Zaleucus, prince of the Locrians, an ancient tribe that inhabited Central Greece, could be counted as an early champion of behavioral science. According to the French essayist Michele de Montaigne, Zaleucus reduced excessive spending by letting people wear gold and jewelry only if they were publicly registered pimps and prostitutes. He also ordered that maids could only attend women who were drunk. It worked: Overnight, gold jewelry and large entourages virtually disappeared.
This possibly apocryphal story is political sleight-of-hand at its finest, not because Zaleucus got what he wanted, but because he got what he wanted without making anyone feel like they had been forced to do anything.
Zaleucus knew that when it comes to behavior change, small changes in perception could have big effects. In an era obsessed with collecting data to understand the details of customer habits, changing behavior is still fundamentally about modifying how people perceive reality, not changing objective reality itself. No economic incentive would have persuaded the Greeks to stop wearing gold. Read More ››