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February 12th, 2009

A definite passive-aggressive bus passenger play this morning. Things like this always fascinate me about people—what they could possibly be thinking and what in their lives has led to such a behavior pattern.

So, at one of the stops at which both the Wolfline (NCSU's bus line) and the CAT (the city's bus line) stop, a Wolfline bus was already at the stop when we (the city bus) pulled up, so we stopped behind it, of course, about 20 feet from the actual bus stop, since that space was occupied.

Five people were getting on the city bus, and four of them started walking back towards us. The other person, a lady who is actually a regular and about whom I've blogged here before, just stood there at the stop—not budging. The driver opened the door, and the four who had walked over started boarding. In the meantime, the Wolfline bus pulled away. Still the lady ahead stood there.

It took maybe two-to-three minutes for people to get their money into the machine and for all four of them to complete their boarding—that is to say, plenty of time for her to walk over and get on, too. Still she stood there. This is the same woman who (on other days when the bus does stop where she wants it to) is often the first of four or five people to get on, stands in front of the fare machine, opens her purse, finds her wallet, fumbles with the snap to get it open, gets out a dollar, or rummages through the purse looking for change—all while the people behind her are waiting to get on with their money in their hands.

Back to today, the four finished boarding, the driver closed the door, drove up 20 feet, stopped, opened the door, and Miss Thing got on the bus, where she proceeded to stand in front of the fare machine, open her purse, find her wallet, fumble with the snap to get it open, and get out a dollar to feed the machine.

As an apropos ending, I suppose, after paying she proceeded to the back of the bus and sat with a guy who she evidently was "with," and who had actually made the bold, 20-foot trek to the bus when it stopped the first time.

What's it all about, Alfie?



It's funny how things suddenly occur to you out of the blue. Those of you who know me, know I wear shorts year round, even to work. Well, I did at IBM, but since I started with the State mid-September, I've been wearing khaki pants to work.

It has been aggravating the pure piss out of me since then that whenever I pull my wallet out of my back pocket, the ends that open always get caught and I have to yank on it and move it from side to side several times before it finally comes out.

For over 35 years now, I've been putting my wallet into my pocket the same way, face up like a "U." But today, it finally occurred to me that if I put it in upside down like a "∩," when I pull it out, the smooth folded part will slide right out without getting caught. Eureka!



This was my favorite Twitter tweet from today:

communitygirl: If we didn't speak in 12th grade calculus, why do you want to be friends on Facebook? Let's use common sense, folks!



I mentioned here before that one of the things I love about working at a university is the opportunity to attend lectures sponsored by the various colleges of the university. Last night I attended one such lecture, sponsored by NCSU Friends of the Library:

Dan Ariely
Thursday, February 12, 7:00 p.m.
Poe Hall, Room 216

Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, will speak on behavioral economics. The Union Activities Board Ideas and Issues Committee and the NCSU Friends of the Library are cosponsoring this event. Please contact Rick Gardner at (919) 515-5918 for more information.

Students and the public are invited to this free event. Free parking is available in the Reynolds deck.


This was such a fascinating lecture. As a severe burn victim, Dr. Ariely became interested in behavioral psychology when he knew darn well that removing his bandages was more bearable with a longer duration and less intense pain than the nurses insisting that they knew, because they'd learned it, that a shorter duration with more intense pain was better. Yeah, better for them

After that experience, he began doing a lot of practical experiments to test these supposedly rational ideas people had. In addition to confirming that his experience (longer duration, less intense pain) was consistently preferred by people, which he did by clamping subjects' fingers in vice clamps for various amounts of time and various tightness of grip, he also found that people report a better experience if they feel the least intense pain last, rather than first. That is, do the stuff that will hurt the most first, and then the things that will hurt less. "They should have removed my bandages working from head to toe instead of toe to head," he noted.

Dr. Ariely shared lots of experiments that he's done to try and understand these "predictably irrational" thoughts that people have. In a study of the number of people who participate in organ donation programs in 10-12 countries, he noted 7 or 8 there were very close to 100% and about 5 that were 27% or less. At first glance, one might think it might be cultural or religious reasons explaining this. But there were countries with similar cultures and similar religious beliefs where one was in the near-100% group and the other was in the less-than 27% group.

As it turned out, there was a direct correlation between whether the checkbox to participate in the program was "opt-in" or "opt-out" and how high the participation rate was.

Opt-in

o Check here to participate in the organ donation program.


and in the countries where it was low, the form said this instead:

Opt-out

o Check here to not participate in the organ donation program.


The countries whose form was "Opt in" had the low participation rates. All of the countries whose form was "Opt out" had the near-100% participation rate, because the bottom line was that most people just skipped the question (and therefore did not check the checkbox) rather than have to deal with it.

There are three things that make people tend to just ignore a decision:

  1. A very important decision

  2. An large number of options

  3. And having to take action to participate
You can use this knowledge about human behavior to your advantage. Say you're an employer and you don't want your employees to participate in your company's 401K plan, because you don't want to have to match their contributions. This is what you should do:

  1. Provide an introductory level to them telling them how important the decision to participate is to their future

  2. Offer them about 200 funds to choose from

  3. Make it opt-in on the form
Of course, it would be better to use this knowledge about human behavior for good instead of evil! :-)

He gave so many good examples of all kinds of things that would take hours to capture here, so I'm just going to enumerate them to remind me. If you're interested in more information on any one of them, click on Leave a comment below, ask me about it, and I'll try to share the example he gave regarding that item.

  1. Passing the white ball

  2. The physicians and the hip replacement decision (Ibuprofen/Ibuprofen+)

  3. 3 reasons you love vs. 10 reasons you love

  4. Options:

    • Rome or Paris  |  Rome, Rome', or Paris

    • Tom or Jerry  |  Tom, Tom', or Jerry  |  Tom, Jerry', or Jerry

    • Web Subscription ($68)  |  Print Subscription ($128)  |  Web+Print Subscription ($128)

  5. People will cheat just a little—to the point that they still feel good about themselves.

    • Writing an honesty statement before a test

    • Us (State) vs. them (UNC) alignment vs. distancing

    • Each step removed encourages more cheating

  6. $16B on robbery, larceny, home break-ins, etc. (blue collar) vs. $16B on "wardrobing" (white collar)
Dr. Ariely concluded with these three thoughts that we should consider about our behavior:

  1. We need to accept that we all have multiple irrational tendencies

  2. We need to accept that we are bad at recognizing them

  3. We need to accept our limitations with regards to cognitive things; there are some things that we just can't see or make obvious
All-in-all, this lecture consisted of 90 very well-spent minutes!


I took the Avent Ferrry Wolfline bus home instead of the city bus, so I could walk a little on the way home. I got off at Avent Ferry and Gorman and walked home, approximately one-third to one-half mile.

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