Category Archives: Hartley Wintney

How to pull ? – According to a behavioural scientist …

I’ve previously blogged on how it is a bad assumption to assume that everyone is rationale. In fact Professor Dan Ariely argues in his book “Predictably Irrational” that it is a far better assumption to ‘veer off’ for certain known biases in the way we approach things as human beings. We might like to think we are very rationale or Spock-like; but actually we are much more like Homer Simpson when it comes to taking decisions.

I recently did a radio show on Radio Hartley Wintney on this topic. I tempted the listeners that I might cover “how to pull, according to a behavioural scientist“. However, unfortunately I ran out of time. (Time seems to flow at a different speed inside that radio studio). So I decided to blog about it instead. If you felt like you missed out, it’s well with watching Dan Ariely on TED, a regular contributor to Wired magazine, cover this topic.

A few of the key points that we can learn:

1) Firstly, you should share your night out with a few mates, but not too many of them.

Three is an ideal number to give the prospective partner a choice but not too big a choice to confuse. There’s evidence from scientific studies of the optimum number of jams to display in the supermarket that too much choice can actually confuse the decision-maker to such a degree that it becomes “all-too-complicated” to buy jam at all and instead sales are actually reduced when there is too much choice. So much for the Western dogma, that consumerism is all about providing choices. (And, yes, isn’t it incredible that there are ‘scientific studies’ on the selection of jam !).

2) Providing a third decoy choice to tip the balance in your favour

There is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that a carefully selected set of three people could be an ideal number, if you’re hoping to get lucky with the opposite sex. However, you do have to pick the other two very carefully. Let’s assume that you want to “load the dice” to improve your chances of getting lucky. One set of scientific studies show that you want to set things up so that there is a difficult choice between two out of the three people out that night – let’s call them A and B. Perhaps, A is fun to be with, whereas B is more classically good-looking. We’ll set this up such that there are two attributes that are typically difficult to choose between and tend to be more a case of personal choice. You might think that it is just a matter of luck, as to whether you find the right girl who is more predisposed to one of these two qualities. Wrong !

In this case study, let’s assume that you are person A and you want to be be selected. According to the study, the best way to subtlely engineer things is to add a third choice, who I call the “decoy choice”: choice C. Weirdly, the absence or inclusion of this third choice makes a significant difference to the percentage of people who select either A or B, even if no-one actually selects C. How strange is that ?

Let’s imagine that things are set up “fairly” and an even proportion of the female population select A or B, when there are just two choices i.e. when you go on the pull with just one other mate. The way to engineer the situation is that the decoy choice, option C, should be engineered to be very similar to yourself; but have a clearly obvious “defect”. Hence, option C might be better described as “Option A minus”. I know, at first sight, it appears irrational; but the existence of the third option can significantly effect the proportion of people who select option A over and above Option B.

So the question in this hypothetic example is: Do you have a slightly uglier brother? Taking him along on your expedition could seriously increase your chances of pulling. It is, as if, the brain shies away from the relatively difficult choice of A or B, which might tax the brain and force it to do some difficult kind of analysis. Instead, the brain focuses on the easier part of the challenge and identifies that “A” is better than “A minus” and does less thinking about the harder question of whether B is prefererable to A (or A minus). It appears as if the mind has already been made up that A must be better, because it is better than A minus.

If you like: the evidence suggests that our brains work much more like Homer Simpson than Spock.

Tests show that the percentage of people favouring A over B (which we previously set at 50-50%) now swing over in favour of A. Perhaps sub-consciously and instinctively we are first voting for “A minus” but then realise that we can “upgrade” from an “A-minus” to an “A”. There is no strong evidence for this particular explanation, but the numbers do eerily seem to suggest it might be true.

Perhaps, even wierder than the fact that social scientists do experiments on our selection of jam in the supermarket shelves is the fact that they also do experiments on our selection of partners in a night-club ! Perhaps, I picked the wrong discipline to study ?


One step (or stone) at a time

Part of the Operation Noah day activities on the 5th July included a taize service (what’s that, I hear you ask) which was very moving and turned out to be very symbolic of the challenge that we will face in trying to address our carbon foot-print as a community.

As one element of the service, we worked together to move a pile of pebbles from the larger x10 footprint (which Ruth and Josh had used at the school assemblies with the children) to the smaller x1 footprint; but there weren’t really any “rules” and all of this whilst singing the taize as well.

– The first hurdle was “who to start ?”. Well, at least that wasn’t too hard with having Ruth within our community.

– The biggest hurdle was “who to go second ?”; where we all metaphorically looked at each other (and wondered if we were going round in the circle or not). I have forgotten who “broke the mould” but then we fairly easily got into a pattern of moving one stone each from the big footprint to the little one.

– The next hurdle was “well actually, an individual can move more than one stone at a time” and we fairly easily got into a pattern of people moving two or three stones at a time.

– However, the collective realisation dawned, now that we had started the task, that the pile of stones really wasn’t getting moved very quickly (and that we would be singing the taize forever!) and that actually we needed some rather big actions if we were going to finish at a reasonable time. So, the second biggest hurdle was for someone to take a really big handful of stones from one pile to the other.

– Finally, there was one stone left and then one of the younger members of the congregation taking part stepped forward and moved the final stone.

The symbolism here was strong at each stage in the process to the task that we face in Hartley Wintney about thinking about and doing something about our carbon footprint, as we have so clearly been asked to by the children of the village.

– The first steps are always hard. It will be hard to get our community moving and taking action. Breaking the barrier of “why should I go first” is actually pretty strong. There is always something else to be doing in our busy lives. However, a momentum builds up, once you can get things started.

– We are bound to find that the first steps were good to get us going and build up our confidence, but not sufficient to achieve our ends. Again, we will need to work together and it will seem strange “breaking the mould” again and doing things that will really make a difference. At this stage people will need lots of support and encouragement, but these really big actions will also be required for the enormity of the challenge that we face.

– I felt it was significant that the youngest member of the congregation moved the final stone, because our actions today will effect the world that we leave behind for our children and their children.

All in all, it was very thought-provoking … … …

Meeting my MP for the first time

Children of Hartley Wintney present their fabric petition on climate change to their MP

Children of Hartley Wintney present their fabric petition on climate change to their MP

Friday was the first time that I’ve met my own MP ! The occasion was that the primary school children of the Hampshire village, Hartley Wintney, were unfurling a giant petition for their local MP James Arbuthnot, calling on the Government to protect their future. The petition calls on the Government to cut the UK’s carbon footprints by 90%. This was the start of a community climate change weekend event called Operation Noah Day and I’ll try and post more about how it went soon ….

The petition – made of recycled bed sheets – was taken by Ruth Jarman, chair of the Hartley Wintney Operation Noah Group, to all four primary schools in the area and collected hundreds of brightly coloured signatures. Children also received an Operation Noah Day leaflet with five suggestions for all village parents to “Change the way you live because of who you love”. Supporting her was St. John’s Church Careforce volunteer, Josh Parmar.

The wording of the children’s giant petition is “To the UK Government from the community of Hartley Wintney and Dogmersfield. We want to cut our carbon footprint from this (large footprint) to this (10x smaller footprint). We will do our part. We need you to do yours”.