#TIL: Uncomfortable Solutions to Comfortable Delusions: Not for the faint-hearted tress-passer

By Sayani Mandal

With his famous essay, Thomas Schelling attacks the psychological drivers behind our decisions — imagine a fundraiser towards a medical procedure for a six-year old in a remote village to prolong her life by five years. Everyone swamps them with nickels and dimes to save her life. However, let the fundraiser be towards the only district hospital that may shut down due to lack of funds — how many would open their checkbook for a contribution?

His essay intends to contrast the motivation of saving “identified” lives with “statistical” lives — by creating an emotional impact and leaving you a tad bit uncomfortable. This concept of human behaviour has been used for a rail-safety project at Wadala station, Mumbai.

Billboards placed by Final Mile at the Wadala Station, Mumbai; Source — How cities trick you into better behaviour

The Indian Railways, with the help of behavioural architecture firm, Final Mile positioned big hoardings showing horrifying facial expressions of a rider being run over by a train. Although the photographs were staged, they seemed alarmingly real. Additionally, two other interventions were retrofitted — markings on the tracks at regular intervals and a well-timed honk by the drivers such that trespassers may correctly estimate the speed of incoming trains, helping them avoid any fatality. These together resulted in a reduction of fatalities by 75 per cent.

The reason that earlier text warnings failed to work as effectively as the graphic posters, were because they attacked one’s instincts and emotions, ultimately provoking an instant visceral fear using the illusion of “identified” lives!

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