Behavior Change Made EasyPosted: 02/18/2012
How can people be motivated to change their behavior? According to Richard Thaler and Cass Susnstein, two behavioral economists, low-cost, creative “nudges” are all it takes. They define nudges as simple, strategic cues that suggest a certain action, ideally leading people to perform this action. Thaler says, “The whole idea is that we don’t force anyone to do anything…it’s about helping people make the right choices to reach their own objectives.”
Nudging often takes advantage of humans’ most innate senses and tendencies. Consider some examples, as outlined by George Webster in Is a ‘nudge’ in the right direction all we need to be greener?:
- Choice architecture, as mentioned in the comic.
- Concept: If one choice (donuts) is less easy to make (the donuts require more work to reach) than another choice (the fruit doesn’t require as much work to reach), then the easier choice will be made.
- In Action: This is being tested in school cafeterias: vegetables are placed at the beginning of the lunch line, ahead of unhealthier alternatives, and chocolate milk is placed behind plain milk.
- Visual cues
- Concept: If small, somewhat subtle suggestions for change are made obvious, then change will occur.
- In Action: 1,000 people on the streets of Copenhagen were given candy. The number of wrappers left on the ground, along with the number in trash cans, was counted. For the next round, green footsteps were stenciled on the ground, leading to trash cans. The number of wrappers left on the ground decreased by 46%.
- Comparisons to others
- Concept: If people are made aware of what others are doing, then they are more likely to change their own behavior to better fit in.
- In Action: The UK is going mad over the potential for large-scale integration of nudging, especially as nudging policies are significantly less expensive than traditional legislation and its crime/punishment structure. Sustainability is a major focus–currently, energy bills in some areas are displaying homeowners’ personal use of energy in comparison to others in different areas.
Nudging is already in use in food marketing/public relations–You know those brightly colored chip bags? They’re leading your senses (and your intentions) in a certain direction.
A similar strategy exists with Safeway’s “Simple Nutrition” labels: Through all the noise, consumers can easily know which products are considered healthier and which aren’t while they’re shopping.
Who determines what is the “right” decision for anyone else, though? Does nudging really solve the issue of unhealthy or unwise decisions? And even if, for example, people are led to not litter, will they litter less in places without footsteps leading to trash cans? Though it’s most appropriate as only one part of a behavior-change plan, nudging is definitely a unique way to start leading people in change.