time, or not be exactly the same as what is needed for your project.
  5. Not validating personas — There are two basic ways to create personas: a) interview a representative set of real people in your target audience, analyze the data, and then create personas or b) create a persona based from internal data and interviews with internal staff, and then go interview real people to validate the persona. If you do b) you can’t skip the validation step. If you skip it you are essentially creating your product or service for pretend people that might not be like your real target audience.
  6. Creating your personas because it seems to be Step X in your process — Don’t create personas just because it’s listed as a “must do” in your process document. Decide ahead of time why you are creating them and who will use them.
  7. Personas that are basically the same –
    How do you decide whether or not persona A is different enough from persona B that you actually need two different personas?  You look at the critical variables that you have decided on and see if they vary.

Which leads us to the tool you need to have BEFORE  you create personas, and might be the tool you use INSTEAD of personas

When I teach about user research there is a step before I teach personas and that is identifying user groups. A persona is a fictional representation of a user group.

Let’s say that you are designing a banking app. Who is the target audience? You decide that you have three different target audiences. One is people who are already customers of your bank and are used to banking online. Another is people who are already customers of your bank, but are not used to banking online, and the third group is people who are not current customers, but are used to banking online, perhaps with one of your competitors.

The next question to ask is how these groups differ. What are the important criteria that distinguishes one from another? Is it whether or not they are current customers? Is it their familiarity with online banking? Is it something else? Where they live? What their native language is? How old they are? Based on the research you have (hopefully) done, you determine which variables are the important ones that distinguish one group from another.

Let’s say that when you look at your information you decide that whether or not they are a current customer won’t make any difference. That two of the user groups vary only on that one criteria, and your research tells  you that criteria is not that big a deal in terms of using your new app. In that case you can combine those two user groups into one.

A persona then is just a representative fictional person that summarizes one user group. And the persona would summarize them only on the variables that you think are important (i.e., no cats in this case).

But this also means that maybe you don’t need a persona. Here’s a secret — after creating a lot of personas throughout my career I’m going to confess that I don’t use them when I’m designing. I’ve created the user groups first and that’s what I work off of. I only create personas if a) the client asks me for them or b) we need to share this information out to others, such as stakeholders, developers, and so on. In my experience personas are more approachable than “User Group Tables” to people who are not used to them.

In summary, go ahead and use personas, but try and avoid making these mistakes. And if the  personas are just for you, consider using the prequel — the User Group Table — instead.

(If you are interested in learning more you may want to check out our User Research online video course, or our entire UX Certificate Curriculum.)

Calling all Conferences

Midwest UX Conference 2018

The Team W is compiling a list of some of the best User Experience, Human/Tech, Design, and Behavioral Science conferences coming up in 2019. If you have a favorite conference (or if you put on a conference) that you would like to be considered for the list please send:

Conference Name
2019 dates
2019 location
What makes the conference special/the best/a not-to-miss event
Website if available, otherwise a contact person

Send to susan@theteamw.com

We’ll compile the list and post it.

Thanks!

Episode 18: Subjective Probability


I hope you’ve heard of System 1 and System 2 thinking. It’s an idea originally put together by Daniel Kahneman. System 1 is our normal state of brain activity. Watching TV, driving, looking at a picture of a sad face. It’s simple, effortless, and our favorite mode to be in. System 2 is heavy thinking, such as solving a tough math problem, or taking the bar exam to be a lawyer (which this author did and passed, so there). It’s hard, uncomfortable, and actually uses up more calories. It’s literally more work.

The idea that there are two different processing systems in the brain is not new. And it’s probably a much better analogy of how the brain works rather than the traditional “the brain is a computer” metaphor that isn’t accurate.

Much like System 1 and System 2, in 1992 Kirkpatrick and Epstein proposed another way of thinking about these networks in their paper “Cognitive-experiential self-theory and subjective probability: Further evidence for two conceptual systems.”

