Dr. Tali Sharot is the speaker of this talk. Let me introduce her briefly, She 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. Her research focuses on how emotion, motivation, and social factors influence our expectations, decisions, and memories.

Let us dive in

The speech opens with the talk of behaviour that we would like to change about ourselves and she said we all want to change others behaviour in a positive way it may be spouse, colleague, friends and many. She said what gets people to change their behaviour? She said the audience to shower some light on the strategy that everybody uses a lot. She said about the behaviour of wanting oneself to stop snacking. what do you tell yourself? she said that we definitely monologue the fact that “Beware. You will be fat.” She asked the audience what we are trying to do by constructing these kinds of monologues to ourselves? Definitely we are trying to scare ourselves and others into changing their behaviour. She said warnings and threats are very common in health campaigns, in policy its because we all share the deep-rooted belief that if you threaten people if fear is included, it will get them to act. She said science shows that warnings have very limited impact on behaviour.

Graphic examples of Cigarette packets do not stop smokers from smoking and also studies proved that after looking at those graphic images on packets quitting actually becomes a lower priority for smokers. She said on average warning and threatenings have a very limited impact.

She asked why are we resistant to warnings?

She started answering this question by taking an example of an animal. She said when you induce fear in the animal the most common response you will see is freezing and so humans are the same. If something scares us, we tend to shut down and we try to eliminate the negative feelings. So she said we might use rationalizations. For eg: We say that my grandpa smokes and he lived till 90 years of his age and maybe we defend ourselves saying nothing to worry about and this process make you feel more resilient than you did before. She said which is why warnings have a boomerang effect.

She continued the talk by taking the other example of the stock market and she showed the graph to the audience saying that when the market is high, people log in all the time to check their account because positive information makes you feel good, so you check that out and when the market is low people avoid logging in because negative information makes you feel bad. She said all this is true as long as bad information can reasonably be avoided. she said what people don't see in the stock market is what happened a few months later in the financial collapse of 2008 when the market went drastically down and that's when people started logging in rapidly with fear and anxiety. This happens in many parts of our life we have warning signs and bad behaviours now. Procrastinating all these behaviour can lead to bad outcomes later but not necessarily so because there are different routes from your present to your future. It can go in many different ways. She said in touches of humour way that at any point in life you analyze where the wind is blowing ( which means bad behaviour will show bad impact at any time) then you can intervene change the outcome. Here, the audience springs up the laughter. She said changing outcome takes energy so you might think “What's the point about thinking something that might happen or It might not happen.” She said until you reach a point and analyze and comfort yourself to bring a change but its too late. So In her lab, they researched what type of information does leak into people. So they conducted an experiment where they asked approximately 100 people to estimate the likelihood of 80 different negative events that might happen to them in future. Depending on the output experts will give them a bleaker view of their future. What should you do? She said that the majority of people think that they don't change their belief but she said In her research they found was people tend to change their beliefs towards a more desirable opinion. In other words, people listen to positive information. She said they conduct a test on college students and generalize it. They 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 the information they want to hear like someone telling you you are more attractive than you thought than information that they don't want to hear and the ability to learn from the good news remained quite stable throughout the life span, but the ability to learn from the bad news that changes as you age. She said they found that kids and teenagers were the worst at learning from bad news, and the ability became better and better as people age but around the age of 40, around midlife, its started becoming worse again so this means that the most vulnerable populations, kids and teenagers and the elderly they are the least likely to accurate learn from warnings. She said irrespective of age everybody takes in information what they want to hear more than information they don't.

She said about the example of handwashing. She said washing hands is the way to prevent the spread of disease, and this is very important in hospitals. In the USA, a camera was installed to see how often medical staff, in fact, sanitize their hands before and after entering a patient’s room. The medical staff knew a camera was installed but still only one in ten washed their hands before and after a patient's room. Then an intervention was introduced to an electronic board that told the medical staff how well they were doing. Here she uses the sarcastic tone. She continued saying every time they wash their hands the numbers went up on the screen and it show them the rate of your current shift and the rate of the weekly staff. Then, what happened? The graph raised to 90% which is so amazing and the research staff were amazed as well and they made dure to replicate it in another division in the hospital and they found the same results. So, here she asked in a rhetorical way 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.

She explained the principles and the first one is social incentives. In the hospital, study the medical staff could see what others were doing like they can see the rates of the shift, the rates of the week, She said we are social people, we really care about what other people are doing, we want to do the same and we want to do it better. She then showed an image from the study they conducted led by a Ph.D. student named Micah Edelson,

It is showing the signal in the emotional center of your brain when you hear about the opinion of others and what they 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, she said that the British government is 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 paying taxes, which does not work then they introduced a new sentence which says “ Nine out of ten people in Britain pay their taxes on time” and that one sentence enhanced the group by 15% and its thought to bring into the British government 5.6 billion pounds. So, highlighting what other people are doing is a really strong incentive.

The second principle is immediate rewards. So, every time the staff washed their hands they could see the number go up on the board and it made them feel good and knowing that in advance made them do

something in advance made them do that activity otherwise they do not want to do and this works because we value immediate rewards, rewards that we can get now more than rewards that we get in the future and people tend to think its because we don't care about the future which is completely wrong. we all care about our future. we want to be happy, we want to be happy and healthy in the future, we want to be successful but the future is so far. She said you may behave badly now and you will be fine in the future. so she said choosing something sure now rather than something that is unsure in the future is no irrational. She said what will happen rewarding people now for doing that are good for them in the future? Studies show that giving people immediate rewards makes them more likely to quit smoking, more likely to start exercising, and this effect lasts at least six months because not smoking becomes associated with reward and it becomes a habit, eventually it becomes a lifestyle. so rewarding ourselves and others now for behaving in ways that are good for us in the future.

The third principle is progress monitoring, so the electronic board focused on the medical staff's attention to improving their performance.

The above picture shows the brain activity suggestive of efficient coding of positive information about the future and they found was that the brain does a great job at this, but it doesn't do such a good job at processing negative information about the future. It means if you are trying to get people’s attention, you might want to highlight the progress, not the decline. For eg: If you take that kid with the cigarette, you might want to tell them if you stop smoking, you will become better at sports. Hight the progress not the decline.

She concluded her speech by giving people a sense of control is a really important motivator. She said she is not saying do not communicate the risks and she is not saying that there is one solution fits all but she is saying that if we want to motivate change, we might want to rethink how we do it because of fear, the fear of losing your health, the fear of losing money induces inaction while the thrill of the gain induces action and to change behavior in ourselves and in others we may want to try these positive strategies rather than threats which capitalize on the human tendency to seek progress.

As a viewer of this speech, I agree with the fact that we can make progress in our lives by taking the example of others, which can help in getting even better life than them which is a social incentive, and reinforcements are very useful, getting appreciation for the hard work always reinforce us to do more and learn more. I suggest everyone reinforce their companions with positive energy and lastly monitoring as she mentioned to use positive and healthy strategies to increase the cheerfulness and make them optimistic.





Bharathi is a self driven and purpose-oriented person.The main mission is to create profound change in her career. contact her on bharathi.batthula6@gmail.com

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Bharathi Batthula

Bharathi Batthula

Bharathi is a self driven and purpose-oriented person.The main mission is to create profound change in her career. contact her on bharathi.batthula6@gmail.com

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