« Freakonomics Radio

200. When Willpower Isn’t Enough (Rebroadcast)

2015-12-30 | 🔗
Sure, we all want to make good personal decisions, but it doesn't always work out. That's where "temptation bundling" comes in.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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you make a new year's resolution and then you're pretty good about it for weaker three and then you think stock now, but be it be nice to find a way to keep going. This episode will tell you how called when willpower isn't enough. I hope helps. So I struggle at the end of a long day to get myself to the and even though I know I should go and of a long day also struggle with the desire to watch my favorite tv shows instead of getting work done, and so I actually realise that two temptations. Those two struggles I face could be combined to solve both problems. That's Katy, milkman minuses, professor, at the Wharton School, where I study behavioral economics and how people make choices, ok, which might
lead one to think that you are an economist by training which would make one wrong correct. That's rate, my background is actually that I have a phd in computer science and business a joint phd in those two fields, but I spent the time hanging around economists and got really interested in this new field this new field. The milkman mentioned behavioral economics, something we talk about a lot in this programme it. is essentially a marriage of psychology and economics it is inhabited by people who wish to blend the economists view incentives with the psychologists view that most people don't respond to incentives, as rationally as economic theory would predict It was behavioral economics that years ago, got me interested in economics in the first place
Gabriel. Economics may not seem as consequential as macro economics are Labour economics, but I would argue it can offer tremendous leverage when properly applied one well placed nudge can go a very long way. It is also a field that appreciates simple, clever solutions like something that key developments when working on she calls it notation, bundling. I invented that phrase, although I am sure many other people had invented the same solution that I came up with and use that phrase describe here's how it works in Millpond zone case what I really that if I only allowed myself to watch my favorite tv shows, while exercising the gym, then I'd stop wasting I'm at home on useless television and I'd start craving trips to the Germans. of a long day because I'd want to find out what happens next and my show
Not only that I'd actually enjoy my work out. An my show more combined, I wouldn't feel guilty watching tv and time would fly laws of the gem so that When I talk about temptation, bundling I mean combining a temptation. Something like a tv show a guilty pleasure. Something that will pay you into engaging in a behavior was something you know you should do, but might struggle to do some nice ideas, as is often the case ideas that seem new in academia. Heaven, been running wild in the real world for quite some time as we learn when we solicited your examples of temptation, bundling my temptation bundle is to listen to frame. Ex podcast swallow running doing right now, I like to do- is skip an afternoon of work and go to the movies. After my annual pap smear, I really wish my temptation. Bundle was acceptable, but it would be drinking at work,
I'm happy from w, and why see studios this is freakin mix, radio, the podcast that explores the hidden side of everything. Here's your host Stephen Dogma. so I would love to know how you describe the you defying view of your research, which were going to talk about today, so here's ears way I would describe it may Be- is that there are a lot of activities that most of us consider should
activities and then there are a lot of ways that we avoid those should activities and you try to identify the gap and look for ways to close the gap that are not too and receiver, costlier painful. That was my lame attempt to present your. world view. Let me hear from you. I love you that may well be. I think it's much more cohesive actually won. things that I think is always funny as whenever someone, I tell Party- and I with my husband and somebody asked me what I do. I say: LAX he'll describe it better than I well, because I get so focused on the little details that it's hard to actually step back and see the big picture, but I think you're disruptions beautiful. So I think in short, I struggle a lot with willpower and I find it difficult at the end of a long day to get to the gem, I have find it difficult to stick to my diet. I find it difficult to stick to Michael more generally, and what I have found curious,
one of the things I found curious is why and what I can do to solve those problems for myself and for others, and that's where a lot of my research focuses ok. So let's start with temptation bundling. So what? If you only let yourself get a pedicure while catching up on overdue emails for work or what? If you only let yourself listened your favorite seedy while catching up on household chores, or only let yourself go to your very favorite restaurant who's. Hamburgers. You crave, while spending time with a difficult relative who you should see. More of those would all be examples of temptation. Bundling got you okay, so the key is that the activity that you want to do is strange you can only do it when you're doing the other activities, so that sounds to some degree like a commitment device which we ve talked about in the show before our examples were so I'll. Give you a couple of our strange examples from of commitment devices. One was
guy who wanted to get healthy, want to lose weight, but you want to get healthier new kid, so he drew up a list of prohibitions, everything from alcohol to junk food pornography not, and if you violated them, then he would force himself to read a check to Oprah Winfrey hated more than anything in the world. For whatever reason, Steve Levin had a diet idea also, which is for people, are trying to do Wait! One thing I know at work is just take a little. Can we see a baby food jar and fill it with vomit, cooking and weird around your neck in every time you do that your hungry just open the jar and take a little sniff. I guarantee you will lose weight, guarantee those are coming men devices of some sorts, I'm curious to know whether you see temptation bundling as a commitment devices. It's more of a first cousins, and now I see