They propose the idea that there are two modes of processing info, one with an experiential conceptual system, and one with a rational conceptual system. Let me try and simplify this.

The first mode is an experiential conceptual system. Note, this is not experimental, it’s experiential which means observed or perceived. Our experiential system encodes information as “concrete representations” (thanks BEGUIDE 2016). Take this mind journey with me:

Think of a door alone in a long hallway. A single closed door in an empty space.

Through the magic of the brain, you have conjured up an image of a door. You can see its color, how it opens. The space around it. It’s a physical object.

In your mind journey keep thinking about the door, but walk closer. Get so close to the door you can almost smell it. Lean up close to it right before you touch it, and blow softly on it.

I’ll bet your brain made a solid door. Your breath didn’t go through. It’s a real object in your mind.

In the cognitive-experiential self-theory you’ve used your experiential conceptual system to create something observable; it’s an object.

Now instead let’s put you in front of a tricky math problem you have to solve by hand. Say (47*16)/19.

I want you to visualize the answer. What is it? Well. Unless you’re an autistic savant can’t visualize the answer right away. You can’t “see” the answer in the same way you can see the door because you’re using a different system. You have to use the rational conceptual system. You have to remember math and the strategies to multiply and do long division. It’s a different system. It feels different.

Kirkpatrick and Epstein wanted to see if any weird human brain stuff went on when humans had to switch between the two systems. So here’s the experiment they set up (for you purists, I’m skipping to Experiment 3 in their study):

There were two bowls with red and white jelly beans. One was the Big Bowl that had 100 jelly beans, and one was the Small Bowl with only 10 jelly beans.

They set up a game where if you randomly pick a jelly bean and it’s red, you win some money (like $4); but if it’s white you win nothing.

They then put their subjects into one of four conditions. Condition 1 had (and told subjects) there was a 10% win rate. So that means 10 red jelly beans and 90 white jelly beans in the Big Bowl, and 1 red jelly bean and 9 white jelly beans in the Small Bowl.

The odds are the same; either 10/90 or 1/9.

Condition 2 had (and told subjects) there was a 90% win rate. With 9/1 jelly beans in the Small Bowl, and again 90/10 jelly beans in the Big Bowl.

Again, the odds are the same; either 90/10 or 9/1.

Conditions 3 and 4 were the same as Conditions 1 and 2, except the odds were framed as losing. Condition 3 had a 10% lose rate (so the odds and bowls were the same as Condition 2, 9/1 and 90/10), and Condition 4 had a 90% lose rate (so the odds and bowls were the same as Condition 1, 1/9 and 10/90).

Subjects were then put in front of the Big Bowl and Small Bowl and could decide which bowls they wanted to bet on. Here’s the important thing to remember; THE ODDS IN THE BOWLS ARE EXACTLY THE SAME. In every condition the odds for the Big Bowl and Small Bowl are Identical. It’s just that the big bowl has 10x the number of Jelly Beans.

Statistically it makes NO DIFFERENCE which bowl you bet on. If you gave this problem to a computer (and perhaps this is a great question for my Turing Test, to see if you’re AI or a human), it would bet randomly, or 50/50 on the Big or Small bowls. The odds are the same. You make no more or less money betting on one over the other.

So that’s what people did right? Of course not!

When presented with low odds of winning (the 10% win, or 90% lose conditions), about 75% of people chose to bet in the Big Bowl (73.1% for 90% lose and 76.9% for 10% win).

Conversely when presented with high odds of winning (the 90% win, or 10% lose conditions), only about 30% chose to bet in the Big Bowl (30.8% for the 10% lose condition, and 36.5% for the 90% win condition).

When presented with low odds of winning, most people wanted to gamble on a Big Bowl with lots of jelly beans, but when presented with high odds of winning, most people wanted to gamble on a Small Bowl with very few jelly beans.

This provides very strong support for the theory that there are two different systems. Rationally we know the odds are the same, but then our experiential system kicks in. I quote from the BEGUIDE 2016: “our experiential system – unlike the rational system – encodes information as concrete representations, and absolute numbers are more concrete than ratios or percentages.”

