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A fine nudge? Singapore MRT vs London Tube

Alistair Wood

24th April 2014

Since moving to Singapore from London last year, I've been intrigued by some of the similarities and differences between the two cities but one thing that has stood out is that Singapore's citizens on the whole, are very obedient. Its low crime rate is well known but one thing that really struck me was how much they followed the rules. Is this due to the fines, a series of nudges or perhaps a bit of both?

The number of locals I've seen crossing the road without waiting for the green man still remains in single digits. Some of this compliance could be down to the harsh fines that exist (P15) for fairly innocuous misdemeanours e.g. $500 for eating or drinking on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport), Fined for eating a sweet on the MRT

However, this is also being supported by a less aggressive approach making use of social norms and the nudge style theories made famous by Richard Thaler. By alerting individuals to the fact that the vast majority of people are behaving in the appropriate manner, the theory suggests that others will follow suit. This is because prior to this revelation, they suffer from a sort of information failure known as false consensus. In other words, people assume that others behave in the same naughty way that they do and use this as a justification for bad behaviour. “Everyone else does it so why can't I?". By making it explicit (whether true or not) that most people are behaving appropriately, it creates a social norming incentive for others to follow suit.

Below are some examples of some of the signs that I've seen here in Singapore but also replicated somewhat more creatively back home in London. I wonder whether the nudges are having the desired effect? Perhaps they should do one about smiling...

Further reading

Travel Better London - London Undergorund

Freakonomics podcast on social norms and nudging around the world including Bogata's approach to traffic issues; replacing the traffic police with mimes and an innovative use of 'slip n slides' in Texas.

Texas social norm anti-smoking ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z77wln965XQ

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