Make them read more with the anchoring effect


Continuing our look at how psychology can have a positive impact on reading and libraries this post looks at how we can have students reading more books using the anchoring effect.

The anchoring effect is a cognitive bias and typically, when it comes to psychology, it’s used a lot in retail!

In shops they use the anchoring effect a lot to make you think you’re getting a better deal than you actually are. For instance, if you go into a shop and see a great pair of jeans that you’d love to have you immediately look at the label and see they’re £100. ‘Too much’ you think and you put them back. The sales assistant quickly siddles over and tells you it’s your lucky day as the store is having a 40% off day. ‘Brilliant’ you think, you can now buy the jeans and feel like you got a great deal. Another example is when you barter the car salesman down from the £25,000 list price to £22,000 what a great deal and what a haggler you must be? The answer is actually no. You’re not. You see what’s happening here is the anchoring effect. As its so hard to think about the value of things you need some sort of cue or reference point. That comes in the form of the price price you are given. You see, as human beings , we are too easily influenced and put too much stock in the first piece of information we are given. The £100 jeans are just too much but when we’re told they’re actually only £60 in comparison to the £100 they’re a really good deal. But the question is would we have paid the £60 if this had been the initial price?

So knowing that we are influence d by the first piece of information we are given in terms of the anchoring effedt, how can we use this in our libraries and with our young people to encourage more reading?

One thing we’ve been working on is how this might look in terms of challenging young people to read a certain number of books through the school year.

We used our yr8 students as a test group and gave them, at the beginning of the year an assembly on reading. We gave them an example of an ordinary student, one that some of them knew from older siblings and one that we knew was relatively ‘cool’. We described him as someone who surprisingly (to some) enjoyed reading. We gave them the figure of 20 books a year that he usually read. Not loads, but as we were really aiming this test at our weaker, or reluctant readers it was a believable number (the student in question knew all about this having given us their permission to try this – they were now a sixth former studying psychology!)

This was our anchor. 20 books a year. We followed by explaining that of course we didn’t expect everyone to be able to reach this amount but to honestly think about how many they might be able to achieve. We told them that even half would be a fantastic achievement. We then asked them to write down the number they felt they could achieve in their planners.

When looking through their estimations in the following weeks it was interesting to see that many of them had put closer to the 10 mark. It was even more interesting to see that there was a large number of students that had put close to ten that I knew would previously had said none or very few. Now, whether it was the assembly and the anchoring effect that had caused this and whether the students do actually read as many as they thought it would be interesting to see. When talking to the students it certainly feels they are reading more but we will continue to remind them of their thoughts and estimations throughout the year.

I’m sure there are other ways that the anchoring effect might be used to encourage reading and we will certainly try and find as many as possible!


Stats and facts create readers

Carrying on this week’s look at how psychology can have an impact in creating readers and improving the use of libraries I want to have a look at hindsight bias.

The idea behind hindsight bias is the belief that we as individuals, when confronted with new information, treat it as though we already knew this. This is instead of the misconception that we look back and see how arrogant and wrong we used to be.

The reason we do this is because we edit our memories to make sure that we don’t look or feel stupid. Numerous studies have taken place to prove this effect one of which having been undertaken in Oslo where students were given a number of proverbs including things such as ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. When asked about these all the students comments that of course this was obvious. It’s just common sense. The study then gave the same students another set of proverbs including ‘if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck then it probably is a duck.’ Again asked about this the students again agreed that it was obvious and just common sense. So what is it then? What’s true? And what’s going on?

Hindsight bias is a very relation to availability heuristics which states that you make decisions based on the information you have at hand whilst ignoring all the other information that might be out there. What this means is that you make decisions based on what you now know rather than what you used to know.

So how can we use this information in our schools and libraries to take advantage of this and create more readers.

Well, to me, what this means is that we need think about how we can use the numerous studies and evidence around reading and position this around our schools. If young people are coming up against this kind of research, telling them the positive effects of reading, then this is the information they have at hand. If these appear in all classrooms, in all corridors then students will regularly be told that reading is a positive thing.

This means we need to think about our advertising in places outside of the normal library space. We need to think outside of the four walls of the library and make sure that students are have this positive reading statements to help them make the decision that reading is going to be a good thing for them.

If we can do this then we continue to use psychology to improve reading and library usage.

Prime your library to gain readers

Further to my previous post about using psychology to improve reading I thought I’d continue looking at ways in which we could use these theories to improve reading and our libraries.