Mrs lulling is a new type of commitment device with some distinct features from standard commitment devices, so senator own vase, typically provide some consequence. If you fail to engage in the intended behaviour, so this is all different. What we're doing here is basically combining two commitments with each other and they saw fit like puzzle pieces so you're using some that's instantly gratifying to create a pole to provide Motivation each do something. That's unpleasant of all. At the moment of engagement, and then the other component as different as that you can actually have complementarity, is which is an excellent speak term for peanut butter and jelly two things that ago, better together and are more and more altogether. May they would be separately and so one of them things about, for instance, only allowing yourself to what favorite tv show I or the gym is the fact that you might actually enjoy your work out more and you might enjoy the tv show more when you do them together, whereas a traditional commitment device just penalizes some behaviour, great, ok. So,
theory, unsure everybody hearing this says man Katy, that's brilliant! That is such a good way to approach problem solving. So that's the theory at least but ninety to find out. If, in practice, it works to talk about what you did to find out. If temptation bundling could actually improve outcomes absolutely so we ran and experiment actually at the gem at the University of Pennsylvania with a bunch of participants who told us that they wanted to exercise more and we ran hardly any headed. You find these subjects. In the first place, we posted flyers all over the campus. We sent out a male blasts to every less serve we could find and the people who came told us they desperately wanted to exercise more, and they also had to have an ipod to be in our study and they had to belong to the University of Pennsylvania, Jim so that they could enter an egg
as they pleased ok good, so we took these participants who wanted to exercise more and we randomly assign them through a coin tossed to one of several different groups. The first experimental group was a treatment group and these participants came in and they had their ipod with them we told them that we are actually going to give them a new ipod in addition to the one they already had, that would be pre loaded with four tempting audio novels of their choice. So we had a list of eighty two books that had been pre rated is extremely tempting and difficult to put down once you get engaged. So books like the Divinity Code and the hunger games. The rules of the hunger games are simple in punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve Checks must provide one girl and one boy called tributes to participate. Participants choose the four that appeal most to them. load them on this loaned audio novel device, an ipod, and then they take them to the gym, and they do it
women at work out, while listening to the first audio novel. I have to say that it so battering as a writer that you are treating hearing a book as the tree that people get for having to work out at so also. It is also my love. It worked, so I do suspect the tv would have been even more attempting an enticing by it, but I think there are some novels that real grab you in fact, actually almost half of the participants in our study. At the time when we ran it shows the hunger games. It was really popular right, then, as a fabulous book for this study. I think because it so once you get into it just impossible, but the book down we desperately want to know what happens happy hunger game and maybe I'll be in your favour. You only have access to the audio version of the book when you're at the gem correct. That's right, so the participants in our study. They listen to the first thirty minutes and then their tone
and this is while exercising their told if they want to hear what happens. Next will have to come back to the jam. Where we're going to hold this ipod, we flown them in a locked, monitored, locker that they can only check out when exercising so that's the first experimental group. Second, experimental group has a very somewhere experience. They also get tempting audio novels. They also listen to the first thirty minutes, but this time this temple, Audio novels are loaded onto their personal ipods and they also do the work out for thirty minutes while listening to the novel, but they are told why? Don't you try it only listen while exercising, but we want in force it. So we want to see if actually people can self imposed this rule successfully, which would be great because if we can just educate people about this strategy and that's all we need to do and that can have a benefit. That means it's really easy job to roll out temptation bundling to the world Gregg. Finally, we have our The group, which is actually control group and control Group instead of receiving attempting audio novel, they received an equally valued gift certificate to Barnes and noble,
They also completed a thirty minute work out at the beginning of this study, but not while listening to a novel. They could do whatever they wanted. They had their ipod, so maybe they'll listen to music, maybe they'll listen to a novel, they could do whatever they wanted, but we didn't control that and we simply encourage them to exercise more. Ok, so that the three groups, the ones who can only listen to the novel that you get them addicted to, while at the Jim? The second group who you give them the addictive material, but they don't have to come to the gym, to listen to it, then the third group dont even get the addictive material unless they go out by it themselves with the money that you gave them right. Those are the three groups. Does the three groups I add to the middle group there the addictive material and doesn't have to listen to it at the time that we strongly encourage them to only allow themselves to listen Icy when there are ok, I'm so its frame does try only use this to lawyers after the jam, as opposed to here, just so, materials that are given the tool and a sense there. Just not given the restriction they have to self imposed it. Ok, so three groups, the date.
