The goal: improving the efficiency of a great idea

Catchy title and behavioral science is used to build on an existing, and very creative idea. From the Huffington Post:

The Turkish company Pugedon recently introduced a vending machine in Istanbul that releases food and water for the city’s stray dogs in exchange for recycled plastic bottles, Big Think reported. Once someone deposits their bottle at the top, food is released at the bottom. The Pugedon Smart Recycling Boxes operate at no charge to the city, and the recycled bottles cover the cost of the food.

You can see the machine in action in a video at the bottom of this post.

Using behavioral science to build on it and change more behaviors

The challenge I saw was finding ways to get people to use this machine more. The basic concept here is: by recycling, you both protect he environment and feed dogs. You get a double hit of ego-satisfying hormones which reward you by increasing your self-esteem, which is admittedly more motivating than a single hit.

But this is still a basic action-reward pattern, which is going to decrease in efficiency over time. The same way that feeling good about protection the environment is not enough to motivate people to recycle, doing that and feeding dogs won’t be enough past the novelty effect.

The answer: make it more addictive

Getting people to use this machine once or twice isn’t an issue, as the novelty alone will make it fun to do. The real challenge is in how to make them repeat this behavior as often as possible. To do that, and according to my ICAR Behavior Analysis Framework, we need to find Reinforcers, which are defined this way:

Reinforcers increase the probability that a person will repeat the same behavior by increasing the attractivity of repetitions after the first run. They provide more (perceived) value in one of two ways:

1. increasing the net value provided for repeating a behavior (positive reinforcers)

2. imposing costs if a behavior is not repeated, i.e. increasing relative value provided for repeating a behavior by opposition to switching to an alternative (negative reinforcers).

If you look at the tools for Positive Reinforcers I list on the Resources page, you will notice this one: partially randomized rewards.

Applied to this situation, the idea would be to introduce some partial randomness in how the food/water is distributed. Instead of just having the linear reward 1 recycled bottle = 1 food/water portion distributed, you could have a 10 dots bar to complete before the next portion is released. Inserting a bottle would result in having 1 to all dots filled. To increase repeated behavior, finer choice architecture elements could be used. What immediately comes to mind is to:

That’s it! What do you think or what other features comes to mind to improve on this great and creative idea?



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