Saturday, January 16, 2016

Applied Psychology series (4/4): Dynamics of Human Behavior in relation to Rules (Law)

In this blog post under the Applied Psychology series, let us look into the Dynamics of Human Behavior in relation to Rules (Law). We will be exploring this dynamics, through an unusual & un-amusing object - Helmet.

For me, the entire process of writing this particular blog, has been very enjoyable & insightful. I hope you as a reader find it equally interesting & you get some valuable insights, which can enhance your self-awareness & you can apply these key insights in your own life.

Let me start by turning the clock back to 2013, this is the year we moved back to Bangalore. I bought a two-wheeler & as a family we used to commute on it. Going by common-sense approach of safety first, I bought a helmet for my son. [By the way, I failed to convince my better-half on buying a helmet. I think, she was more concerned about her hairstyle & looks rather than the safety component. Anyways, I think that can become a seperate blog-post for some other day ;-) ]

Me & my son, riding our two-wheeler  
Since 2013, till today it's been three years that I have been living in Bangalore & by virtue of my keen observation I have naturally observed the two-wheeler riders in the shared public spaces.

1. Listing few of my observations which has always been very intriguing to me:

Random images from Bangalore roads
  • Very few riders, put helmets for their children. 
  • Almost no pillion riders, wear helmets. (My count till date has been in single digit)
  • Several riders, don't put helmets for themselves either. (When they sight a traffic cop, they take a detour or speed away to avoid fines).
  • I have come across few so called smart riders, who keep a helmet handy. When they are approaching a major traffic signal (where the probability of traffic cops presence increases), they put on their helmet & once they have traveled the distance, they open the helmet again.  
  • Not to forget to mention few acts of insanity, inserting mobile phones inside the helmet & speaking while riding, holding mobile phone with one hand & riding. 
(Honest confession - I too have been guilty of practicing few of the above in sporadic incidences & I would have weaved a rational self-explanation to myself, bailing me out from being self-critical). 

I am quite sure, many of you would be able to relate to the above from your own observations.

2. Coming back to the intriguing aspect of these observation, let me elaborate why so:
  • Very few riders, put helmets for their children - 
Child without helmet
The caring & loving parents (guardian), who are always going out of their way to care, protect & safe-guard their children's well-being in their daily cores of life, in complete contrast are so unmindful & compromising their child's (wards) safety, by not mandating an helmet for their children. Quite a dichotomy isn't it?
  • Almost no pillion riders, wear helmets. (My count till date has been in single digit) -
Pillion rider, without helmet
Statistically, the pillion riders are more susceptible to injury than the rider himself. The reason being the rider holds the handle of the two-wheeler, while most of the time the pillion rider is not holding on to the two-wheeler. If met with an untoward incident, the likelihood of the pillion rider to fall is significantly higher. These are common wisdom & yet why intelligent men & women ignore these simple principles?  
  • Several riders, don't put helmets for themselves either. (When they sight a traffic cop, they take a detour or speed away to avoid fines).
  • I have come across few so called smart riders, who keep a helmet handy. When they are approaching a major traffic signal (where the probability of traffic cops presence increases), they put on their helmet & once they have traveled the distance, they open the helmet again. 
Evidently, this section of riders are putting on helmet to please the cops & not for the sake of their own safety. Aren't their motive too shallow & farcical?
  • Not to forget to mention few acts of insanity, inserting mobile phones inside the helmet & speaking while riding, holding mobile phone with one hand & riding. 
Rider on phone, without helmet
In my opinion, this seems to be quite an illogical economic decision making. A rider must have invested half a lakh Rupees (on an average) in purchasing the two-wheeler. On the other hand a hands-free (head-phone) would just cost in hundreds (minuscule fraction in comparison to the two-wheeler). But this section of rider, choose to continue with their farce of inserting cell phones in helmet, riding with one hand & risking their own safety. [By the way, people speaking on phone while driving their car is equally rampant. Here too, the logical economic decision making is overlooked, the comparative cost of a hands-free/blue-tooth to the cost of the car is so minuscule, yet they opt to risking their & people's safety, by speaking on phone while driving].  

[Ideally, one should not be using phone while riding/driving. I believe that is the law too].

Rationality (thinking) seems to be taking a back seat, in many of our decision making process.

3. Let me now draw your attention to a newspaper article (TOI Bangalore edition) dated 14th of Jan-'16:

TOI Bangalore edition, 14-Jan-2016
Link -

Starting 20th of January-'16, helmets for pillion rider is going to be mandatory as per the new rule, under Bangalore Traffic Law.

To evaluate if a study is scientific & reliable, we need to understand the variables & the control (constant factors). In this social experiment, the Bangalore roads, traffic situation, probability of accidents does remains constant (prior & post this new rule). The only variable here is the traffic rule - 'mandating the pillion riders to wear helmet', which is currently not in existence & it will be effective 20th Jan-'16 onwards.

So we can safely conclude there is a casual relationship between this new traffic rule & people's purchasing behavior of helmets. In other words, the above mentioned news article captures this interesting dynamics of human behavior & Rules (Law).

