By Manoj Kumar
Image Source: SocialNews.XYZ
One would expect that there is no dearth of information available on the downsides of letting ones guards down during this pandemic. And if this is not enough, nearly everyone has had a harrowing personal experience or has known of someone close who has suffered during these times.
Yet, why is it that half the people continue to ignore the warning and not wear masks?
The answer lies in the discipline of behavioural economics which tries to explain the seemingly “irrational” behaviours of people.
One of the tenets which explains this behaviour stems from the problem of self-control. We know the benefits of exercising, and want to do it, but the benefits will accrue over a longer time period. The immediate pleasure of lazing on the sofa outweighs the efforts on a treadmill. We humans tend to discount long term benefits pretty steeply (hyperbolic discounting) in favour of short term rewards. The same goes for wearing the mask. The lure of a party this weekend ignoring social distancing, just one meeting with friends in your favourite coffee shop, or momentarily taking off the mask while shopping or walking…there are no dearth of short term temptations which can adversely affect our long term health.
So, if people do understand good behaviours and wish to pursue them, then how can they resist temptations and improve self-control?
Behavioural scientists say that an individual has two selves – a “planner’, who thinks rationally and for the long term, and a “doer” who lives in the present. This explains why the rational you (planner) sets up an early morning alarm at night and keeps the alarm clock away from the bed, so as to avoid the other you (doer) from getting tempted to just extend the hand to put off the alarm. It is the “planner” who we should encourage to make the right personal commitment, and set the reward and penalties for breaking them for the “doer”. If this sounds strange, you can see how StickK, a company in the US, has developed a successful business model dealing with such “commitment contracts” (stickK).
This should give some hope for policy makers and marketing minds to develop programs to help people make commitments for doing what is good, and stick to them using tools from behavioural economics.
Manoj Kumar is the co-founder of Val-More Action Advisory (www.val-more.com).
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are Val-More’s views only.