you collected from people went for a minimum of nine weeks. I believe you said yes, that's right. That's our follow on peer. so basically or doing as we have this this period at the end of that their paid for being in the study dismiss, they fell at some survey measures and we thank them. So are critical period. Is whether or not they exercise more during those nine weeks, while we're imposing these different rules on them and giving them access to temptation? Bundling, ok, and so what we see is that for the first seven weeks of our study, the full treatment group exercises significantly more than the control and the group. That's given access to the media novels and asked to just self imposed rules right in between the two such good news. In a sense there They look better than control initially, and so that seems like. Maybe people can actually do this for themselves, although there not doing as well as the people who have the full binding commitment that we ve provided and then
we see a little bit of wear off and then over seven weeks. This is working participants than on the seventh. We go home, it's Thanksgiving break the gems closed when they come back. We look at the data and we see that the effect is completely eliminated so, when they come back, they seem to have forgotten about their novels. Perhaps and there are no longer motivated by temptation bundling. So on the one hand, this is actually kind of need because it suggests that wanting to know what happens next in your novel may really be what's driving our effects as we hope, because for separate the one thing we know reduces cravings, but it also me We have more work to do to figure out how to reengage people a temptation bundling after time away from the Jim for the people in the first group, the treatment group who can only here the material at the gym, do they actually have to be working out at the Jim to hear it org They just come and get the ipod out of the locker and listened to the novel while sitting in drinking milkshake or something does a great question when we did this study.
We had no way of forcing them to work out while they are listening to the novel. We did action they have their security folks who sit right by the locker where these things are being held, and we asked them whether or not they saw people coming and setting hang out. They said the people. we're going to block or coming to work out, and they were in their work. I closed, but that's it don't all rather than empirical will be really because if we had fit bets, for instance on everyone and could actually track how much exercise their doing and I'm doing new research rate now now the fifth, it's our more widely distributed than they were. When I ran the study where we are trying to do things, like that, where we actually track physical activity. Not just in this case or we could track, is whether or not they enter an exit. The gym awesome. Sing there. So many places you could go with that cause. You could see pace in intensity in all different kinds of things of work out D, non material and in Spirit, exactly exam. we are there. So many things you can see with it that data
There are also that a neat things the milkman can envision doing with temptation. Bundling more generally one thing you could who is imagine building messenger an app for instance that lets you create certain GEO locations like all the gems you belong to or the only Jim you belong to, where you can access tempting content on your ipod and then set restriction. So you can say I can only access this content at those tempting locations and then there's she calls Jim flicks Jim flags as one of my favorite suggested products. So imagine that you took a company like Netflix in and you called it Jim Flax and you let people set aside certain tv shows for Jim only access. My research suggests that up
I'd like that might be very attractive to be coming up on freedom of the media. What do you think is the most common temptation is bundled by frequent with radio listeners I like to drink scotch, while I thought laundry like to enjoy called beer likely in the house a drink that I love making, they call it the nectar of the gods, and we explore what Katy milkman calls the fresh start effect like when I wake up. Sometimes I feel sometimes that I'm a new person I weren't register On my birthday, demanding only seven, my birthday coming up with another
we are talking with Katy Milkman of the Wharton School at pen, she's been doing research on temptation bundling and how it can help motivate us to do the things we ought to be doing, but left rendezvous. this may not do. Milkman is also been doing research on what she calls the fresh start effect. So the work I have done on the fresh artifact was actually motivated by giving a talk out at Google a couple of years ago and telling them about some of the different tools I had done. Research on that can be helpful to to getting people to do so. Like exercise and get flew shots and follow through on various other goals that they intend to follow through on, but sometimes fail to, and one of the eight hour folks, Google asked me this great question was out there. He said
