Digital Shoreditch 2013 - Nudgestock Digest


Following on from HP’s Analytics Wizard, Ross Scrivener’s post on his visit to Digital Shoreditch, I attended Nudgestock - the #ogilvychange Behavioural Design day - featuring some inspiring talks on making the digital world change for the better via cognitive and social psychology as well as behavioural economics. Read on for my highlights - I guarantee it’ll enlighten you!


First up - after a humorous intro from #ogilvychange Vice Chariman, Rory Sutherland - was Yale Professor of Psychology, Laurie Santos… And some market trading Monkeys!

With many of the Nudgestock talks centred around the future of the web, Santos discussed the past, by looking at human rationality and that of our biological ancestors; monkeys. By understanding biological limitations we can learn more about human irrationality - so often accustomed with online behaviour. The hypothesis of this Yale test was to see if they could put Monkeys in a market scenario - and if they would make the same mistakes that humans were making:

“It was around the time of the financial collapse” said Santos, “where I’m watching the news and it really looked like the kind of strategies we were seeing might have been done by investors who themselves were very much just big monkeys! If you put monkeys into the market would they make the same errors that humans are making?”

To test this Monkeys were introduced to their own currency - coin like metal tokens - that they were then taught to trade for food.

Here are the results:

  • The monkeys were actually quite rational in their market in a lot of ways that humans are
  • They paid attention to price and risk
  • The monkeys were also irrational in the same ways as humans
  • They paid far too much attention to losses - avoided trading with anyone that occasionally put them into the red, thus reducing their food amount
  • They never saved their tokens, choosing to spend immediately
  • They were too averse to risk

If you look at the monkey’s data, it looks exactly like people who hold onto stocks that are losing their value too long and people who were holding onto their houses when they were losing in value too much. Pretty much the same signature rationalities as in human behaviour.

Santos went on to discuss research by Frans de Waal who examined whether Monkeys actually cared about the payment they received compared to their peers. So he setup a market where monkeys could see what other monkeys were getting paid. Watch the video below and scroll to 5:29 to watch this incredible test whereby one monkey received pieces of cucumber and another received a more superior food in grapes - check out the reaction of the hard-done-by monkey!

What these tests tell us is that when you see these biological similarities in biases in monkeys and humans, they are likely to be incredibly hard to overcome. Things that natural selection built in a long time ago.

It’s Good To Share

Santos proceeded to examine the human need to share stuff, using the unbridled success of Instagram as a contemporary example. This particular natural selection she says is ‘in beta, and has glitches’.

“No other primate other than us seems to care about sharing information just for the sake of sharing”, says Santos. “This is something you can see early in human development without much culture or teaching. Even in the first year of life - before they can even talk - babies like to share by pointing at stuff.”

“We see a lot of ‘give me that’ pointing in animals but no sharing for sharing’s sake. This suggests to me that this a new invention for us. We split off from our chimpanzee relatives a couple of million years ago and now we have this fantastic new trait - think about how fantastic it is to share with others and how much we learn from that. The worry though is that if it’s that new in evolutionary times, that too is going to be in beta version. It too is going to have some glitches.”

“Yes we like to share but we also have a brain that blindly accepts sharing. And that may lead to problems with is actually doing the forming.”

You only need to look at various online hoaxes, such as the death of actor Jeff Goldblum or any of the falsehoods you can read on Wikipedia - which many people frighteningly deem as a legitimate source of information! Or when people spread ideologies that brain wash…

“We may be uniquely conforming in bad ways.” - Laurie Santos

Santos then explained a test that was devised to see how children learn compared to our close living relatives - you guessed it - monkeys. And more accurately, to see if human’s learned badly compared to a monkey (14:18 on the video above).

The findings were, again, interesting. That’s right, the monkeys were more innovative in their thinking, whilst the children were stuck in their own, learned ways. This is obviously a challenge that anyone in the user experience fields will be only too aware of.

Other interesting points from the day

  • Nick Southgate from #ogilvychange says “We’re all in the business of thinking about thinking. But thinking for other people so they don’t have to think for themselves is incredibly hard. Many businesses outsource thinking. Taking the easy route. Few business build processes to make thinking easier”
“How do we industrialise thinking?” - Nick Southgate

“Price heuristics can be used to nudge us. The middle option is usually a safe one”

Shopify is a good example of effective execution of this:

“Herd instincts in the stock exchange is common. There’s nothing wrong with following the herd if you know what you’re doing. To be successful is about avoiding mistakes.”

I would suggest that that piece of advice should always be remembered by those looking to be a successful business online.

  •  Watch the video below from (3:15 to learn how #ogilvychange helped The Times to successfully increase their digital subscriptions by simply thinking about how they display their offerings to the consumer)

A great day left me with the underlying message that if you just think about your users and keep it simple, you’re heading in the right direction.


2 thoughts on “Digital Shoreditch 2013 - Nudgestock Digest

  1. Awesome post James, sounded like a great day of talks.

    For me, the discussion of our compulsion to point out - “wow look at that” - and “share” content is a valid one, however, the authoritive nature of the written word combined with the mass-sharing culture we’re all part of tends to make misinformation and hoaxes ubiquitous and emphases the negative side of our “heard” mentality far more than it ever did “offline”.

    As we all “learn” (or is it a case of “relearning”?) how to share online I expect we will also become more savvy in differentiating disingenuous or false information from the rest- if this is at all possible? This is where brands need to make movements into in order to effectively master their social media push.

    Although for every prematurely announced celebrity death we have 5> humorous cat images/videos to share - every cloud has a silver lining right?

  2. Thanks Chris - some good points. The scary thing about Social ‘noise’ is that everybody is now an expert - a dangerous thing!

    Some of the work that #ogilvychange are doing is really impressive. Most of it is logic; just really thinking about the task at hand and how to enrich user experience (or in the case of the missing £2 - the Times Digital subscription example - displaying products in a clear way to nullify confusion and perform a value illusion).

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