Are you always on your best behavior, or are you only good when you're being watched? Do you think you can get away with lying, speeding or littering if everyone else is doing the same thing? These notions are entertainingly put to the test in "Crowd Control," a 12-part National Geographic series premiering Nov. 24 with two back-to-back episodes.
Hosted by behavior expert, author and lecturer Daniel Pink, the series presents experiments in mass psychology to show how guilt, shame, fear and reward incentives can turn bad behavior into good.
"We made a list of the most annoying social situations we face on a daily basis, and then used science to fix them," says Pink. "Viewers will be amazed at just how much we can influence behavior by slightly altering the situation, and how these small adjustments can actually make a big difference in our world."
Situations in the first two episodes include everything from rewarding drivers for not speeding and shaming them for parking in handicapped-only spaces to turning garbage collection into a game to reduce littering. In the second couple of episodes, the producers install a robot to ease tensions at airport baggage claim and use comedy to make the DMV line more fun.
"The premise of the show is ingenious. We tackle a range of problems, from the significant: speeding on highways, bike theft, giving to charity — to the mundane: double-dipping guacamole, not holding the door at a shopping mall. Then we use principles of behavioral science, along with some design and technology, to try to solve them," Pink says, offering one of his favorite examples from a segment shot in New York City.
"In an effort to get people to take the stairs instead of the escalators, we turned some outdoor stairs in lower Manhattan into 'beatbox stairs,' in which each step played a sound — Boom, Wikkit, etc. — when it was stepped on. The effect was huge. We had people running up and down the stairs and hundreds of people taking videos of the action. But the smaller interventions were also cool. For instance, putting a picture of a baby seal in a checkout line got more people to take reusable, rather than plastic, grocery bags. And some of my favorites were ones where things didn't turn out the way we expected. But you'll have to watch the show to learn about these."
In the clip below, see how people react to the resuable bag and baby seal experiment.
Pink believes the show has many real-world lessons that people can apply to their daily lives. "For instance, when we rewrote the in-flight safety instructions for an airline, we found that explaining why the rules are in place had a huge effect on people retaining and following the rules. That's something that parents and teachers could use with kids. In Austin, Texas, we supplemented the traditional 'No Parking in a Disabled Space' signs with signs that read 'Think of Me. Keep It Free' that included a photo of a disabled person from the local community. That essentially eliminated illegal parking in those spaces. Putting a face on a problem is a solution all of us could use.
"We often behave very differently in different situations. All of us know that intellectually," Pink observes. "But to see it with hidden cameras is both eye-opening and extremely entertaining."
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