Productive mind games

More news from the exciting (really!) field of Behavioral Economics.

Quit smoking without a patch. Committed Action to Reduce and End Smoking is a savings program offered by the Green Bank of Caraga in Mindanao, Philippines. A would-be nonsmoker opens an account with a minimum balance of one dollar. For six months, the client deposits the amount of money she would otherwise spend on cigarettes into the account. After six months, the client takes a urine test to confirm that she has not smoked recently. If she passes the test, she gets her money back. If she fails the test, the account is closed and the money is donated to a charity. MIT’s Poverty Action Lab found that opening up an account makes those who want to quit 53 percent more likely to achieve their goal. No other antismoking tactic, not even the nicotine patch, appears to be so successful.

Stop compulsive gambling. Over the past decade, several states, including Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri, have enacted laws enabling gambling addicts to put themselves on a list that bans them from entering casinos or collecting gambling winnings. The underlying thought is that many people who have self-control problems are aware of their shortcomings and want to overcome them. Sometimes recreational gamblers can do this on their own or with their friends; sometimes private institutions can help them. But addicted gamblers might do best if they have a way to enlist the support of the state.

Dollar a day. Teenage pregnancy is a serious problem, and girls who have one child, at, say, 18, often become pregnant again within a year or two. Several cities, including Greensboro, North Carolina, have experimented with a “dollar-a-day” program, by which teenage girls with a baby receive a dollar for each day that they are not pregnant. Thus far the results have been extremely promising. A dollar a day is a trivial amount to the city, even for a year or two, so the plan’s total cost is extremely low, but the small recurring payment is just enough to encourage some teenage mothers to take steps to avoid getting pregnant again. And because taxpayers end up paying a significant amount for many children born to teenagers, the costs appear to be far less than the benefits. Many people are touting “dollar a day” as a model program.


from “Tricking People into Doing the Right Thing,” by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, GOOD Magazine, 28 August 2008

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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