When we’re faced with a simply ratio-based math problem we use our rational system. But when we are standing in front of bowls with jelly beans it’s not 90%; it’s 9 out of 10. That kicks us into experiential.

9 out of 10 is almost a sure win; it’s really concrete. Our brains tell us that we want the small bowl because there are “fewer” chances to lose because there are fewer jelly beans. There’s only one loser jelly bean! We only have to avoid one bad bean, but in the Big Bowl we have to avoid 10! Your brain says, “oh, 1 is smaller than 10, that feels better, bet on that”. And this happens even while the rational system tells you they’re the same.

We walk around in non-rational, experiential mode, so people bet the small bowl.

Conversely, when it is only a 1 out of 10 chance of winning, oh man, there’s only one winner jelly bean in the whole Small Bowl. I’d rather have 10 chances of winning, and the big bowl has 10 winner jelly beans, so 10 is more than 1, so let’s bet in the Big Bowl.

Even while the rational system says they’re the same.

People go with their feelings.

Takeaways then. Welp. It’s another nail in the coffin of human rational decision making. If you want people to feel better about making a choice that has small odds of success, they’ll feel better if there are lots of possible winners, even if there are also proportionally just as many chances to lose.

Conversely, if you want people to feel better about making a choice that has high odds of success, minimize the number of losing tickets, even if that means reducing the number of winning tickets. People feel much better when they see numerically only one losing ticket.

 

Kirkpatrick, L. A., & Epstein, S. (1992). Cognitive-experiential self-theory and subjective probability: Further evidence for two conceptual systems. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology63(4), 534-544. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.63.4.534

http://www.behavioraleconomics.com/BEGuide2016.pdf

7 Science-Backed Tips To Be More Productive

Whether you work at a job or work at a hobby or work at an avocation, if you are like me you want to be productive. You want to get more done, with less effort, and enjoy it as much as possible.

Maybe not everyone cares about this as much as I do. For me, one of the joys in life is feeling like I have accomplished something worthwhile and useful. And if I can feel energized before, during, and after so much the better.

There’s no dearth of advice about how to be more productive, but recently I set out to find out what I could about the science of productivity. I ended up creating an online video course based on what I learned. Here’s a summary of the science of productivity. See how many of these you currently use:

  1. Work with your own rhythms. We all have our own cycles of work and rest. Whether it is a daily circadian rhythm or a week rhythm or even months long rhythm, observe your own rhythms of when you are at a high work energy and when you are in “rest” mode. Fighting your own rhythm won’t make you more productive.
  2. Break tasks up into smaller steps. When you accomplish a task your brain chemicals change. Accomplishing a step is like a small reward AND it stimulates you to want to start the next task. If you are working on one big long task it takes a long time to accomplish something. If you partition the big task into smaller tasks then you have lots of accomplishments.
  3. Pay attention to the room and furnishings. Set up a place to work that is only where you work. If you have a comfortable and efficient space to work in, and if the only thing you do when you are in that space is your wonderful productive work, then your body and your brain form a habit. Everytime you walk into the “work” space your brain automatically goes into productive work mode.
  4. MInimize multi-tasking. The estimate is that you can lose up to 40% of your productivity switching from one task to another, which is what happens a lot of the time when you are multi-tasking.
  5. Minimize alerts. To make multi-tasking less tempting, turn off automatic alerts and notifications on your computer, laptop, and phone.
  6. Sleep.  The research shows that being sleep deprived makes you less efficient in  your work. Try getting  7-8 hours a night. Napping for 20 minutes during the day can also boost your productivity.
  7. Work with a team. There is a lot of research, from Allport’s study in the 1920s up to research in the present day , that shows that when people work in a team they are more productive and they enjoy the work more. Sometimes working alone can be a good thing, but don’t forget the power of the team.