One area that I love the idea of is priming. It comes from the misconception that you are actually aware when you are being influenced by something and how this affects your behaviours. In reality we are completely unaware of the constant nudging we receive from the ideas that are formed in our subconscious mind.

My favourite illusionist/mentalist is Derren Brown and it is this that he relies on so much to perform a lot of his work. For any of those that have watched his shows I was particularly taken with how he used this knowledge in the Hero at 30,000 feet episode. In this he created a belief in an ordinary young man that he had the potential to seize opportunities and be better than he ever thought was possible. Derren uses this gentle nudging of the sub conscious all the way through the episode. If you haven’t watched it I would certainly urge you to seek it out.

This is happening all the time everywhere we go and there are certain people and organisations that know and use this to their advantage. Advertisers are a prime example but so are places such as casino’s, probably the best example. What they do so well is to prime their customers by playing certain sounds very loud. As soon as you walk into a casino you are blasted with a cacophony of postive happy sounds. These are sounds of people being happy, sounds of money coming out of machines, of people winning. All of this gives the customer a feeling that they too can win and encourages them to want to be part of that feeling.

So the question is, if everyone else is using this knowledge can we, on libraries do the same thing and what would it look like?

The answervo think, or at least an answer is to think along the ideas and the premise as t o why this works. The users are being made to feel good about themselves in each example. The noises and sights of a casino are there to be a positive thing: lots of flashing lights and happy sounds draw the users in and with advertisers it is the little nudges on the sub conscious that work. What if we combined both these in our libraries? I don’t mean play sounds of people winning or being happy because our goal isn’t to have people spending money. Our goal is to have people wanting to use our spaces and to want to pick up books and read. So why not play noises, sounds that make our users happy and then use the sub conscious nudging of advertising whilst their ‘guard is down’ to encourage them to read?

One thing that we, and other libraries do is play music through the day. I’ve always been fascinated by the effect this has on young people, especially when you look at the types of music you play. This interests me so much that we actually undertook some research.

We don’t play classical music, as some places do, we instead pick a certain type of easy listening, current music. This is mainly indie based with a hint of folk for softer it’s softer tone. So for instance over the last couple of weeks we have played Ben Howard, Mumford and Sons, Paulo Nutini, Damien Rice, Amy MacDonald, George Ezra, Jason Mraz and Kate Walsh. A good mix of a certain kind of music. We wanted to find out what impact the music was having on students so we decided that at random some days we would play music, some days we wouldn’t and we would monitor a couple of different things.
1. No of students in the library
2. How much work they were doing
3. Their happiness, gauged by simply asking if they were happy today!
4. How they were working i.e. in groups, on their own etc

We did those over the course of a half term, 8 weeks to have a long enough time and also to pick different days so we weren’t always not playing music on the same days. Now, there are of course so many different sets of possibilities, reasons and variables as to why we might have got the results we did. It might have nothing to do with the music, or it might have everything to do with it but we found a couple of interesting things.

1. There was no link to the number of students using the library. We averaged around 80 students at breaktime and 120 at lunch(these totals were taken at the same time each day of how many students were in the library at that time so we may have had many more use the library over the course of these times).

2. We noticed a vast increase in the amount of work being completed when the music was playing. This was frpm our ‘gut’ feeling but also in asking students how much work they had done what there answers were.

3. Students regularly commented that there happier when the music playing. We made no comment to them about the music at all during these times, just asked the same question on each day.

4. There seemed to be no relation to how students worked and the music. We thought that we might see more individual work with the noise from the music stopping groups from talking, however this wasn’t the case.

Other things that we noticed though was that the noise level from students was lower when the music played. We don’t have a silent library policy but the students used the music as a self regulator always staying below that of the music level. Funnily enough on days when we had music playing we noticed the students that had used us during the day came back after school, whereas this happened a lot less on those days when we didn’t play music.

The final and probably most interesting thing we discovered was that on the days we played music more books were being borrowed, both fiction and non fiction. The library felt like it had a much better vibe on these days too that the music was somehow doing something to everyone’s mood.

It was certainly an experiment worth taking and one that justifies why we play music and why we choose the music we do. So maybe this is psychology having a positive effect on reading and our library. Or maybe it’s just a load of rubbish!

Add some attractiveness to your reading

So, I’ve been reading a lot recently. More than usual, which means a lot!

I’ve been reading up slightly different things though from the usual research and fantastic children’s books on the market. I’ve been ‘going back to my routes’ and looking at lots of psychology and learning research. Having had a carthartic emptying of very old boxes (those ones that never get opened after you move) I stumbled across some old papers and this led me to thinking about changes from those research papers to, well to god knows where! However, I did end up reading about the idea of the sunk cost fallacy.

