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How to motivate yourself to change your behavior | Tali Sharot | TEDxCambridge

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16:49   |   Oct 28, 2014

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How to motivate yourself to change your behavior | Tali Sharot | TEDxCambridge
How to motivate yourself to change your behavior | Tali Sharot | TEDxCambridge thumb How to motivate yourself to change your behavior | Tali Sharot | TEDxCambridge thumb How to motivate yourself to change your behavior | Tali Sharot | TEDxCambridge thumb

Transcription

  • Translator: Leonardo Silva Reviewer: Denise RQ
  • So, we all have some behavior
  • that we would like to change about ourselves.
  • And we certainly all want to help someone else
  • change their behavior in a positive way.
  • So, maybe it's your kid, your spouse, your colleague.
  • So I want to share some new research with you
  • that I think reveals something really important
  • about what gets people to change their behavior.
  • But before I do that, let's zoom in on one strategy
  • that I think you probably use a lot.
  • So, let's say you're trying to stop yourself from snacking.
  • What do you tell yourself?
  • Well, most people, in a monologue, will say,
  • "Beware. You'll be fat."
  • And if this was your kid,
  • you would probably tell him that smoking kills
  • and, by the way, he's in big, big trouble.
  • (Laughter)
  • So, what we're trying to do here
  • is we're trying to scare ourselves and others
  • into changing their behavior.
  • And it's not just us.
  • Warnings and threats are really common in health campaigns, in policy.
  • It's because we all share this deep-rooted belief
  • that if you threaten people, if fear is induced,
  • it will get them to act.
  • And it seems like a really reasonable assumption,
  • except for the fact that the science shows
  • that warnings have very limited impact on behavior.
  • So, graphic images on cigarette packets, for example,
  • do not deter smokers from smoking,
  • and one study found that, after looking at those images,
  • quitting actually became a lower priority for smokers.
  • So, I'm not saying that warnings and threats never work,
  • but what I'm saying is, on average, they seem to have a very limited impact.
  • And so, the question is: why?
  • Why are we resistant to warnings?
  • Well, if you think about animals,
  • when you induce fear in an animal,
  • the most common response you will see is freezing or fleeing;
  • fighting, not as much.
  • And so, humans are the same.
  • So if something scares us,
  • we tend to shut down and we try to eliminate the negative feelings.
  • So, we might use rationalizations.
  • For example, you might tell yourself:
  • "My grandpa smoked. He lived to be 90.
  • So, I have really good genes and absolutely nothing to worry about."
  • And this process can actually make you feel more resilient
  • than you did before,
  • which is why warnings sometimes have this boomerang effect.
  • In other times, we simply put our head in the ground.
  • (Laughter)
  • Take the stock market for example.
  • Do you know when people pull their head out of the ground
  • to look at their accounts --
  • not to make a transaction, just to log in to check their account?
  • So, what you're seeing here, in black,
  • is the S&P 500 over two years,
  • and in gray, is the number of times
  • that people logged in to their account just to check.
  • And this is data from Karlsson, Loewenstein & Seppi,
  • it's control [data] for all the obvious confounds.
  • So, what do we see?
  • When the market is high, people log in all the time,
  • because positive information makes you feel good,
  • so you seek it out.
  • And when the market is low,
  • people avoid logging in,
  • because negative information makes us feel bad,
  • so we try to avoid it altogether.
  • And all this is true
  • as long as bad information can reasonably be avoided.
  • So, what you don't see here is what happened a few months later,
  • in the financial collapse of 2008,
  • when the market went drastically down
  • and that was when people started logging in frantically,
  • but it was a bit too late.
  • So, you can think about it like this -- it's not just finance:
  • In many different parts of our life,
  • (Laughter)
  • we have warning signs and bad behaviors now.
  • And they could potentially lead to all these bad outcomes later,
  • but not necessarily so,
  • because there are different routs from your present to your future, right?
  • It can go this way, it can go that way.
  • And, as time passes,
  • you gather more and more information about where the wind is blowing.
  • (Laughter)
  • And, at any point, you can intervene
  • and you could potentially change the outcome,
  • but that takes energy and you might tell yourself:
  • "What's the point about worrying about something that might happen?
  • It might not happen."
  • Until we reach this point,
  • at which time you do jump into action, but sometimes it's a little bit too late.
  • So, we wanted to know, in my lab,
  • what type of information does leak into people.
  • So, we conducted an experiment
  • where we asked approximately 100 people to estimate the likelihood
  • of 80 different negative events that might happen to them in the future.
  • So, for example, I might ask you:
  • "What is the likelihood that you'll suffer hearing loss in your future?"
  • And let's say you think it's about 50%.
  • Then, I give you the opinion of two different experts.