So there’s seven ideas on productivity that are backed up by science. What do you think?

If you want to learn more, check out the online video course: The Science of Productivity. 

Remembering And Forgetting: An Interview With Author Ylva Ostby


Logo for HumanTech podcast
Why do we remember and forget stuff? In this episode of the Human Tech podcast we talk with Ylva Ostby, a neuropsychologist from the University of Oslo, who, with her sister, Hilde Ostby, has written a book for everyone about memory.


Their book is called Adventures in Memory and is brand new this week.

The best ways to reach Ylva are:

Ylva.ostby@gmail.com

Ylva.ostby@psykologi.uio.no

@ylvaostby on Instagram and twitter

or through their publisher:

Greystone Books: corina.eberle@greystonbooks.com

 

 

Episode 16: How To Induce Compliance


Let’s assume I’m evil.  What I want to do is INDUCE COMPLIANCE. I want people to do what I want.

Well that might be hard to do. But what if I could get people to comply with a request? That may be simple and effective.  Dr. Susan Weinschenk wrote a whole book on how to get people to do stuff, but in this case I just want people to comply to a request I make.

There’s a paper (of course there is), that’s an oldie but a goodie. It’s entitled “Reciprocal concessions procedure for inducing compliance: The door-in-the-face technique” written by Cialdini, et. al. in 1975.

Through a series of experiments the researchers tried to induce people to take a specific action. What was the best way to do that?

In the first experiment they asked people if they would work as a voluntary non-paid counselor at the jail, or if they’d volunteer at the zoo. Their goal was to get people to volunteer at the zoo.

Working at the jail was the “extreme request”. If you just walk up to someone and say “heyyy come on down to the local jail and work for free”, you’re going to get a lot of no’s. But hanging out at the zoo? That was the small request.

They had three conditions. The first was called the rejection-moderation condition. After hearing the experimenter make the first extreme request (jail), which was almost always rejected, the experimenter would then say “oh, no worries, there’s this other program” and make the smaller request (zoo).

The second control was the exposure control, so the experimenter first described the extreme request (jail) and the small request (zoo), and then requested they do either one.

The third was a small request only control, in which, straight forwardly enough, they’d only ask about the zoo.

Results? First, no subject agreed to do the jail volunteer. However, compliance with the smaller request varied dramatically.

As you can see, they DOUBLED their compliance numbers simply by requesting the jail first.

They essentially tricked the participants into being more likely to comply with their request to visit the zoo by using the tactic of rejection-moderation. I quote from the paper:

“Starting with an extreme initial request which is sure to be rejected and then moving to a smaller request significantly increases the probability of a target person’s agreement to the second request.”

Sounds like a simple framing effect right? The jail feels like a large request, so the zoo feels small. But it’s much more than just framing. The authors of the paper argue that it is only when the second favor can be considered to be a concession that compliance is increased.

Next the researchers ran Experiment 2 to test for framing. This time the participant was approached by two experimenters. Sneakily a third then came up talking about an upcoming exam (the research was done on a college campus).

Again, there were three conditions. The first was the rejection-moderation condition. In this condition participants heard the first experimenter ask for the extreme favor, and then ask for the second smaller one; the same as in Experiment 1.

The second condition was the two-requester control. This was the same as the first condition (rejection-moderation) but this time upon refusal of the extreme request, the first experimenter thanked the participant and walked away. The sneaky third experimenter that had come up later then would make the smaller request.

If it really was framing, if just being exposed to the more extreme request framed the participants in a way that made the zoo feel better, than this should work as well as the first condition.

The third was the smaller request-only control; the same as in Experiment 1.

Results?

Fascinatingly, when the request was asked by a different person there was very poor compliance rates. In order for the “magic” to work, the smaller request must be made by the same person who made the larger (rejected) request.

Again, I quote from the paper:

“Only when the extreme and smaller favors were asked by the same requester was compliance enhanced.”