we see that there are all these tools available on we'd love to roll them out and try to promote them to our employees, to encourage more long term, focused behaviors, but do the sense of wine. It would be best to deploy these tools. What is the best time- and we just haven't- looked at that and in my research groups. So that's actually what motivated the work I've done on the fresh artifact right and what kind of tools were they trying to roll out so I had actually talked about idea of temptation bundling. So that was one of the things I presented. I'd also presented some research showing that if you prompt people to form concrete plans about exactly when they intend to follow through on a given behaviour, in this case it was getting flew, shot or getting old. One ass could be even in the privacy of their own home, if they're just prompted to think through privately the date and time when they intend to do that. That actually increases follow through quite significantly and substantially. So those are the tools that I have just presented and they said: when do we roll these out, and I said
back and scratch my head, and I thought you know what we know about the new year's effect. We do know about the new year's effect that a lot of people make resolutions that they at least try to keep here are a few samples from people we spoke with. My resolution. Fern years was to smile more the same one area where he less war, I mean if I knew your last year and I did start doing. Ok and now I do go three times a week, and it's only to stop this, inevitable decline of my person, because I'm thirty three, but I think it's the best thing. I've done for myself, timing, it was new years is it if your wife to size, you can't wear tube socks anymore. That was our resolution. There are thrown away. We create these resolutions and there's a lot of, overall support for that kind of thing, so it's not clear that that is anything besides a social, normal, social ritual
but I wondered if there might be something more to it and in particular on the things that struck me as that at the start of a new year, we feel like we have a clean slate. It's the fresh start effect in essence that I feel at the beginning of a new year, is driven by the fact that Last year's behind me of my past failures are from last year and I can Those are not me, that's old me, that's not knew me knew me, isn't gonna make these mistakes, and so that, if that's true, if that's part of what's going on at the beginning of a new year, then there should be lots of other cycles that show that pattern as well. So we should see the same kinds of dissociation from our past failings and same motivation to do better on this cycle at the beginning of a new weak,
any of a new month following birthdays when we feel like were beginning a new cycle and our own lives following holidays, which may stand apart from other dates and create the start of a new cycle for our us personally as well. So talk about the evidence you have and where the evidence comes from what what you go. Looking for, where you getting the data to do that yeah. Well, so the first, the very for data that we explore actually was maybe very natural. Given the idea originated at Google, the first thing we did is: we downloaded searches for the term diet on oh and diet, by the ways, the most popular new year's resolution. It's the thing that we most struggle with, and that applies to me as well, so you downloaded daily search volume for this term over the course of eight years which you can get from Google and what we did is we look to see whether
there were any particular moments when it bounced up and whether or not in fact, it was consistent with our hypothesis, which was that people would search more for the term died at the beginning of a new weak month year and following holidays, and we found indeed that that's exactly the case and that data set. So we see bigger effects for dates that feeling fresh darts and if we look at placebo terms, something like whether news that people often search for we don't see those patterns. So it's something think tapping when we look at the term diet. So was our very first exploration. We got all excited about what we saw and we said well, let's, let's see that's just information search information gap and what about real behaviour? So we actually went to this data sat on all of the visits to Jim by undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania, which we had at our fingertips and said: maybe we'll see it and Jim visits to and when we looked at, data. What we saw that people visit the jam, the very same undergraduate. In fact we can look within student, and
