by Erik Vermeulen on 28/01/13 at 2:45 pm
The word ‘repetition’ is defined as a noun meaning the act of repeating, repeated action, performance, production, or presentation, a repeated utterance or reiteration. To ‘repeat’ means to say or utter again (something already said): to repeat a word for emphasis.
From a behavioural economics stand-point, one of the main failings of the e-toll system is the manner in which it was presented to the public and the fact that the e-toll gantries serve as a constant reminder of the impending system. Every time a public motorist drives past one of these gantries, negative emotions are evoked as the motorist must endure constant, brightly lit reminders that s/he is paying to use the road. The effects of repetition on the psyche are common knowledge, from learning aids, to emphasising a need or point, to hypnosis and persuasion; repetition is an effective agent in altering knowledge, belief patterns and actions. Perhaps the repetitive gantries can serve as a solution to reducing corruption and dishonesty.
Research conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) revealed that, when repetition of moral or ethical codes was invoked, students acted more ethically and morally. The research involved three test groups whereby the groups were asked 20 mathematical matrix questions, with a small financial reward being offered for every correct answer. The first group was told to answer the questions, score themselves and hand in their papers for evaluation. In this manner, the students were prevented from cheating or lying about their scores as their papers had to be handed in. The average score was three correct answers out of 20.
The second group were told that they would be rewarded at a rate of only 10 cents per correct answer but that they were not required to hand in their papers. The students were allowed to mark their own papers, merely giving in their score verbally. Despite the monetary value offered per correct answer being very low, inflated average scores were recorded for this test group.
As with the second group, the third group was told of the reward and the non-requirement of having to hand in their papers. The only difference between group two and three was that, prior to taking the test, group three was asked to read The 10 Commandments and they were reminded that, due to the fact that they were partaking in a test at MIT, the MIT Honour Code applied to them. As a result of this repetition or reminder of morality and an ethical code, the average correct answers recorded were three out of 20; one can safely assume that little or no cheating occurred.
At a recent series of conferences in Iran, it was interesting to note that every conference was opened with a video clip of prayer and nation-building showing the power of Allah, Iran’s military power and that of its leadership. This was a reminder both of the American Pledge of Allegiance that used to open school every day and the way young South Africans were indoctrinated in primary school during the Apartheid era. These rituals or constant reminders served to impress upon the psyche of the listeners and viewers the importance of these concepts, even if doing so subliminally or sub-consciously.
One may argue that many professional careers require an ethical oath to be taken, as is the case with doctors and lawyers, yet not all doctors and lawyers behave ethically from the start to the end of their career, even if they purported to do so at the onset. Most levels of professionalism are associated with, or equated to, a specific set of values and behaviours, yet many professionals behave in contradiction to this. Perhaps the problem is simply that these professionals are not reminded of their oath or commitment often enough, allowing it to become a distant memory rather than a living testament.
If honesty can be encouraged by the repetition of a moral code, or if devotion to a god or a social system can be evoked by the repetition of a video or a doctrine, or if e-toll gantries can cause a constant reminder of loss, heightening our emotions attached to being tolled on highways despite the promise of faster, more efficient commuting, can frequent reminders of morality and ethics not change the way politicians and business leaders think about corruption? Could the repetition of a code of ethics somehow aid in reducing dishonesty? And if so, how can such reminders be created?
Society needs to find the e-toll gantry equivalent in order to remind those in power that they have been elected by the people to serve the people; not to serve themselves. There needs to be an aide memoire in place, constantly prompting these leaders to remember that there rests with them an immense amount of trust and faith – a duty which may be a heavy burden, but which was accepted by them when they assented to their nominations and elected positions. By this assent, these men and women of esteem agreed to act in the best interests of the community, but somewhere along the way, these promises are forgotten. The leaders of today need to be reminded of all of their promises made, not with constant disincentives considering the consequences of their failing the communities that they serve, but rather through the incentive of the success which can be achieved as a nation when honesty and honourable actions abound.
Launched in January 1999 by Erik Vermeulen, Leader Motivation Systems t/a Erik Vermeulen’s main focus is the facilitation of behavioural styles workshops, particularly with respect to building effective sales teams. The company’s current flagship product is a behavioural culture development programme. For more information, please contact Erik Vermeulen on 083 603 7119, at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.erikvermeulen.com. View more articles by Erik Vermeulen.