This is what lots of companies use, especially app designers, to get their users to continually buy and spend money. A perfect example of this are apps/games that allow you to buy coins or equivalent to make the games run quicker. One example would be farmville where the user can quite happily play the game for free but only at a certain speed. You need to wait to build up experience until you unlock different , better things that enhance the game play. However by purchasing extra coins you can make things move faster. The thing, that the developers know will happen, is that users will ‘sink’ money into the game to move it along faster. Once they have done this the user will start to feel they have to continue putting time, effort and money into the game otherwise they will see their previous investment as a waste. This only ever increases over time with the more time and money put in the more likely the user is to continue playing.

It is something the developers are more than aware of and the exact reason why they design games as they do. This got me thinking that there must be ways that we can us e this exact same knowledge in terms of reading in our school. How can we make young people feel this way towards reading? Is a way that we can make students feel that they need to continue reading based on how much they have already sunk into it?

This had me thinking along the lines of my reading brain and hierarchy of reading models ( here and here). The more you think about it the more you see that actually this is something that can easily be achieved. If we want to keep students on the reading curve then we can certainly help them to see that the effort they have already invested is a good, important thing. By engaging them into reading and breaking down barriers to change attitudes we can make reading possible for our weak readers and by getting this ‘buy-in’ we can use the sunk cost fallacy to our advantage.

Once this became apparent I started to question whether there were other psychological elements that might just be useful in terms of reading.

I’m going to be looking at some of these over the next few weeks but one that immediately took my eye was that we are more likely to believe information if it is presented to us by someone attractive. We trust beauty more and this is significantly increased when the person is telling us bad news. So this got me thinking maybe we need to get more attractive people working in libraries and telling people to read. Or at least getting attractive people to advertise reading in school. So maybe we need to try and add a bit of attractiveness to reading to get more young people to buy into it!

To all the information literacy specialists

Dear Information Literacy Specialist,

Are you an information literacy specialist in your school? Do you teach information literacy skills to your students? Do you consider this to be your role?

Have you ever thought that your insistence on doing this or being this is actually having a negative and detrimental effect on the teaching of information literacy across your school?

Let’s look at the facts and numbers. Surely a model that all schools should be looking for with the teaching of any kind of skills is that it is in every classroom. On the whole students are lazy so for them to gain a understanding of certain skills they need to access them on a regular basis. If we want them to use these skills without thinking when they come across situations in which they are needed we need to make sure that they become second nature to students.
I think most sensible people would find this hard to disbute.

So, if you teach information literacy skills are your students getting a diet of this on a daily basis, because surely it must have to happen on a daily basis for these skills to become natural? And by this I of course mean all students not just that you are teaching the skills regularly but one student will only have have this type of teaching once a month or so. I also mean that it needs to happen to all students all the time not just intensively with one year group , like yr7 or yr12. Even if you work with some classes and ‘teach’these skills ad hoc that’s all it ever is.

Surely the only answer to these questions can be no. If you’re the specialist and you’re ‘teaching’ it there is no way you can do this. If you have 8 form groups in each year 7-13 and 5 periods in a day that’s 280 classes each day, so are you in all these classes embedding these skills? Clearly not.

So the question then becomes is your insistence on you being the information literacy specialist in school having a negative effect on the teaching of information literacy? Is your precious nature of this being part of your role giving off a negative view of what information literacy is? When you drill even further are you actually the best person to be teaching information literacy skills? This answer I would have to say is a big no. For if you ‘teach’ it then students will only ever view it as a skill that is separate from everything else just because your teaching it, this is regardless of how much you can actually do and how many classes you can be in.

The best model is that every teacher is an information literacy specialist. That every teacher, in their lessons is teaching these skills on a lesson by lesson basis. Then all students not only get a fantastic diet of these skills on a regular basis but they see how these skills fit together in all their subjects. This cannot be achieved any other way.

So are you the person that is stopping information literacy skills being an integral part of the classroom? Is it your precious nature that only you can ‘teach’ these skills that is stopping students from having access to them and them becoming ingrained in their learning? Are you making these skills so far removed from the classroom with the view that only you are the specialist?

Why not alllow all teachers to be information literacy specialists and allow them to do the things they are good at, teaching, while you enable them to do so by leading them. Why not let others, especially the students see that they can be specialists and that it isn’t something only one person in the school can be?

Are you the person stopping this from happening or are you enabling it to grow?