the very same undergraduate is more likely to visit the gem at the start of a new weak month year following holidays and following birthdays, with the notable exception of twenty first birthdays and I'll. Let you speculate as to why that might be different I'm guessing alcohol may be involved, I'm letting you spent wait I dont have. I don't have any data on exactly why, but you know my speculation may or may not have guns direction. Judging by the submissions you sent when we ask for your examples of temptation, bundling I'd say that yes, I'll call may be involved. I like to drink scotch. While I fully laundry if they don't work out, I don't drink there,
that's my tradeoff, my name is feeling in some and I lived in Sweden and my temptation. Bumble is actually my Portman before going out for drinks with my friends. So ok, so I am thinking of the different ways that one might look at. This first start effect. So so one would be that you know the beginning of a new year or maybe a new school term or some new. You know some demarcation of time that feels like your passes behind you and your features ahead of you and then you embark on this thing and theoretically, that thing that you embark on is better for you, but then talk about the degree to which people fall off and at the implication, is that bad to fall off, but I guess I'm thinking well, maybe this activity they were trying to. angel. Add two: wasn't that important to them? That's interesting yard! I mean there's
there's a lot of fall off with the ears resolutions or with any goal that we are pursuing with anything that requires willpower Louis They need to stop smoking cigarettes and I always revert back to smoking couple days after you find resolutions are tough lake. I try to meditate more in the new year, it doesn't go well, but a new ya. You say you want to lose weight or do something like that, then, February fell off. Some people I'll, say that means why even bother in the first place wife and form new year's resolutions. If you're gonna fall off rising, there's a few different responses to that one. Is you sorry, you can't hit a home run if you dont swing, so its ever gonna work. If you don't start- and I think that that suggests, but we want fresh art moments to motivate people and hopefully, eventually they'll actually had the home run, even if they fall off a bunch of times. So that's one
Sir. Another answer is that sometimes actually the behaviour just takes a tiny bit of effort, so there are some things we can do, that are just a one time decision and they make a huge impact on the rest of our lives. For instance, if you sign up for a for a one can plan just once then you're gonna be saving forever after or if you just get your flesh. you only have to do at once a year and then it has benefits for the remainder of the year. A lot, a lot of different medical procedures have that characteristic where, if you can just get people to do once every so often even a low frequency like coal and ask me once every ten years can be enough to save many lives. So I think we can also think about. The fresh artifact is having a lot of benefits for those kinds of one time, behaviors with huge, huge, downstream consequence setter. Positive, ok, so considering that you ve identified this an found in found evidence for it in the data. What can you do about it? How can you
Who's. This knowledge to help people make more pro social choices. Yeah. It's a great question. I think, there's a bunch of different application. So one thing we ve tried is just remind in people that are given day is a fresh start. So, for instance, we have one experiment where we reminded people that a certain day was the first day of spring and we experimentally compared people who we reminded a certain day was the first day of spring with another group that we didn't and the The group they got that first day of spring reminder, was more motivated to pursue their goals and receive reminder about their goal, specifically on the first day of spring, when it was labelled as such, and so you can think about just refrain
and given day reminding someone that it is an opportunity for a fresh start as one intervention that might increase engagement and fresh our behaviors. You could also think about just asking people to do things that are good for them on fresh start date, so you might try to roll out, for instance, a planning prompt campaign or offer people an opportunity to sign up for a commitment devices for temptation bundling device on a fresh start date when we know their natural inclination and their motivation to do things like exercise and diet and by the way we also found the fresh art effect with non health related goal. So looking at things like financial it was an educational goals, so whatever it is that their striving to do if we provide them with the tools they need at a moment when there feeling fresh, they may be more likely to take advantage of those tools and start a good new habit.
