Colour Me Yellow!

happy yellow smiley happy yellow smiley happy yellow smiley

As individuals, the way we each perceive colours might differ, but it does not change the universal emotional responses we have to them. Certain colours are known to be associated with certain distinct emotions.

Through various studies, it has been noted the colour for joy was invariably yellow. People associate yellow with fun, optimism and enthusiasm. There is a reason those happy smileys are classically done in yellow. Additionally, bright yellow is a sure shot attention grabber.

Our attraction to bright colours comes from our early ancestors, as it was beneficial in spotting brightly coloured fruits and vegetables in uniformly green surroundings. Yellow ones in particular are known to contain carotenoids and bioflavonoids that actually improve your mood. Furthermore, studies have shown that people exposed to yellow-orange light had greater brain activity related to awareness and cognition. It wakes up the circadian eye, as we non-consciously link it with the arrival of day. From our earliest days, daytime has been associated with activity and safety, since we could see everything during these hours. These could be possible reasons why the colour yellow is associated with happiness and joy.

Recently, one of the top paint manufacturing companies conducted a world-wide survey to find out ‘What is the world’s favourite colour?’. People were shown pure saturated colours and they had to hypothetically choose a colour for a wall in their house. One would expect yellow, the colour of joy to be an obvious favourite, but strangely, yellow was seen to be one of the least popular options, with only 5% people choosing it.

Why is it that the colour of joy is also the least favourite of people? This answer might lie in the way our eyes perceive colour. We use the photoreceptors called cones to perceive changes in colour. There are three types of cones cells that are sensitive to short, medium and long wavelength light. In colour terms, that is violet, green and red. Yellow falls in between green and red in the colour spectrum. In order to see it, two types of cones have to work at the same time, which is fatiguing to the eye. Apart from this, yellow also falls in the brighter part of the colour spectrum, making it very vibrant. These two factors put together, makes it rather stressful to look at yellow for long periods of time.

Nevertheless, when used in short bursts, yellow becomes a mood lifter. A living room with yellow cushions adds a burst of joy to the ambience. A sober outfit with a yellow bag can give the wearer a cheerful look. Yellow when used judiciously, can add a burst of joy to anything.

On the other hand, just as too much yellow can be fatiguing, so can too much joy and excitement. On a regular day, it’s ideal to experience multiple short periods of joy in order to go along in an efficient manner. A few pops of yellow joy splashed here and there should lift our mood without taking out too much of our emotional energy.


Nutrition SBCC Video

Final Mile is part of the SBCC (Social Behavior Change Communication) Expert Working Group constituted by SPRING & GAIN under the aegis of USAID. The EWG is tasked with evolving SBCC strategies for improving Nutrition behaviors at scale. Two S’s are critical to this strategy: Scale & Social.

Final Mile played a key role in shaping of this strategy. The Nutrition community, thanks partly to our efforts, saw value in using learnings from Behavioral Economics, Cognitive Neuroscience and Design Thinking to shape SBCC strategies. The case studies and approaches we shared have demonstrated that application of Behavioral Sciences can be achieved at scale provided we use the right research tools and test various interventions, in context. The future of SBCC in Nutrition is being shaped by a group of highly committed organisations that have proven expertise in their areas and we are delighted to be in that group. Here is a short video that captures the essence of this evolving SBCC strategy. It also captures one of our projects that has been featured as one of the “Great SBCC Examples”


Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 10.59.27 am








The Sanitation Monster

The Sanitation Monster









Thanks to Final Mile’s work in the Sanitation context, I have the opportunity to attend some of the conferences on Sanitation in India. There are excellent practitioners in India and many passionate experts who have years of field experience. These conferences are a great learning experience. They also are good places to read the overall sentiment. That usually can be seen as an indicator as to where the Sanitation efforts are headed and whether things are getting better. This collective conscious can be a nice barometer to see if the efforts are going to  bear fruit. The problem, needless to say is quite complex and the scale is mind numbing. I have noticed that this can sometimes be overbearing and bog down our sentiment. In this piece that appeared on DNAIndia, I contemplate some solutions to deal with the Sanitation problem. I argue that the problem needs extraordinary respect but we cannot let this morph in to fear.

