Do you make choices of your own free will, or are you being nudged along by an unseen force to comply? The Government, Retail and Medical professions, amongst many other industries employ strategies to shape your behaviour.
Nudge theory is the science behind subtly leading people to the ‘right’ decision. It works on the principle that small actions can have a substantial impact on the way people behave. For organisations wanting to drive positive behaviour change, it’s a handy concept to know about.
Nudge theory is also concerned with the design of choices, which influences the decisions we make. Nudge theory proposes that the designing of choices should be based on how people actually think and decide, rather than how leaders and authorities traditionally believe people think and decide.
In this respect, among others, Nudge theory is a radically different and more sophisticated approach to achieving change in people than traditional methods of direct instruction, enforcement, punishment, etc.
The use of Nudge theory is based on indirect encouragement and enablement. It avoids direct instruction or enforcement.
Two cigarette disposal bins are erected on a littered street. One bin is marked Ronaldo, the other, Messi.
The bins encouraged smokers to vote for the best football player with their cigarette butts. After twelve weeks, cigarette litter dropped by 46%. In the United States, a similar experiment reduced cigarette litter by 74% in six months.
Instead of yelling at smokers to “clean up your butts,” the bins implied the desired behavior in an easy and fun way.
That’s a nudge.
Nudges are powerful influences in our daily lives; they help people save money, recycle, and even eat better—without requiring massive changes.
Special offers. Some firms offer a free subscription for a month. But, to get the free subscription it is necessary to give credit card details and pay for a month upfront. To gain free subscription it is necessary to ring and cancel before the end of the month. But, because of the inconvenience, many consumers may end up paying more than expected.
Product placement. To encourage healthy eating, healthy options could be made more easily available, e.g school lunches could be carefully monitored – reducing the number of unhealthy options. This is related to the concept of ‘choice architecture’ – the idea that if goods are presented in a different way, it can help ‘nudge’ people’s consumption to the desired option.
(Thaler and Sunstein 2008)