Tag Archives: social behaviour

How context cues behavior

We tend to believe that Indians behave ‘properly’ only in foreign countries – Singapore or USA; that Indians in India are boorish and have no civic sense.

Is that really so? Don’t we behave better in gleaming malls? Don’t we speak softly in libraries? Don’t Malayalees queue up in front of liquor stores?

I go into the behavioral science of civic sense in this article in Mint.

I am not a Cheater…



“Please don’t cheat “ vs “ Please don’t be a cheater”  – which of the above statements do you think will actually influence your actions? They seem to say the same thing but surprisingly the latter has a higher potential of making you stick to your morals.

Subtle differences in language can affect people’s attitudes and perception of both themselves and others (Banaji & Walton, 1994). As humans we constantly  strive to be a part of group or a clan and this constant desire can deeply affect out behavior. One can stimulate this sense of identity just by the construct of their question or statement. Research ( Bryan, Adams, & Monin, in press) has shown that noun vs. verb framing of sentences has implications on preventing unethical behavior. Take the first two sentences, for instance – these are inspired from noun vs. verb manipulation. The first sentence uses a verb or action (cheat) and the later emphasizes on using a noun or personality trait (cheater) which invokes group identity. When ‘Please don’t cheat’ (verb form) was used in the instructions, participants in a group resorted to the same amount of cheating as a baseline group, whereas using ‘Please don’t be a cheater’ (noun) eliminated cheating completely.

Why should this happen? People can downplay instances of cheating and convince themselves that these occasional lapses do not make one a dishonest person – this is harder to do with the use of a self-relevant noun that clearly states the implications of cheating.

The implications of this subtle influence on pro-social behavior is huge. If “Don’t be a drunk driver” is more effective that “Don’t drink and drive” and “Don’t be a litter-bug” more effective that “Please don’t litter”, all signage world-wide can be made more effective by taking these framing effects into account.