4. Let us now jointly explore this fascinating dynamics for gaining some valuable insights, for enhancing our understanding of human behavior & for improving our decision making:

  • A small percentage of people do the right thing on their own, irrespective of the legal rule & supervision. As we saw earlier, a small percentage of pillion rider were wearing helmet voluntarily, irrespective of the rule being there or not. This small group of population, are thinkers (rationale) i.e. think on their own & do the right thing.
Doing the right thing
  • When a rule is implemented, majority of the people show tendency to conform with the rule. As the newspaper article elaborates, there is a sudden rush among people for buying helmets due to the new rule.
Rush for buying helmets
  • When a new rule is brought in, people's opinion usually stands divided. These groups speak in it's favour, speak against it & take a neutral stand, respectively. People residing in Bangalore would be aware of the ongoing discussion, articles around this new rule which represents various opinion - in favour (safety for commuter), against (lobby of helmet manufacturers & politicians, earning more revenue for RTO), skepticism (traffic cops will not implement this rule with seriousness), neutral (let's wait & watch policy). 
Opinions divided
  • We (human beings) are driven by emotions, rather than rationality. It seems, fear (emotion) of facing penalty/fine are driving so many people towards buying the helmets. This very same group of people, were not driven by rationality (they didn't think on their own about their safety, all this while).
Humans are driven by emotions
  • Hard facts (numbers/data/reports) fails to elucidate the desired response in us. The accident related statistics are quite widely available in the public domain, but no one seems concerned much about it. Else, pillion riders on their own would have taken up helmets, rather than being forced by the authorities. 
Hard facts does not elucidate the desired response
- Data with the National Crime Records Bureau show that two-wheelers accounted for the most number of fatal road accidents in 2014, contributing 26.4% of all deaths. 
- Nearly 45% of victims of road accidents are generally two-wheeler riders.
- A study by NIMHANS National Institute of Mental Health & Neuro Sciences) shows 46% of helmetless riders die to injuries when they skid & fall. The corresponding number of those wearing helmets is only 12%. 
- According to WHO report road traffic injuries are one of the leading cause of death in India.

All these publicly available data, indicates it fails to elucidate the desired response in us. In other words, rationality takes a back seat when it comes to human behavior. 

5. Now that we gained these key insights, let us list down the practical knowledge (applications) from this whole exercise:

  • Majority of us, do not base our decision & conduct on rationality. Therefore, for bringing in positive change & implementing practices for the larger good, implementation of Rules (Laws) seems to be the last resort. 
Societal Legal system
Till 2006, wearing of helmet was not mandatory for the two-wheeler rider in Bangalore. As expected, majority of the people didn't volunteer themselves for wearing helmet, inspite of the high number of road accidents. Post 2006, Transport Dept. in Bangalore had to step in & implemented the rule of mandating riders to wear helmets. 
Since then there has been a slump in fatal accidents among two-wheeler riders. However, pillion riders continue to be at risk. Infact they are at greater risk than riders, as they don't control the vehicle. It's been 10 years since 2006 & we can see we the people haven't voluntarily responded to rationality. Probably, bringing in rules (laws) is the last resort to make majority of us to do the right thing.

We can see many such instances like the recent LPG subsidy. Since it was driven by Government, many well off people started giving up their subsidies. If this drive was not down top down, they may have never taken this rational decision on their own.

This also points out, as a society if we expect good initiatives like Blood donation, Organ donation etc to happen it may never occur on a large scale, unless this is mandated by rule (law).

  •  In the above point, we talked about the necessity of implementing the rule (law). But we also need to be mindful, unless there is an intrinsic motivation/believe towards this rule, our behavior/action will remain as a mere formality. 
Following rules by letter & not adhering to it's spirit
We can see such ample examples of mere formalities all around us, for e.g.:

- Many corporate houses are doing CSR activities as a mere formality instead of making it substantial & meaningful.  
- Educational institutes register themselves as a Trust, but the conduct is themselves on the principles of business & profit.
- Alcohol, Tobacco companies are not permitted to advertise in public media. Instead they put up surrogate advertisements, to promote their products.

In summary, if we (as individuals or as an institution) are not intrinsically motivated or if we don't truly believe in the rule (law), we would end by adhering to the 'Letter of the Law', but not with the 'Spirit of the Law'.

  • As we are now self-aware that emotions overrides rationality, we need to safe-guard ourselves from being mislead by people with vested interest. In summary we should not fall prey to mob mentality & we should give rationality a fair chance in our overall response mechanism. 
Give rationality a chance
  • As we (human beings) respond more to emotions & less to rationality, as an individual/institution/policy maker, if we want to make our message/campaign effective, we need to use more of imagery/visuals/emotional pitch & less of data/facts/figures.
Campaign effectiveness
  • Last but not the least, one should keep in mind when it comes to rules there will be always someone who will abuse the system. In fact there are also people within the system, who are open for manipulation & do not consistently implement the rules. Looking at them, we can get demotivated from following the rule, in other words we can be encouraged to take the path of convenience. But we need to keep in mind, irrespective of what others are doing, we need to do the right thing. In summary, being legally right or morally right are two different entities & the onus is ultimately on us. 

The onus is on us

To finally conclude, with little bit of rationality, thoughtfulness, common-sense & maturity, we can be our best judge of what is right & what is not right for us. This is the ideal state of mind to be in, wherein one does not need externally imposed rules (law) for taking the right decision & for taking the right path.


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  2. Very meaningful post Abi! This article will motivate people to think rationally, at least when it comes to such laws on safety :) I have decided to install a bluetooth speaker to my other car as well :) Keep up the good writing :)