It's ok do. Let me play devils advocate for a minute. It's more like jerks advocate announcements, devils advocate, but why should smart motivated people like you, have to work so hard to didn't and trick people into taking better care themselves. For instance, why not just let darwinian forces do their thing and weed out the people who are too lazy to go to the general to get a vaccine there are a lot of different answers. Wanted. One could be that you simply want to see better outcomes for people who may be didn't we lies what they needed to do, or were too busy to figure out what they needed.
to do so. This is one way of helping people who may be really would do ass if they had the time and energy in education. Another answer would be that there are huge social benefits rate. So even selfishly we all pay the costs when other people fail to exert the willpower needed to take care of themselves, and so you could even think of a selfish reason for engaging in this kind of research and in providing these kinds of nudges, which is that society is going to pay the cost when bad things happen to people who didn't take care of themselves. But I like to think of it as more altruism motive. Can I just say for them I dont really agree with the jerks advocate argument. I just want to hear it gently. I know I'm on your side, maybe Katy movements. Research is inspired you to harness the fresh start effect, but maybe you need one more nudge a bit of further inspiration to follow. If that's ok,
we will leave you with some more of your examples that we gathered along the way and not a particular religious person, but during young to poor I think about some of the things that I haven't done politically well that year and some things I want to improve upon the next year. My grandmother eyes, you die from smoking I remember I smoke cigarettes, my friends all the time and high school as soon as she died. It was like over. I was like why I like that's it. Figures ever again, but now just mobile eat, but there were a better solution. Last August, was my birthday. I turned twenty five and something that was along. Go for me was supplied a grad school, so I celebrated my birthday? I started with the application process for all their grad school. Leaving a job is probably the perfect sort of press start moment so generally,
in the morning. I might make better decisions I do at the and the evening, but that, like I think, every day, honestly, you can start tracks let's say I went out to dinner the night before and a lot of sweets and carved the next day. I wake up and that are being raised above about it. The ito, where better that day, problems. Radio is produced by W N Y, see studios and w production is. This episode was produced by Gregg Result. Ski Susie, Lichtenberg Christopher Worth Merit Jacob, an Caroline English withheld from Daniel Dissolvent Paul Schneider, Anaheim David Herman and require our staff also include Herbal Gunjay Jake, how it Alison Hockenberry and Kashmir High, and why don't you
you start your new year by coming to visit us at for economics, dot com or check this out on Twitter Facebook, and please subscribe to this pot guest on Itunes, which just included for economics radio, in its best of two thousand fifteen round, thanks either Stephen dubbing again. One more thing if you liked the episode you just heard. We think you like something else in the friggin hammocks radio network. Look for this interview on the new podcast people. I mostly admire with host Steve Letter on my guest today Sue bird. She collects championships, she's fine. or W Nba championships, five euro, the best about championships. to end see a championships for International Basketball Federation, world cups and four olympic Gold medal. I would
think that, in order to be the player you are, you would have to be a person who acted, gets better, under pressure rather than worth well. Obviously, there are people who are known for hitting big shots, her known for playing, while in big games that exists for sure, but I think we kind of frame it there, why it's not that you're gonna make nine out of ten. It's that you might make three at it But somebody else is making zero its Andrews, most successful. It's like who's, the most, successful of the least successful, that is, people mostly admire you can find it on your favorite podcast app subscribe now, so that you don't miss single episode. hey there, Stephen Governor again, one more thing if you like for economics, radio, I think you'll also like the latest episode of people, I mostly admire the podcast hosted by my friend,
Brennan CO, authored, Steve, Levin, here's what it sounds like a guest today, Sue Bird, she collects championships, As for W Nba championships, five euro, the best about championships too, and see a championships for International Basketball Federation, world cups and four olympic gold medals. I'd love to talk about the economics of professional basketball, So the average player in the NBA made eight point three million dollars in two thousand and nineteen in the W Nba. The average with eighty thousand is frustrating just now, I think actually if you look at twenty twenty, our minimum is now higher. But we all. but in the same amount of work, so is it a heart?
swallow knowing that somebody else's work is being rewarded at times by I live in reality. I understand business and economics. Some people look at us as like charity. The goal will help them out like an it in a terrible. What sense, not unlike this business, vestment way, and we do look at us as an investment immediately. Its talked about how we don't make money, and it's like fifty Years- about the NBA did either, but people are willing to make that investment get behind it and growing its people I mostly admire you can find it on your favorite podcast, app
Transcript generated on 2021-01-29.