It wasn’t framing. Exposing the participants to the two different requests had no effect, or even backfired. It is much more about feeling bad about turning someone down, and wanting to give them a concession.

On to the last experiment, Experiment 3. The researchers were looking to disprove that it’s simply persistence that is the cause of the persuasion. In theory, maybe the reason people are breaking down is just the constant asking.

Experiment 3 was set up the same as Experiment 1. The participants were put in three conditions. The first was rejection-moderation, again. After hearing and rejecting an extreme request, the participant then heard the same person make a smaller request. This worked well in Experiment 1.

The second control was an equivalent request. The participant heard a requester initially request for them to be a chaperone (small request), then request to do the zoo (small request).

If the higher compliance rates were due to pure persistence, aka wearing people down by bugging them, then a high percentage of people would agree to the second small zoo request after being asked to chaperone.

The last condition was the smaller request only control that was the same as before (only asking if people would go to the zoo).

Results?

Asking for a smaller favor first, and then coming in again had no effect over the control. It made no difference. It was NOT simple persistence.

It was the rejection followed by concession that made people feel indebted to someone. Rejection then concession is the magic secret. If you want to get people to comply to your request, you need to have people reject you and feel bad. You can exploit their guilty feelings to ask a smaller favor that they are more likely to accept out of guilt.

That’s why the researchers call it the reciprocal concession model. Both parties make a concession in reciprocity to each other.

So again. If you’re evil and you want people to COMPLY WITH YOUR REQUEST, follow these steps.

Step one. Make a big request. Step two, when the big request is turned down, make the small request you actually want people to take. Importantly, the person who is asking must be the same. I quote from the paper:

“Only when the proposal of the second favor can be considered a concession on the part of the requester is compliance increased.”

That’s how you drive behavior and compliance.  You use norms and feelings of “owing” something to another person. Ironically compliance is driven best through empathy and compassion.

Of course, things get interesting when your compliance request is to harm others, or not prevent harm to others. When people think of compliance I think it is inevitable to think towards dystopian futures and the Nazis and standing up for what you believe in. That compassion can drive compliance behavior is interesting. But remember it’s not compassion towards a third party that gets results. It has to be compassion towards whomever is making the request.

Try the steps! See if you get better results and let me know.

A quick caveat about this study. It was done a while ago, probably with only white college students. It is possible that results may vary between societies. Otherwise I bet it works! Now give me $10000 of work. No? How about $1? You owe me. Paypal guthrie@theteamw.com 😊 thanks.

 

Cialdini, R. B., & Et al. (1975). Reciprocal concessions procedure for inducing compliance: The door-in-the-face technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology31(2), 206-215. doi:10.1037/h0076284

Bringing Emotional Intelligence To Machines: An Interview With Pamela Pavliscak


Logo for HumanTech podcast
Do we know enough about human emotions to start building them into our technology? Isn’t human emotion the one thing that differentiates us from machines? What does it mean to build emotional artificial intelligence? These are some of the questions we discuss with Pamela in this episode of the Human Tech podcast.


Pamela’s upcoming book is Emotionally Intelligent Design, and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

The best ways to reach Pamela are:

Twitter: @paminthelab or https://twitter.com/paminthelab
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/pamelapavliscak/
https://www.changesciences.com/
https://soundingbox.com/

Episode 15: How to Make Users Ignore Privacy Warnings


Let’s pretend I’m an evil version of Google that cares nothing about privacy (is this an allegory about the real Alphabet… you be the judge). Anti-Google. And my slogan is “Always Be Evil”.

What I want to do is get customers to disclose all of their private information to me. I want to have access to all of their social media accounts, emails, basically I want them to tell me, or disclose, all sorts of information.

But I also have to do so legally, and there are (pesky) laws that require me to get consent; laws that require the user to authorize me to use their information. So, what can I do? I can use behavioral science!

One behavioral science trick is to limit the number of disclosure events. You’ll get more compliance if you only ask the user once. Multiple decision points are more opportunities for the user to restrict their data.