  • So, expert A tells you:
  • "You know, for someone like you, I think it's only 40%."
  • So, they give you a rosier view of your future.
  • Expert B says:
  • "You know, for someone like you,
  • I actually think it's about 60%. It's worse."
  • So, they give you a bleaker view of your future.
  • What should you do?
  • Well, you shouldn't change your beliefs, right?
  • Wrong.
  • What we find is that people tend to change their beliefs
  • towards a more desirable opinion.
  • In other words, people listen to the positive information.
  • Now, this study was conducted on college students, so you might say:
  • "Well, college students are delusional, right? We all know that."
  • (Laughter)
  • And surely, as we grow older, we grow wiser.
  • So we said: "OK, let's test that. Does this really generalize?
  • Does it generalize to your kid, to your parent?
  • Does it generalize to your spouse?"
  • And so, we tested people from the age of 10 until the age of 80,
  • and the answer was yes.
  • In all these age groups,
  • people take in information they want to hear
  • -- like someone telling you you're more attractive than you thought --
  • than information that they don't want to hear.
  • And the ability to learn from good news
  • remained quite stable throughout the life span,
  • but the ability to learn from bad news,
  • that changes as you age.
  • So, what we found was that kids and teenagers
  • were the worse at learning from bad news,
  • and the ability became better and better as people aged.
  • But then, around the age of 40, around midlife,
  • it started deteriorating again.
  • So, what this means is that the most vulnerable populations,
  • kids and teenagers on the one hand, and the elderly on the other hand,
  • they're the least likely to accurately learn from warnings.
  • But what you can see here
  • is that it doesn't matter what age you are.
  • You can be 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60;
  • everyone takes in information they want to hear
  • more than information that they don't.
  • And so, we end up with a view like this of ourselves.
  • (Laughter)
  • Our mistake as teachers, as mentors, as employers
  • is that, instead of working with this positive image
  • that people so effortfully maintain,
  • we try and put a clear mirror in front of them.
  • We tell them: "You know,
  • the image is just going to get worse and worse and worse."
  • And it doesn't work.
  • It doesn't work because the brain will frantically try to distort the image,
  • using Photoshop and fancy lenses,
  • until it gets the image it's happy with.
  • But what would happen if we went along with how our brain works
  • and not against it?
  • Take handwashing, for example.
  • We all know that handwashing is the number one way
  • to prevent the spread of disease,
  • and this is really important in hospitals.
  • So, in a hospital here in the United States,
  • a camera was installed
  • to see how often medical staff do, in fact, sanitize their hands
  • before and after entering a patient's room.
  • Now, the medical staff knew a camera was installed.
  • Nevertheless, only one in ten washed their hands
  • before and after entering a patient's room.
  • But then, an intervention was introduced:
  • an electronic board
  • that told the medical staff how well they were doing.
  • Every time you washed your hands, the numbers went up on the screen
  • and it showed you your rate of your current shift
  • and the rate of the weekly staff.
  • And what happened? Boom.
  • Compliance raised to 90%,
  • which is absolutely amazing.
  • And the research staff were amazed as well,
  • and they made sure to replicate it in another division in the hospital.
  • Again, the same results.
  • So, why does this intervention work so well?
  • It works well
  • because, instead of using warnings
  • about bad things that can happen in the future, like disease,
  • it uses three principles that we know really drive your mind and your behavior.
  • Let me explain.
  • The first one is social incentives.
  • In the hospital study,
  • the medical staff could see what other people were doing.
  • They can see the rates of the shift, the rate of the week.
  • We're social people, we really care what other people are doing,
  • we want to do the same and we want to do it better.
  • This is an image from a study that we conducted,
  • led by PhD student Micah Edelson,
  • and what it's showing you is a signal in the emotional center of your brain
  • when you hear about the opinion of others.
  • And what we found was that this signal can predict
  • how likely you are to conform at a later time,
  • how likely you are to change your behavior.
  • So, the British government are using this principle
  • to get people to pay taxes on time.
  • In an old letter that they sent to people who "forgot" to pay taxes on time,
  • they simply stressed how important it was pay taxes,
  • and that didn't help.
  • Then, they added one sentence,
  • and that sentence said:
  • "Nine out of ten people in Britain pay their taxes on time."
  • And that one sentence enhanced compliance within that group by 15%,
  • and it's thought to bring into the British government
  • 5.6 billion pounds.
  • So, highlighting what other people are doing is a really strong incentive.
  • The other principle is immediate rewards.
  • So,
  • every time the staff washed their hand,
  • they could see the numbers go up on the board and it made them feel good.
  • And knowing that in advance made them do something
