Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Nudge motivation

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Nudge motivation:
What is it and how can it be used?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Nudge motivation is a simple way of motivating people. The idea is that small and seemingly insignificant details can change, modify and influence people's behaviour (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). Nudging can help change people's behaviour by steering their behaviour towards different patterns and then engaging them in the process of change (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008).

Have you ever wondered what a nudge is and how can it be used? Are people nudging you? Can you change people's eating habits without them knowing?

The cafeteria[edit | edit source]

An example of a nudge, as described by Thaler and Sunstein (2008), was when a friend of theirs named Carolyn decided to rearrange the layout of the food in the cafeteria where she worked. Carolyn was faced with the dilemma of being able to manipulate the consumption of food by simply changing the position of where the food was displayed (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). This left Carolyn with the task of deciding which placement of food would be best, according to Thaler and Sunstein (2008) she had five options.

  1. She would arrange the food that was the healthy option.
  2. Arrange the food at random.
  3. Try to get the children to pick the food they would have chosen on their own.
  4. Go for profit and get the greatest margins from specific foods.
  5. Just maximise the profits, nothing else.

Carolyn, because of this impending decision, is now acting as a choice architect; she is responsible for organising the way decisions are made in the cafeteria for the selection of food. This decision is the same as a doctor who is prescribing treatments for his or her patients or the architect who is designing a new building and must decide where to locate the windows and doors, such decisions will influence the aesthetics of the building and the ease of movement within the building (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008).

Errors[edit | edit source]

Humans are subject to error. Even the best of us make mistakes, we forget anniversaries, birthdays and have been known to come home with the wrong shopping items. Obesity rates for most countries are rising, and despite knowing all the risks people are still consuming the wrong foods so it would seem conceivable that these people could do with a few nudges (Thaler & Suntein, 2008). If we think about other risk related behaviours such as smoking, drinking and drug taking, do we consider these behaviours to be in the best interest for that person? I would claim not as we have developed a whole industry to help people lose weight such as Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig to name a few. It appears something has gone wrong, could it be that we, as humans, are making bad judgements and decisions because we have freedom to do so and therefore need a nudge to point us in the right direction? (Thaler & Suntein, 2008)

Biases[edit | edit source]

Human judgement can be biased, but it can be improved by understanding how people can go wrong systematically (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). Thaler and Sunstein, (2008) contend there are two different approaches humans use for thinking: one is automatic and the other reflective.

The first system identified, the automatic system, is rapid and instinctive, it is not present when we are thinking, it is related to uncontrolled thinking, unconscious thoughts, effortless actions and fast thoughts.

The second system, the reflective system, is more controlled and self-conscious, we use this system when deciding things such as which route to go home or which classes to study at university, it is a controlled way of thinking. Using the reflective system people are more likely to be self-aware, deductive, slow and follow the rules. Another way to think about this is if you were in plane experiencing turbulence, the automatic system would say the plane is going to crash but the reflective system would say planes are safe and not to worry (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008).

Recent events impact greatly on our behaviour, as can be evidenced from individual's rising insurance levels. In New South Wales recently people have increased or obtained fire insurance and in Queensland, with the recent floods, insurance covering floods has increased. Even people with houses that are relatively safe are more likely to purchase insurance if friends have recently experienced, or been near, a disaster area. These examples show how people can have availability heuristic tendencies and respond to crisis situations because they are influenced by recent events around them (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008).

Gains and losses[edit | edit source]

The automatic system people have makes them hate losses, losing something has twice the impact that gaining something has. People will go to great lengths to stay with present holdings so as not to incur a loss, sometimes a nudge in the right direction would be in our best interest (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008).

Optimism[edit | edit source]

A study that confirmed that people are naturally optimistic was conducted at the start of Thaler's class in Managerial Decision Making. The study revealed that a high degree of unrealistic optimism was present in the class, with most thinking they would do much better than their actual results at the end of the term (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). Drivers also have an overconfidence regarding their ability to drive, as do people thinking their jokes as being funny, people who enter into marriage also are optimistic that their chance of divorce is very low when in fact approximately 50% of marriages fail (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008).

