Powerful use of language

No, I don’t mean the current USA presidential candidate debates…

I saw this at the BBC and was intrigued:

How a few words can make people hand over millions

Sometimes people don’t behave as we expect – big differences can come from tiny tweaks that can save lives or add millions to the public purse.

After reviewing the actual effects of a couple of publicly praised policies – prison visits by delinquents, and mandatory seat belts – there is this:

Sometimes what seems like a fairly good plan may become problematic due to factors you’re not aware of,” says Michael Hallsworth, who works at the UK government’s “Nudge Unit” – but more on that later.

In the real world, our actions are a minefield of hidden motivations and psychological quirks. “We used to think that people take into account all of the available information and then weigh up the costs and benefits of different options. And there’s increasing evidence from the last 40 years that that’s not correct,” says Hallsworth.

For example, the prison visits by delinquents did not keep the delinquents from offending, and mandatory seatbelts increased deaths on the road.

The Nudge Unit mentioned above?

Back in 2010, former UK prime minister David Cameron set up the “Nudge Unit”; a crack team of scientists, psychologists and policy experts tasked with using the technique to improve education, health and the state of public finances.

The Nudge Unit was responsible for improving the amount of money collected by the taxman. How? By applying scientific techniques to come up with language that affected the behavior of taxpayers. It’s a fascinating insight to human behavior. (Just like those USA presidential candidate debates, but from a different perspective…) It made me stop and think

Read it all, here.