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Email Edition #36
How Do We Solve the Last Mile?
Evan Nesterak, The Psych Report with Dilip Soman, Rotman School of Management - University of Toronto

You sign up for a free flu-shot but forget to schedule the appointment. A qualified high school student is accepted to college but gets tripped up applying for financial aid and doesn’t enroll. The government creates a great program to help low income families fund their children’s education, but only a handful of people sign up.

Some of society’s stickiest problems aren’t a failure of intention, importance, or value. They’re the result of a failure to understand human behavior at the last mile—the final stage where desires and plans must turn into action.

Last mile problems range from the frustrating—signing up for a gym membership and failing to go as often as you’d like—to the fatal—knowing how to treat diarrhea, yet seeing hundreds of thousands die annually because they misunderstand the reasoning behind the treatment.

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A Lawyer, an Economist, a Marketer, and a Behavioral Scientist Go into a Bar...
Dilip Soman, Rotman School of Management - University of Toronto

No matter who you are, whether you are selling soap or shampoo, whether you are a government looking after the welfare of citizens, or an agency promoting financial well-being and better health, or an institution that is responsible for collecting taxes, you are in the business of changing people’s behavior.

Now imagine that one of your stakeholders is a person who has chosen Option A, but you want to get them to choose Option B. A and B could be anything—products, services, or behaviors. What are the different tools or approaches that are available to us as we encourage or think about how to get people to switch from A to B?

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Payday Lenders Offer Prepaid Cards, Why Premium Gas Sales Are Up, plus more weekly links

A selection of recent behavioral science news, articles, and resources of note:

  • Payday loans could well be the most exploitative banking practice around, charging mostly low-income consumers astronomical triple-digit interest rates and fantastical fees to borrow small sums of money. Some payday lenders are making it easier for their customers to spend with payday loan prepaid cards. People tend to spend more with cards than cash, so this effectively combines the worst of two evils. God help us. (
  • You could have saved $41 last month. Instead, you bought premium gas. A recent report by JPMorgan Chase Institute shows that when gas prices go down, people buy more expensive gas. (New York Times)
  • Medicaid patients across the state of South Carolina can now expect to pocket $25 for attending an annual health exam, $20 for receiving a mammogram, and $10 for getting a flu shot, thanks to a new incentive program aiming to increase the number of Medicaid recipients receiving preventative medical care. At first blush, many are wondering whether it’s fair to pay people to do what they should already be doing. However, long-term benefits of the plan could persuade skeptics of its worth. (Forbes)
  • You can’t really understand a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, the saying goes. But it doesn’t say anything about compassion. In a recent series of experiments, researchers found those who had actually walked the proverbial mile—as in being bullied, struggling with unemployment, or jumping in a cold lake—were less compassionate towards others facing the same challenges. (Harvard Business Review)
  • The melancholy Sarah McLachlan music cues, and a tear-jerking slideshow of suffering animals takes the screen. Do you change the channel or keep watching the commercial? Synthesizing a large body of evidence, Stanford Psychologist Jamil Zaki illustrates how empathy can be a choice, rather than an automatic process out of our control. (Edge)
  • One interesting thing psychologists have learned from studying bullying over the past two decades is that bullying in rural areas is substantialldifferent than bullying in urban or even suburban areas. It’s worse—more intractable and pervasive. What about cyberbullying? Well, as Maria Konnikova writes, “the Internet has made the world more rural.” (The New Yorker)
  • Are you the bossy oldest, the spoiled youngest, or the neglected middle child forced to be the mediator of the two? There are mountains of studies showing that birth order is an important factor in shaping your personality, but new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports no correlation between the two. Julie Beck reports for the Atlantic. (PNAS, Atlantic)

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