Read more here


Impracticality of Ethics

Blatter winning the elections once again and that too as easily as he did does bring into discussion the diminishing role of ethics in social decision making. Most federations voting for him highlight the practicality of this decision while at the same time recognising the moral/ ethical dilemma. The support (favour) that Asian and African football has received and will continue to receive under Blatter makes for a practical enough reason to overlook ethics. And that’s what happened. Ethics would have been just too costly. 

Prisoners dilemma as a model for understanding social decision making lays emphasis on cooperation and defection rather than ethicality. So prisoners, respective of their crime, are now evaluated on a new dimension of ethics – one of cooperation or defection. Resultantly most players in the FIFA elections chose to cooperate rather than defect, irrespective whether the ethical question of Blatter’s responsibility in the many frauds is answered or not.

At times though ethics serve as a great alibi for defection and grand standing, at the core of it, it’s still practicality that weighs more. In FIFA elections the stance of Europe and America does come across as grandstanding against the lack of ethics in FIFA’s dealings over the last decade. Could it possibly be due to the success of Qatar’s and Russia’s bid which jeopardised european leagues due to the timing of world cup in Qatar and so on.

And beyond this support is Blatter’s own stance, which loosely translates into  – even if I am responsible for the situation, I am still the best person to deal with it and put things straight. 

Which may not be as incorrect as it may sound in the first instance. 

Politics is full of situations that depict the impracticality of ethical behavior. 

Kant argued that “all politics must bend its knee before right” which meant that “right must never be accommodated to politics, but politics must always be accommodated to right”. But this purist stance has has often been branded unrealistic and impractical.

Recently The Economist carried an article which depicts the economics of bluffing. Drawing an analogy of Greece and UK’s stance on Euro Exit with buying ‘options’ in market. Where the bluff is positioned to draw inducement, with little intent of really exiting the euro. 

Over Promise and Under Delivery is rampant in Politics across the world. And even though it may sound unethical, it possibly is the only route. Be it about eradication of Poverty, Universal health& education, Job creation, bringing back Black Money, wiping out Corruption, reducing Crime, a measured promise would not yield spectacular electoral results. Case in point is Indian general elections held in May 2014. 

It just seems better to over promise and then go about your business with the right intent, even if it comes across as unethical to a few. Like it or not, its just so much more practical. Winning an election on pragmatic promises isn’t that pragmatic. 


The bigger tragedy of the Germanwings disaster

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 3.29.57 pm

Just as you were about to hand over the appointment letter to a new employee who has passed all the qualifying tests with flying colours, he says ” sir, I just want to disclose that I am  on medication for depression for the past few years”. What will be your reaction? Will you hold back the appointment letter pending further enquiries? Or will you still hand over the appointment letter irrespective of his new revelation?

The Germanwings disaster has grabbed  everyone’s attention. It is a rare event, laden with lots of emotions and very many facets of the disaster continue to be intriguing. The narrative of the disaster  has a common refrain – the co-pilot was suffering from depression and taking medication for the same, he did not disclose this medical condition to the airline authorities, the  weird behaviour of the co-pilot could be attributed to his depression etc.

Depression, the biggest healthcare problem

Thanks to this spectacular nature of Germanwings disaster the mental illness of depression has shot into limelight. According to World Health Organization 350 million people today live with the problem of depression. By 2030 it will become the largest contributor to the global burden of disease. Across the world fewer than half and in some countries fewer than 10% of those affected receive treatments for this medical condition. When people do get treatment, many a time it is inadequate.

World wide a sense of shame is attached to mental illnesses and so many are hesitant to admit that they suffer from a mental illness. Those taking medication for mental illnesses like depression are uncomfortable about disclosing it even to close relatives. The whole world of mental illnesses exist in an atmosphere shrouded in shame and cover-ups. In such an  atmosphere most people will delay going to a doctor for treatment or do not adhere to the whole course of medication. But there  is no doubt that to build a healthy world, it is imperative that more and more people who suffer from depression seek medical help.

