According to an article in this week's issue of New Scientist by Graham Lawton ('A nudge in the right direction'), "Our minds are biased and flawed, but in a systematic way. Human behaviour is irrational, but predictably so." This predictability has led to a new way of thinking called behavioural economics.
|In 1999, economist Aad Kieboom had the idea to etch a picture of a fly into|
the urinals at Schipol Airport. As a result, the cost of cleaning the men's
toilets reportedly fell by 80%. Image from the econ-behavioural blogspot.
One of the most important aspects of behavioural economics is the idea is that we have two systems of thought: System 1 is fast, automatic and emotional; System 2 is slow, effortful and logical. The coexistence of these two systems is the key concept of a dual process theory, for which Daniel Kahneman of Princeton University won a Nobel Prize in 2002.
System 1 has been likened to an inner Homer Simpson. It doesn't stop to think—it just does. It reacts on the fly and jumps to conclusions.
System 2 is the opposite, and has been likened to an inner Mr Spock. In terms of decision-making, System 2 generally produces better outcomes.
Lawton explains that numerous other biases and flaws are also at play. "We are swayed by social pressures," he points out, "and will often follow the herd instead of making decisions to suit ourselves. We procrastinate and tend to choose the path of least resistance. We are "loss averse", meaning the pain of losing something is greater than the pleasure of gaining it. We favour the status quo, even if it is not in our best interests, and we are easily influenced by irrelevant information."
This ragbag of flawed thinking is responsible for all sorts of poor choices in life, such as failing to save for retirement, sending angry emails and making ill-advised purchases. It is why well-laid plans to eat more healthily, exercise more and drink less often come to naught. It is, in short, what makes us human.
|Residents in the Hurlingham Conservation Area believe there are better locations|
for a proposed hire-bike station than the one being imposed on them.
Image from Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle *
* * *
Loss aversion was first proposed as an explanation for the endowment effect—the fact that people place a higher value on a good that they own than on an identical good that they do not own. In short, loss aversion refers to people's tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses than to acquiring gains.
|Image from Beyond Bulls and Bears|
Cycling: the way ahead continues: "Taking a political decision to reduce the space allotted to cars (whether for traffic or for parking) in order to create facilities for cyclists requires a certain amount of skill, entails explanations for the population and has to be implemented gradually."
Has to be implemented gradually? What do they mean, has to be? Isn't it the case that in the Netherlands, most of what they achieved there was done within about eight years? Yes, I believe that to be the case. However, as Matthew Wright pointed out in this comment on the Voleospeed website:
"In 1970s, when the Dutch began [developing] their cycling infrastructure, modal share across the country was approx 25%. It had come down from over 50% in the previous 20 years. So, there was a massive voting population of active and recently active cyclists who could see the benefit of, and vote for, improvements in facilities."
Okay, but isn't it also the case that Roelof Wittink told the GLA's Investigation into Cycling that if we are able to accelerate the development of an amenable cycling environment, mainstream, then we should do it? Yes, that's true. But he also said, "Do not underestimate that you have to come a long way."
|Leo Tolstoy: "The two most powerful warriors are time and patience."|
Image from The Daily Telegraph
* Many thanks to George Johnston at Two Wheels Good for posting the story about disgruntled Fulham residents.