  • that they, otherwise, may not want to do.
  • Now, this works because we value immediate rewards,
  • rewards that we can get now,
  • more than rewards that we can get in the future.
  • And people tend to think it's because we don't care about the future,
  • but that's completely wrong, we all care about our future, right?
  • We want to be happy and healthy in the future, we want to be successful,
  • but the future is so far away.
  • I mean, maybe you'll behave badly now and you'll be fine in the future,
  • and maybe you'll be altogether dead.
  • (Laughter)
  • So, the here-and-now you would rather have that tangible drink,
  • that tangible T-bone,
  • rather than something that's uncertain in the future.
  • If you think about it, it's not altogether irrational, right?
  • You're choosing something sure now
  • rather than something that is unsure in the future.
  • But what will happen if you reward people now
  • for doing actions that are good for them in the future?
  • Studies show that giving people immediate rewards
  • make them more likely to quit smoking,
  • more likely to start exercising,
  • and this effect lasts for at least six months,
  • because not smoking becomes associated with a reward,
  • and exercising becomes associated with a reward,
  • and it becomes a habit,
  • it becomes a lifestyle.
  • So, we can reward ourselves and others now
  • for behaving in ways that are good for us in the future
  • and that's a way for us to bridge the temporal gap.
  • And the third principle is progress monitoring.
  • So, the electronic board focused the medical staff attention
  • on improving their performance.
  • This is an image from a study that we conducted,
  • that shows you brain activity
  • suggestive of efficient coding of positive information about the future.
  • And what we found was that the brain does a really good job at this,
  • but it doesn't do such a good job
  • at processing negative information about the future.
  • So, what does this mean?
  • It means that, if you're trying to get people's attention,
  • you might want to highlight the progress, not the decline.
  • So, for example,
  • if you take that kid with the cigarette,
  • you might want to tell them:
  • "You know, if you stop smoking, you'll become better at sports."
  • Highlight the progress, not the decline.
  • Now, before I sum up, let me just share this small anecdote with you.
  • A few weeks ago, I got home and I found this bill on my fridge.
  • And was really surprised because there's never any bills on my fridge.
  • So, I was wondering why my husband decided to put that on our fridge.
  • And so, looking at the bill, I could see that what this bill was trying to do
  • is get me to be more efficient with my electricity use.
  • And how was it doing it?
  • Social incentives, immediate rewards and progress monitoring.
  • Let me show you.
  • Here are the social incentives.
  • In gray is the energy use
  • on the average energy use of people in my neighborhood.
  • And in blue is my energy use,
  • and in green is the most efficient neighbor.
  • And my reaction to this was --
  • my immediate reaction was:
  • "I'm a little bit better than average" (Laughter)
  • -- a tiny bit, but still...
  • and my husband had exactly the same reaction --
  • and "I want to get to the green bar."
  • And then, I got a smiley face.
  • That was my immediate reward and it was telling me, "You're doing good,"
  • and it made me want to put this on my fridge.
  • (Laughter)
  • And although I have this one smiley face,
  • I can see an opportunity there to get two smiley faces.
  • (Laughter)
  • So, there's an opportunity for progress
  • and it's showing me my progress throughout the year,
  • how my energy use changes throughout the year.
  • And the last thing this bill gave me:
  • it gave me a sense of control.
  • So, it gave me a sense of I was in control of my use of electricity.
  • And that is a really important thing,
  • if you try to get people to change their behavior,
  • because the brain is constantly trying to seek ways to control its environment.
  • It's one of the principles of what the brain is actually doing.
  • And so, giving people a sense of control is a really important motivator.
  • OK. So, what am I not saying?
  • I'm not saying that we do not need to communicate risks,
  • and I'm not saying that there's one-solution-fits-all,
  • but I am saying that, if we want to motivate change,
  • we might want to rethink how we do it,
  • because fear, the fear of losing your health, the fear of losing money,
  • induces inaction,
  • while the thrill of a gain induces action.
  • And so, to change behavior in ourselves and in others,
  • we may want to try these positive strategies
  • rather than threats,
  • which really capitalize on the human tendency
  • to seek progress.
  • Thank you.
  • (Applause)

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Description

What does make us change our actions? Tali Sharot reveals three ingredients to doing what's good for yourself.

Dr. Tali Sharot is a neuroscientist at University College London and the director of the Affective Brain Lab. She is a faculty member of the department of Experimental Psychology, a Wellcome Trust Fellow, and currently a visiting Professor at Harvard Medical School. Her research focuses on how emotion, motivation, and social factors influence our expectations, decisions, and memories.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at https://www.ted.com/tedx