Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Psychology of a Deterrent

The secret of a good deterrent is in making the punishment sufficiently strong that people just don’t want to get caught.

This is quite obvious in the approach to public transportation in many European countries these days. We were somewhat amazed that there is very little checking of tickets on the German train and subway systems. Our son says he is checked maybe a couple of times a month. He buys a monthly subway-bus ticket for 70 euros. The fine for being caught without a valid ticket is 40 euros.

We hadn’t been checked once in a whole week. So when our subway ticket ran out the day before we left and we had just one ride left to get to the airport, we considered taking a chance. It’s a good thing we didn’t because wouldn’t you know that was the one time the police boarded our car to check. Every single person had a valid ticket. So the system really works.

What about with speeding – does an increased fine act as a stronger deterrent? For me it did, even as the outlandish Virginia ticketing system is currently being challenged in court. So let’s see, I was willing to take a chance when the fine would have been $150, but at $1,000 I slowed down. Not a very good citizen, am I?

And then there’s Blogging. What about writing something not entirely flattering about someone who never reads your Blog? Well, almost never? Is the risk of getting caught enough to make you think twice about creating a reason for ill will? After getting caught a few times in 4 years by people I care about, I am going to reform. So if you are one of these people I have offended who checks in occasionally, you should know I at least have a good intention. Keep me honest by continuing to scrutinize what I write!

12 Comments:

Blogger media concepts said...

Good post Barbara. There is one other possibility. The people might just be more honest. One cannot generalize about a whole country, but I have a friend whose mother is German, and when my friend went to Germany to visit relatives (albeit in a smaller town), she was amazed that, to take a bus, she didn't pay the driver or a machine in the bus. Instead, there was a box at the bus stop, and people used the honor system to put the bus fare in the box.

4:41 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MC -- I actually do think Germans are at least more willing to comply with rules, if not more honest. This works well for our son, who is absolutely fanatical about doing the right thing.

But why does this work in Italy? We found the same system in place there several years ago.

I experienced something similar here in DC just yesterday as I came out of the Whole Foods parking lot (P St) and found the ticket machine out of order and a brown paper bag for me to throw my parking validation ticket into. I can't imagine why there was even one space in that lot!

4:52 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Deterrence doesn't work (or at least not the way most people think it does). The principle of deterrence is that people make a value judgment over "getting caught" versus "doing it".

For the "average" person, a symbolic deterrence is sufficient to make them think ahead. For the "criminal", studies show they have impaired ability for long term planning - i.e. they think about the now, what the consequence might in 5 minutes is off the radar.

6:38 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

except for those criminals who plan long term...

If honesty as a policy is a surprise here in this country, perhaps we should take a long look at why that is and then see what can be done to correct it. I have a feeling our capitalistic system bears a large part of the blame for that one. I was raised to be good for goodness' sake - it isn't always easy and I don't always do it, but the guilt and shame associated with doing the prohibited often stops me faster than any proposed punishment. (Perhaps my Catholic upbringing is showing - guilt and shame played HUGE parts in that! Even though I no longer practice any formal religion, those roadblocks were established long ago.)

8:04 PM  
Blogger Kellyann Brown said...

As I drove the visiting Fullbright Scholar home from the airport, she marveled how everyone cooperated on the road, stayed in the lanes and drove at a moderate speed. How was this accomplished? I told that not every city was as fun to drive in as San Francisco, but that speeding and driving dangerously was expensive. She was very impressed by our roads. They must drive like the dickens in Peru!

8:14 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

I think detererrents work for the most part and I'm lke Pauline in that I was good because it felt intrinsically good to be so. I'm not a risk-taker either.

I've heard of people getting fired after thay've dissed the boss or someone on their blogs and you wouldn't believe the people who do that...AND type it right while the boss or person is in the same room!

9:03 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I like rules. I'm a little OCD. As far as the blog goes, though, I figure that telling my whole family, all of my friends, my boss and a client about it will keep me honest. The client calls it the "Aunt Ethyl Test."

9:40 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Richard -- Then everybody in Germany must be like those who live in Lake Wobegone: above average! It is definitely working there.

Pauline -- For the most part I am good for goodness' sake. My real only vice is a heavy right foot on the accelerator. The other day I found myself following a police car on I-395 who had pulled into my lane in front of me to hold up his right hand twice so I could see it: 55. That was a lot better than the $1000 if he had given me a ticket. Even that deterrent is wearing off for me...

Kelly -- I can vouch that Peruvians take driving to a whole new level of excitement, especially on open roads out of the cities. Of course there are natural ways to slow down traffic: I was once riding as a passenger in rural Peru when we had to stop for quite a while so that men could clear the road from a rock slide.

MOI -- Writing about work is always a little dangerous, not that I haven't done it.

Kristin -- You are extremely careful not to offend. My guess is you have never had to delete a post, which I can't say is true for myself.

10:50 PM  
Blogger media concepts said...

That's funny, I was going to mention Italy. There are some major cultural differences between it and its neighbor Germany. Germans have a rep for following rules, especially while driving, and not necessarily because of deterrents or consequences. Italians have a rep for cheating at everything from speed limits to taxes to marriages.

Then again, I always found it fascinating that our states of Nevada and Utah border each other and have quite the opposite reputations as to behavior and following rules!

1:30 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MC -- I'm wondering if the Italians just forgo the deterrent, never getting around to finding out that everyone is cheating. In 3 weeks in Italy positively no one ever checked our tickets. We'll find out in May if they are still trusting people to do the right thing. We will definitely purchase tickets, not wanting to test the system!

7:31 AM  
Blogger mouse (aka kimy) said...

deterrence like many things is influenced by cultural, political-ideological, and psycho-social factors.

people who are pro-death penalty state that the death penalty acts as a deterrent. there is a great deal of evidence saying this belief is just a myth. most people kill in a fit of rage or passion (and/or a belief that they won't get caught) - thus they are not engaged in mindful reason.

thinking of deterrence and the death penalty my mind flashes on a button in my 'collection' which states something like: "why do we kill people who kill people to show killing people is wrong?"

9:25 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Mouse -- Those words are so true. Capital punishment is like playing God, only we live in a society that is definitely not all-knowing. I cringe to think how many innocent people have been killed in the name of justice.

9:41 AM  

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