Shaming For Human Motivation

Posted on February 12, 2007




You can say what you want about Singapore. Disneyland with death penalty. The Lee kingdom. The little red pimple, etc. Whatever you call it, the country’s operational efficiency and its economic miracle can’t be denied. The country has literally gone from third world to first world in less than 50 years. I don’t necessarily agree with some of the methods used. The price people have paid for this operational efficiency to be achieved may seem pretty steep, but I can’t help but smile at the genius of the ‘public shaming’ method for behavioral motivation. Whilst shaming has been in use since the beginning of man as a disciplinary tool, it’s uncommon to see it formally systemised and exercised against individuals by the establishment in today’s society .



A few years ago, the Singapore government had a bit of a problem. People were complaining about the standard of the government’s subsidized housing estates (in which 92% of Singaporeans live). One of the roots to this problem was that the lifts in these housing estates were being used as “rooms of relief”. They reeked of piss.


Determined to eradicate this problem, some government people (stupidly clever ones if you ask me) decided to install urine detectors in the lifts. The human insight that made this technology investment worthwhile was that the risk of being seen as a ‘lift pisser’ wasn’t/isn’t worth taking for people when the alternative was/is 5 minutes of ‘self-containment’. Most people’s instant cost-benefit analysis of this situation will generate the same result. The real genius in all this is that this technology was rigged so that when a perpetrator urinated in the lift, the sensor would trigger a mechanism that locked the lift doors. Simultaneously, an alarm would go off at the police station so that the perpetrator could be picked up…..not to be arrested but to have his pictured taken. This picture would then be published in the country’s newspapers along with the full name of the individual. Very effective. This is Singapore in a nutshell. 


Yesterday, I realized that this shaming method is still alive and well in this country.

The management at the condominium where I’m staying published this CCTV footage.



Next to it, they had written this…..




When I told my colleague, Hari I was writing about this, he told me the piss sensors don’t work. What conclusion am I supposed to draw from that? 

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