Wrong narrative of the tragedy

The narrative of the Germanwings disaster helped highlight the mental illness of depression. But it has also done lots of damage. Instead of highlighting the widespread nature of depression among the whole population, the focus of the narrative was far too much on the individual pilot. More than making the possible inadequacies in the treatment of depression as the villain, depression itself is being painted as the villain. Although the co-pilot was some one who was aware of his illness and was taking medication for the same, the focus is on the point that he did not disclose his medical condition to his employers. There are few observers who are now talking about psychometric tests that corporates should use to identify those suffering from depression. No discussion is happening as to what corporates should do when they come across employees suffering from depression.

In this atmosphere of vilification about depression, those suffering from this illness will be looked at with suspicion. This in turn will make many who suffer from depression to hide their illness and in many cases delay seeking medical help. Such an environment that encourages hiding one’s  depression problem could spell disaster for the health of the world.

We need a narrative that shows that depression is the most common health problem in the world. Stories of people who are involved in very responsible jobs even though they are under medication for depression should be highlighted. To manage the global health catastrophe emanating from depression we need to have an atmosphere where one could freely discuss about one’s metal illness much like the way we discuss about one’s cholesterol or diabetics problems.


Are we better off living in California?



It’s a question my wife & I have been debating since we moved to Chicago in January.

Of course, the weather is the primary trigger. Talking to our friends doesn’t help either. Folks living in bay area continue to boast about the near 70 F temperatures. Each call typically starts with a mention of the cold temperatures in Chicago. And at the end of each call, we dream of living in a warmer place.

But when we start talking about happiness, there is an interesting pattern to most conversations. Whether it is the high cost of living or the lack of public transport, it seems the favorable weather conditions in California are balanced out by other factors. So in terms of overall life satisfaction, we are not very far off from our friends. In fact, we are probably as satisfied.

This raises the question: will we be more satisfied if we move?

Turns out, the question has been researched already. In this paper, Kahneman and Schkade refer to a research they conducted with students in Midwestern and Southern California universities. Students were asked to give a satisfaction rating to life overall as well as to certain aspects of life. Each student provided a satisfaction score for themselves or someone similar to themselves in both the regions. The data was analyzed for both self and other conditions.

Both groups of students rated that the Californians are likely to be more satisfied than Midwesterners. Satisfaction with climate tend to account for this high score. However, their own overall life satisfaction score was almost the same. And it gets even more interesting. Climate-related aspects were rated as more important for someone living in another region than for someone in one’s own region. In essence, a midwesterner believed that climate has a small part to play for her own life satisfaction but a larger part for someone living in California. Similarly, a Californian believed that the relatively warmer climate has a smaller significance for her life satisfaction but much higher significance (likely negative) for someone living in the midwest area.

How do we explain this discrepancy? The scientists believe that this is largely due to the effect of Focusing Illusion. When a judgement of a category (life satisfaction in Midwest vs California) is made by focusing on a subset of that category (life satisfaction due to climate conditions), we tend to overweigh the subset’s relative value to any other subset. In other words, we tend to ignore other aspects of life satisfaction such as job, travel, housing etc and end up deciding based on one single parameter. This is exactly what the students did and this is probably what my wife and I are doing.

In our case, we are conveniently ignoring the geographic location of Chicago that makes it far easier to travel within United States as compared to California. Something that can be very important for our consulting jobs.

Clearly, we should do a better job in evaluating this decision. Will this awareness of Focusing illusion help us do that? I don’t think so. I will probably rationalize my preference for California to the fact that I grew up in a tropical climate and still pursue the ambition to move. After all, this susceptibility to our evolutionary biases is what makes us human. 



Mind, Society and Behaviour – World Development Report 2015

 The World Bank has recently published its flagship World Development Report 2015 titled Mind, Society and Behaviour, its main message being, when it comes to understanding and changing human behavior, we can do better. The report brings together great content from the various disciplines including Neuroscience, Cognitive Science, Psychology, Behavioral Economics, Sociology, Anthropology and Design.


Excerpt :

Research has advanced our understanding of the psychological, social, and cultural influences on decision making and human behavior and has demonstrated that they have a significant impact on development outcomes. This report showcases an impressive set of results. It shows that insights into how people make decisions can lead to new interventions that help households to save more, firms to increase productivity, communities to reduce the prevalence of diseases, parents to improve cognitive development in children, and consumers to save energy. The promise of this approach to decision making and behavior is enormous, and its scope of application is extremely wide.

