Saturday, October 17

Monkey-see, monkey-do

I think humans tend to follow the monkey-see monkey-do practice more than we think.

I went for a $17 haircut yesterday and was planning on tipping to $20 (it seemed like a nice round number) until I noticed that the customer before me didn't tip at all, even though he remarked on how pleased he was with his cut. I changed my mind and decided tipping to $19 would be more appropriate.

Likewise, I frequently visit one of the Tim Horton's on campus for their Iced Cappucinnos. They require a straw, which at Tim's is always wrapped in paper. So it's not uncommon to see a bunch of crumpled-up straw coverings on their counter (and sometimes an assortment of other garbage -- I saw a Kit Kat wrapper there the other day). When there are straw wrappers already on the counter, I usually leave mine behind as well. But when the counter is clean, I usually feel guilty about being the first to litter and tuck the wrapper in my pocket to dispose of later.

Maybe I'm weird that way. But a fun new working paper by Joao Ramos and Benno Torgler at Queensland University in Australia suggests it's not just me. They ran an experiment where they examined how much people littered their faculty lounge (pictured below, taken from their paper) at lunchtime).

Then, they tried messing up the faculty lounge (the messy state pictured below) before lunch to see if people littered more when the lounge was already messy.

Not surprisingly, people littered more when the lounge was already messy. Faculty and staff were 26 to 45% more likely to litter when the lounge was already chaotic.

Their findings match my observations that people will tend to follow the leader. It would be interesting to see how far this theory goes. Maybe it explains some of the herd behaviour we see on stock markets, for example.

Strangely, they also found people were less likely to litter on a Monday, and that people older than 50 were messier.