I want to focus on another strategy using a paper on this exact topic. In “Slights of privacy”, by Adjerid, Acquisti, Brandimarte, and Loewenstein, they try to figure out the effect of privacy notices.

In the first experiment they manipulated changes in privacy notices by increasing or decreasing protections. The idea is that you can change behavior by changing the notices.

People were asked to give up (disclose) various information about themselves.

In the low protection condition people were informed that their responses would be actively linked to their university email accounts. This is more “big brothery” because personal information could be more easily gathered.

In the high protection condition people were told the accounts would not be actively linked to their university email addresses. Not being linked to an email address gives the user more privacy by protecting from the aggregation of personal data.

What they found was a 10% increase in the propensity to disclose other information when participants were given increasing (high) protections. And I quote from the paper:

“Similarly for decreasing protections conditions, we found that participants were, on average, 14% less likely to disclose, with some questions having as high as a 40% reduction in the propensity to disclose.”

This is not a surprising result. People are more likely to speak up if they feel a certain level of anonymity. If you’re trying to get specific information out of someone, make really strong protections to not use or attach that info to other information you don’t care about. That’s a great takeaway. Further, people care about privacy, and people don’t want to disclose all of their personal information.

That’s why, in Experiment 2, the researchers tried to get people to disclose lots of personal information.

Today the game is often that companies are trying to get people to disclose personal information, and people try to resist doing so.

Participants were told they were participating in a research study to create an online social network and were asked to create a profile in a college setting. They would have to disclose lots of personal information about themselves (exactly what Anti-Google would want). All the juicy details.

In the control case, people were taken (online) straight to the disclosure decisions after reading the privacy notice in a regular way.

In the other conditions, people were played with. Instead of going straight to the disclosure decisions, they were presented with one of four different mis-directions after the privacy notice before filling out the same profile fields.

For example, the first misdirection was a simple 15 second delay between the privacy notice and the disclosures (author note – 15 seconds is forever when browsing the internet).

What were the results? In the control, the disclosure rate was significantly less when presented with a riskier privacy notice (disclosure rate of about 0.5 for more risky vs. 0.7 for less risky). This was the same result that occurred in Experiment 1.

However, that difference almost completely went away with a slight misdirection, I quote from the study:

“In our second experiment, we found that the downward impact of riskier privacy notices on disclosure can be muted or significantly reduced by a slight misdirection which does not alter the objective risk of disclosure.”

With a little bit of misdirection, the entire effect of people wanting to disclose less disappears! People didn’t care. For the vast majority, privacy disclosures are simply not that important if they have to spend the inconvenience of kicking up into System 2 mode to actually think and follow through on a decision.

After waiting 15 seconds, they got bored, and just went ahead and filled out the stupid profile to be done with it. The ideas about “oh privacy and what does this mean for my future”… it’s too hard to make a calculated decision on, and it certainly doesn’t affect people in the present, so they don’t make the calculation and they just do what the form asks.

The author’s hunch is that this strategy works well in all sorts of situations. When people complain, or are worried about taking an action that affects them in the far future, all that is needed for most of them to put down the pitchfork and become docile sheep is a simple 15 second misdirection. It is so unconformable to stay in System 2 thinking mode for 15 seconds, that the majority of people would rather not care and face the consequences to jump back into System 1, than to sit in System 2 and continue to care strongly.

The other misdirections all worked just as well, like having them make some other decision that was perhaps important but not related to their disclosure risk at all. Think of waiving a dog toy in front of a puppy to distract it from whatever and you get the idea.

Evil Anti-Googles of the world rejoice! It’s easy to get people to waive their principles. All it takes is a little bit of behavioral science and you’ll be on your way.

 

Adjerid, I., Acquisti, A., Brandimarte, L., & Loewenstein, G. (2013). Sleights of privacy. Proceedings of the Ninth Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security – SOUPS ’13. doi:10.1145/2501604.2501613