You can download the report here

As part of the run-up leading to the report, the World Bank blog featured FinalMile (here), in a series discussing ‘Mind and Mindsets’.

Image Source: WorldBank


Why do we still discriminate?



Growing up in a socialist economy comes with its unique set of experiences. One particular experience that stands out in my memory is the struggle to get through the engineering school admission after Grade 12th. Like any struggle, this too is filled with mixed emotions – anxiety due to the uncertainty of the future and frustration due to not always getting the top choice. 

But there was one more emotion that I experienced that day. As I look back, it seems extremely unreasonable today, however, it was totally justifiable at that time. It was the feeling of anger, a feeling mainly directed towards the groups that were given special reservations at most colleges under the Affirmative Action policy in the Constitution. Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and Other Backward Classes (OBC) are the primary beneficiaries of this policy and they qualify since they were traditionally marginalised and underrepresented in most professional communities. 

These reservations are also extended in certain jobs particularly ones that are part of the State and Central government machinery. While this policy has been criticised due to multiple problems, it has helped a large number of people by giving them opportunities that otherwise would not have been within their reach. But the feeling of anger amongst those who are not eligible seems to be present in both the education as well as the professional communities. 

This feeling has an interesting parallel to one experienced in western countries in their dealings with racism. In the book Appraisal Processes in Emotion Ira Roseman, a social psychologist at Rutgers University, explains the change in the form of racism from the traditional “old fashioned racism” to a more “modern” form of racism. Most surveys indicate that in the United States, white racism towards blacks has come down significantly. Usually, this refers to the traditional form of racism where white racists would look down on blacks, consider them unworthy of respect and intellectually inadequate and would exclude them from their groups. These behaviours are usually associated with the emotion of Contempt, a feeling for someone we consider lower in status. However, the modern form of racism is has moved from Contempt to Anger. This feeling comes from the attribution of negative acts such as those related to safety (burglary, shooting, etc.), exploitation of public resources by relying on welfare payments, etc. The behaviours associated with this kind of racism are usually around being hostile towards the other group, criticising their actions and believing that they deserve more severe punishment as compared to the rest of the society – essentially justifying lack of fairness towards the black community.

Now, if one looks at the history of the marginalised groups in India, one can see a similar pattern. Untouchability, which is now banned in the country, was openly practised in the society. The underlying emotions here are probably a mix of disgust and contempt. And these usually arise due to the same attributions as what we observed in the traditional form of racism – this group is low and unworthy of sharing our physical space and hence, excluded from most public forums. Over the past few decades this discrimination has gradually subsided, especially in the urban parts of the country. The differences in the stature of the so called upper and lower castes have come down. However, the special treatment in the education and professional forums has given rise to anger. The Indian society is still scarce on opportunities due to its significantly large population. So, the special allocation of resources takes away what is already insufficient. This gives rise to the discontent against the minority groups. 

Is there any value in understanding these nuances of discrimination?  

There are probably still enough parts of the country where untouchability exists. We are currently living in a society where we need to deal with both the old form and the new form of discrimination. The usual approach to handle discrimination is to develop interventions that embed equality in society. While this works when there is contempt, this may not be a good idea while dealing with anger. In fact the more equal we believe all groups are, the more hostility we will feel against the group that is blocking our resources. 

We need a different kind of intervention here. The book referred earlier offers an interesting example. Two different groups of boys had frequent altercations and felt both contempt and anger against each other. These two groups were then placed in a situation where they had to cooperate in order to achieve a common goal. By the end of the exercise, new friendships were formed decreasing the intergroup hostility. 

The key idea is to move from a situation where we believe that the goal of the other group is inconsistent to our own goals. This is what the army does where group learning is a significant part of training. By creating more avenues where citizens can come together to target a common goal can help us manage these negative feelings that are held amongst the different societal groups. 

