Man in suite thinking

This is Serious Stuff

Case One: e-signatures

The Hidden Brain had an interesting study that highlights the importance of framing. There is a strong trend towards the use of e-signatures to promote ease of signing contracts on digital media. But new research shows that even if the regulations for e-signatures are identical and the security is at least as good as with handwritten signatures, people are more likely to cheat when they use e-signatures to sign a document.

Note – this is not a question of a third party breaking the code. It is the legitimate signer who chooses to cheat on the document he/she had just signed. For some reason, signing with a code or checking a box just doesn’t resonate as much with the signer as a personally handwritten signature. So he/she doesn’t take it as seriously and is more likely to cheat.

This doesn’t surprise me much because of the principle of framing. Checking a box just doesn’t seem real. There is a psychological distance between the signer and the document that doesn’t make the ethical link seem as real either. It is not the regulations and it is not the security. It is the feeling.

Case Two: recreational drones

A similar result is likely with the new proposals for drone registration. Even though this would not change what recreational drone operators are allowed to do with their drones, it would establish a formal frame for drone use. It could frame the use of drones as something serious rather than just another model airplane. Even just changing the way drone use feels in the user’s mind could lead them to behave more responsibly with the drone.

Case Three: marijuana use

I wonder if the same kind of thing can help in another domain. A new study by the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) found that 30% of marijuana users meet the criteria for abuse, at least in part because of changing cultural norms surrounding marijuana use as it gets legalized.

I suspect that the term “recreational” to describe the new open marijuana regulations is part of the problem. Even if the regulations are just as strict, the stores are set up the same way, and the packaging on the products is identical, using a term like “recreational” frames usage as all in fun. So overindulging is nothing more than a day at the spa.

What if we contrast the new system from medical marijuana using a more serious term? Maybe something like “over-the-counter” marijuana? That still denotes legal use without a prescription but without the connotation of casual fun.

Your Turn

Could changing the term we use to label medical marijuana have the same effect as drone registration and personal e-signatures? What I like about the idea is that it is a very low cost intervention. It doesn’t reduce our personal liberties, add to our taxes, or other tangible consequence. But as we see with signatures and drones, it can lead to a change in behavior. Wouldn’t it?

Image Credit:Johnny Magnusson

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