Sunday, May 08, 2011

Long train running

In the Ideas section of today's Boston Globe, there was an absolutely fascinating article about how officials in India were using "behavioral architecture" to keep poverty-stricken people living near the train line from being killed while crossing the tracks.

The article titled "Train! How psychological tricks can keep people from being killed on the tracks" tells the story about how one area in India employed three changes to keep people aware of the danger of crossing the tracks and fatalities plummeted. First, it was found that people have trouble telling the speed of large objects so they painted sections of the railroad ties yellow to give better perspective of velocity. Second, the warning signs around the tracks using stick figures were replaced with horrific (staged) pictures of an actor being mowed down by a train (see at link). Finally, the warning whistle for the trains was altered:
Final Mile’s third intervention required train drivers to switch from one long warning whistle to two short, sharp blasts. By way of explanation, Dominic cited a 2007 paper from the Stanford University School of Medicine, which found that brain activity - and hence alertness - peaks during short silences between two musical notes. "The silence sets up a kind of expectation in the brain," said Vinod Menon, the paper's senior author and a behavioral scientist working with the Stanford Cognitive and Systems Neuroscience Lab. "That’s the way it works in music, and it isn’t inconceivable that it would work similarly with train whistles."
It's kinda like the false ending in the Young Rascals hit "Good Lovin'" where you're waiting for the song to re-start. In all. a very interesting article about how psychology and behavioral science are employed to solve a problem and save lives.

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