Image Source: Here


Negativity Dominance and Victim Neglect


The natural world is abound with asymmetries – from asymmetries in the fundamental physical forces to the left-right asymmetry ubiquitous in biological lifeforms. One such asymmetry that is found in all intelligent lifeforms on this planet and plays a central role in the evolutionary fitness and success of an organism is negativity dominance i.e. the asymmetrical wiring of the brains of humans and animals are such that negative stimuli and expectations are prioritized over positive ones. Negativity dominance grants crucial survival advantage to the organism by shaving off a few hundredths of a second from the time needed to detect a predator or threat. For example, in the visual processing circuitry of the brain, a superfast neural channel exists that feeds directly into amygdala (the part of the brain that processes emotions) bypassing the visual cortex that supports the conscious experience of “seeing”. Studies indicate that the threat and danger alarms of the brain are activated via this mechanism even before we consciously recognize the threat. But no comparably rapid mechanism for detecting positive stimuli has been detected.

Negativity dominance is so salient in our perception and cognition, that its manifestations can be observed over a wide and diverse range of behaviour. Perhaps the most well-known manifestation comes from the economic domain, in the form of ‘loss aversion’ i.e. the drive to more strongly avoid losses than achieve gains. For instance, in a bet with equal chances of winning and losing, the winning amount must at least be around twice the losing amount, otherwise most people find the bet too risky. In the social domain, bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones. John Gottman, a well-known marital relations expert, estimated that a stable relationship requires that good interactions outnumber bad interactions by at least 5 to 1. Even more striking, yet intuitively consistent, is the fact that a friendship that may take years to develop can be ruined by a single action.

Negativity dominance manifests in our sense of justice and fairness as well. For example, in legal decisions, restoring losses is given far more weightage than compensating for foregone gains. Moreover, we tend to punish meanness more strongly than reward generosity. Indeed, negativity dominance in our sense of justice may be so strong that it might actually hurt victims’ interests. A study recently published in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that punishment restores people’s sense of justice to such a degree that it leads individuals to neglect the victims’ needs. The researchers presented around 400 individuals with varying scenarios regarding crime perpetrators and victims, and surveyed them to examine the correlation between the intensity or quantum of punishment and their desire to compensate the victim, and vice versa. For example, in one of the studies, participants were presented with a case of stabbing and robbing a stranger. The offender was apprehended eventually, but he had already spent the $100 he had stolen from the victim. The participants of the study were randomly presented four scenarios of the punishment that the offender received, varying from probation to 25 years in prison. The researchers observed that the more punishment the perpetrator received, the less likely the participants were to recommend that the victim be compensated. However, varying the victim’s compensation amounts did not significantly affect participants’ punishment recommendations. Furthermore, participants more strongly believed that justice had been restored when the perpetrator had been punished, rather than when the victim had been compensated.

The asymmetry between punishment and victim compensation in restoring justice leads to justice being seen in a very narrow sense – merely as retribution. This can be seen most starkly in cases of sexual violence, wherein victim mistreatment is rampant across sections of society and the criminal justice system, and even when sympathies lie strongly with the victim, public attention and outcry is usually limited to punishment to the perpetrator. Indeed, rape shield laws and rape victim identity protection statutes in most countries around the world stand testimony to the fact that the law often has to step in to protect the victim’s interests, not just from the perpetrator, but also from the society and the system itself. Rape victims are often accused of “asking for it” by “wearing revealing clothes” or “being too friendly with guys”, and are even stigmatized in some cultures. In face of such mistreatment, victims often require psychological counseling, social support, and so on, for rehabilitation and relief, which the justice system so often fails to deliver. On the other hand, the recent shocking case of public castration of a man caught attacking a girl in an alleyway in Ganganagar, Rajasthan, by a vigilante lynch mob, demonstrates the extraordinary motivation of people to punish the perpetrators of crime, not hesitating even to take law into their own hands. Public standards of morality are often suspended in this zeal to restore justice, and it is not uncommon to hear ludicrous demands such as public hanging and public castration for perpetrators of violent crimes.

