Do People Listen Better When They’re Having Fun?

November 13, 2014 | Posted by Gavin Huntley-Fenner | No Comments

It isDon'tWalk not often that a television show presents real world human factors problems and brings science to bear on understanding and addressing them. National Geographic is about to launch a series examining behavior change. It is called “Crowd Control” and features “behavior expert” Daniel Pink as host. Pink is not a scientist, but he is a very talented communicator of scientific findings. So far the program appears to be a wonderful way for engineers or non-psychologists to understand the connections between human behavior and safety. For example, often engineers or planners will prepare written signs to encourage desired behaviors (“Don’t UseStairsWalk,” “Clean up after your dog,” “Take the Stairs”).

Designers of signs or warning messages sometimes try to appeal to emotions–including positive ones such as our empathy, our sense of duty or our sense of humor, or to negative ones such as our sense of shame, fear or disgust.

You can see some of these strategies at work in the following “Clean up after your dog” signs:


Crowd Control” ups the ante by exploring how technology can add novelty and reintroduce a sense of fun to various signs and warning messages. The producers report that, at least in the short term, they have had some success increasing behaviors that comply with the messages. Note that although these programs often draw on cognitive psychology and human factors research, they are not intended to rival a peer-reviewed scientific level of quality. Nevertheless, they are worth watching if only for some amusing examples of human genius and folly.

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