Empathy HIT: What Colour is Your Big Bird
When someone mentions “Big Bird”, if you’re from North America you probably think about the big yellow bird from Sesame Street. This would demonstrate that you’ve grown up watching TV in North America, because the big bird that Americans and Canadians watch is yellow.
Now, what if someone told you that Big Bird is in fact purple?
“Purple you say? You must be colour blind because Big Bird is definitely yellow.”
What if you then asked where that person had seen a purple Big Bird, to which the response might be, “the Netherlands.”
In the case of Big Bird, this of course means that there are different costumes for our familiar friend. Even if the script for a particular show is essentially the same (with obvious language translations), the use of different costumes in different geographies has a purpose: to communicate his innocent, childlike personality to different cultures.
We can only surmise that Big Bird’s cousins are different colours because they grew up in different countries. Such that we have many languages and variances of dialects around the world, one person’s creation of a bird for TV is different from another’s rendition. The Big ‘yellow’ Bird himself has changed over the years.
Big Bird’s appearance has changed over the years, as has his personality. He originally had very few feathers on top of his head; his body feathers were also more shaggy and unkempt, and his body was not as rounded and full as it is now. His personality was more dopey and “bird-brained” than it later became. He gradually got more feathers on top, giving his head a more rounded appearance, and developed a blaze-like crest of lighter yellow feathers above his eyes. His body got fluffier, rounder and more well-groomed.
His personality developed over time from being a dim, slow-witted character into the childlike innocence he is known for today. –Wikipedia
This is an example of what Tickit Health calls Digital Empathy; leveraging technology to align communication with the focus audience in order to create an enhanced user experience. When we ask a person a question, we often ask that question from our own place of reference; if we ask a different person that same question, it may be interpreted in a completely different way.
The power of the nuances in Big Bird’s colouring is substantial. Using colours, terms, phrasing, and references that feel familiar creates trust between a viewer and a character, and that trust results in a willingness to engage, and share. Furthermore, familiarity can reduce cognitive load, easing anxiety and stress, and making it easier for people to partake.
Trust and familiarity have a significant impact on the responses of questions in a survey or assessment. The impact is measurable and significant. It’s not only across geographic or cultural boundaries where the changes are important. Age, literacy, gender, and physical context are all considered in our Digital Empathy design, as we modify a question into versions that are empathetic to the person being asked. When put to practice, research has shown that Digital Empathy improves response rates with higher quality data capture, creating less staff burden. This is critical when screening patients, students, or employees for risky behaviours or behavioural and other health & wellness risks.
Now you have a better understanding of why when I think of Big Bird, he’s a big purple bird, but you imagine a big yellow bird. While that empathetic nuance may be subtle, the fact of the matter is that it helps both of us to trust what he has to say. And that makes us all better global citizens.
This article was originally published on Tickit Health and is republished here with permission.
About the Show
On Empathy HIT, listen to insightful conversations as this podcast explores digital empathy in healthcare. On the show, host Dr. Sandy Whitehouse (@PennWhitehouse), CMO and CEO of Tickit Health, chats with providers, partners and industry leaders on topics ranging from patient experience to social determinants of health to rethinking how we collect information critical to improving health outcomes. Follow and join the conversation with #EmpathyHIT, & take a listen now.