Adequate mechanisms for rehabilitation of victims are lacking in our criminal justice system, and this aspect continues to be neglected in public imagination, while demands for stricter laws and punishments for perpetrators gain momentum after every public outrage over a crime. This asymmetry needs to be deliberately countered by sensitizing the stakeholders of our justice system to the plight of victims as well as to their own biases that lead them to neglect victims’ interests. Empathy-promoting nudges are required to be incorporated in our legal processes, so that victim compensation receives appropriate weightage in pronouncement of justice.


The science of giving

WSJ Mint recently came out with an issue fully dedicated to Philanthropy. One of the subjects the issue touched upon was the increasing trend of giving in India. What is leading to this societal change and what is the science and psychology behind giving? Here’s our CEO Biju Dominic, in conversation with Dhaval Udani, chief executive officer of GiveIndia, an online donation platform,. They discuss how altruism has evolved over time and why people give.


Dhaval Udani & Biju Dominic

Dhaval Udani & Biju Dominic








Read more here http://www.livemint.com/Specials/7qlNCN82LSdzZV6b51xrpI/The-science-of-giving.html?utm_source=copy


Sanitation crisis in India : Toilets & Usage

Sanitation is a serious problem that deserved urgent national attention. It is finally getting that attention. One of the problems in the larger Sanitation domain is Open defecation. There is a big push to build new toilets to eradicate open defecation. But, supply alone isn’t going to solve this problem. As such, the quality of supply too is poor. The current thinking seems to be one of ‘Something is better than nothing’. There are millions of toilets getting built, but hundreds of millions still defecate in the open, even if they have a toilet at home. In this piece we wrote for WSJ Mint, we argue that there is a need to address some fundamental design issues. And tap the right motivations to drive usage.




Are Poor more rational than we think?


The wife and I have been debating on replacing an expensive mattress that we bought 3 years back. Over the years, we have stopped liking the mattress and it seems to be doing more harm than good. So now we both want to get rid of it. We already have a replacement mattress with us so the replacement cost is zero. The point of debate is – what should be the minimum price at which we should be willing to sell this expensive but useless mattress. In economic terms, what should be the WTA (willingness to accept) price? While I think any price is a good price, my wife is looking for a good deal. When I asked my friends, their responses also varied between 20 – 25% of the original cost. 

Is this response rational? As per classic economic theory, only incremental costs should impact decision. All historic costs are irrelevant since they are sunk costs. Considering there is no replacement cost of the mattress, my WTA price should actually be zero. So, why do we value these costs?

The idea of Loss Aversion which is discussed as part of Prospect Theory in Behaviour Economics literature explains this behaviour. We all operate from a reference point and evaluation happens based on the change from that reference point. Further, a negative change feels much larger than a positive change. For example, losing Rs. 1000 is much more painful than gaining the same amount.




The same is applicable when we are replacing or giving up a product. When someone wants to replace a product, they evaluate not only the value of the replacement product (gain) but also the value of the product foregone (loss). If I believe that I have not completely utilised the value of my old product, I feel a sense of loss of giving it up. To cover up that loss, I want to recover at least part of my money. In the case of the mattress which is expected to be utilised for say 10 years, replacing after 3 years means a loss of 7 years of potential use.  This paper discusses Product Replacement decisions in detail. 

The theory of loss aversion has been used to explain multiple seemingly irrational decisions. In the book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman has described numerous decisions that people have made which are not in line with decisions predicted by classic economics. But there is also an interesting aberration – in case of poor or people with limited means, loss aversion may lead to  rational decisions. 

Being poor means living below the minimum level of income needed for adequate living. It means that one is always operating below the reference point that we discussed earlier. So, the individual is evaluating in the domain of losses. In this situation, money given to replace a good will not be interpreted as a gain but as a reduced loss. It will be considered as an aid to move towards the minimum reference point. Not taking money in this case would mean losing out an opportunity. Therefore, a person with limited means operating in the domain of losses is more likely to behave in accordance with the economic theory.

Can I use this learning to convince my wife? My colleague gave me an interesting argument. Instead of arguing based on replacement cost, I should argue based on the cost of not replacing the mattress. This could mean developing back pain and possibly paying for medical costs. In other words, I could use Loss aversion to my advantage. Whether this will be a convincing enough argument remains a matter of debate.

Image Sources: Here and here

Next Page »