Gentle Bamboo Solutions

Behaviour Science & The Cobra Effect


I had heard about the Cobra Effect long ago at school and had completely forgotten about it. Recently I have been hobnobbing in Behaviour Science. I’ve joined a Beh Sci Club, attended a few meetings, befriended a few new people.

It’s like the Cobra Effect is following me everywhere. It gets mentioned so many times, that I thought I will share it here. Here’s the story –

During the British Raj in India, the government announced an award for capturing cobras in a bid to control the increasing population of the venomous snake. For a while, the bounty program really worked well and there was a marked decrease in the dangerous reptile numbers.

Soon enough, some people saw an opportunity here. They started the infamous "cobra farms" all around, and started breeding snakes to collect the money. Within months, the government became aware of the black-market, and cancelled the program. With no use for the cobras any more, the "farmers" released hundreds of them into the wild and walked away.

Basically, the intention to decrease the population of cobras had the exact opposite impact. There were now more cobras in the world than there were before the program started.

That’s the Cobra Effect. When something has the exact opposite result than what was intended and expected. The lesson here is to ensure that you don’t try to solve complex problems with overly simplistic solutions.

This is now a very important behaviour science concept, and has far-ranging applications in various areas. From economics to entrepreneurship and politics to science – whenever you try to apply a ridiculously simple solution to complex long-standing problems, be careful. You may cause more harm than good.

Snakes and Leaders,