Christian Long

Sendhil Mullainathan: Solving Social Problems with a Nudge

In TED Talks on April 26, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Reflection by BRENDON O-L.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Sendhil Mullainathan: Solving Social Problems with a Nudge

Sendhil Maullainathan delivered a very eye-opening talk that more than exceeded expectations.

He is a behavioral economist, which is a very interesting field as it just is not just the study of economics, but how human psychology plays in the mix as well. He is a MacArthur winner and for good reasons. He is a brilliant man with genius ideas.

In this talk, he analyzes “last mile” problems in which a technological solution is available, but humans perceive something different and get in the way of reality. He performs several demonstrations ranging from mathematics to simply identifying colors. Surprisingly, most of the audience answered his questions incorrectly, proving his point. We have intuitive models on how the world should work, but in these unique situations they do not apply.

Although this is not the only problem he identifies with the “last mile,” he also claims that we measure success when a technological solution is developed, and not when the solution has been implemented properly in the real world. Also, there are situations in which our quirky selves hinder our ability to use these situations.

How do we fix this?

It turns out data and statistics are not the answer. Through implementing marketing, testing, and other creative ideas in tandem with a scientific approach, we can improve these situations. In his presentation, he refers to a problem with insulin and diabetes. People who have this disease only adhere to taking the recommended dose 75% of the time. By changing the bottle of insulin to a preloaded pen, they saw approximately a 5% increase in adherence rates.

Similarly, he also cited a problem with gas fuel economy and cars. People make the wrong choice, but because we are marketing the wrong feature. Instead of marketing miles per gallons, we should be marketing gallons per mile. This simple change would increase people’s perception when making such decisions.

We can also just remind people of the options available. Another example is BMW marketing safety, not by using safety crash ratings, but by showing a car avoiding an accident. This approach has also been applied to electricity usage. A company sends out letters telling them how much electricity they and their neighbors used. The result: people reduce their usage 2-3%.

These are amazing results. Sendhil Mullainathan has found a revolutionary solution to various problems that have been reoccurring throughout human history. His research is an insightful collection of knowledge that needs to be applied. This is a remarkable talk that I recommend and that many more people should see.


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