People seem to have an unrealistic optimism, which may explain individual risk-taking behaviour such as smokers who are made aware of the statistical risks of developing heart disease and lung cancer but believe their chances are low for developing any illness associated with smoking. It might be necessary to nudge people to remember an event that went wrong so they won’t be unrealistically optimistic in the future (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008).

Framing[edit | edit source]

The way information is delivered has a large effect on the way it is interpreted. If a doctor tells you that you need to have an operation and out of one hundred patients who received the operation ninety are still alive after five years this option sounds appealing. In contrast, if the doctor phrased the odds of survival for the operation as out of one hundred people who have had the operation, ten are dead, this sounds much more risky. Framing is a powerful nudge and should be used and interpreted with caution (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008).

Gains and losses[edit | edit source]

The automatic system people have makes them hate losses, losing something has twice the impact that gaining something has. A cognitive nudge empowers us not to make change, even if change would be in our best interest (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008).

Temptation[edit | edit source]

We are all tempted by things like chocolate and nuts just to name a few. Defining temptation can be hard, but to say it is easier to recognise temptation than being able to define temptation is a good example. We can break temptation into two groups: hot and cold. Hot is when you are so hungry that smelling food cooking is absolutely wonderful. Cold is when you are just thinking about the number of nuts that you are going to eat that night before dinner (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). When we are in the hot state it is easier to overcome fears and eat new foods, this state can also lead us into trouble. For most people self-control issues occur when we underestimate the effect arousal has on us. The problem of self control can be evident when trying to limit ourselves with food or alcohol. To overcome our weaknesses we can gather help from our friends who can remind us not to have desert, or the second glass of wine (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008).

The influence of others[edit | edit source]

Humans are easily influenced by others; they tend to follow other people, this is the way people learn but social influences can have negative effects therefore some nudging here would be beneficial. The power of social nudges can be seen in many situations, teenage girls are more likely to get pregnant if their friends are pregnant or have a baby, and fat people are more likely to have friends that are fat (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). People are able to shift the behaviour of other people by nudging them; by informing people of what other people are doing has a large effect on their behaviour. Surveys to gather information can influence people's intentions of what they intend to do in the future. (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008).

When do we need a nudge[edit | edit source]

People need nudges to make decisions that are rare and difficult, or when the situation does not give them prompt feedback and they have trouble interpreting the situation into easily defined terms. People can have problems when making decisions that test a person's self-control and there is time separation between the events. Decisions that are more difficult and complicated require more help or time to achieve a good outcome, immediate feedback after the event can help people know if they are doing well or still making mistakes (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008).[edit | edit source] provides incentives, either monetary or non-monetary, for people to commit to a specific action or plan such as to loose weight, get fit or incentives like cleaning specific items. With the monetary plan people would commit a prescribed amount of money and agree to have the commitment completed by a date. If the person fails the money would then be donated to charity. For non-financial commitments you would email friends and family to announce your commitment and rely on this to act as peer pressure to complete the task. There can be creative goals where the person commits for example to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, travel to a distant country or any other dream or wish a person has. These goals can then be verified by photographs taken at the location of the goal (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008).

The fly[edit | edit source]

According to Evans-Pritchard (2013), Aad Kievan is responsible for introducing the urinal fly at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport in the early 1990s. The idea of introducing the fly came from Jos van Bedaf, who was the manager of the cleaning department at Schiphol airport. He first observed this idea when he was in the army in the 1960s. The fly can be seen in the urinal as a small object that men can aim at which reduces splash back. The fly in the urinal has been reported to reduce splash back by 80% and save 20% or more on total cleaning costs. Evans-Pritchard (2013) speculates that men are simple-minded and enjoy playing with their urine stream so if you put something in the urinal they will aim at it. The object does not have to be a fly, it could be a golf flag, bee or any other insect although he does caution that a pretty butterfly or ladybug would not work because men may not want to hurt these insects. Also making the object an ugly-looking spider or cockroach might make men afraid of the object.

A fly

Mindspace[edit | edit source]

The British Government produced a discussion paper called Mindspace by Dolan, Hallswoth, Halpern, King and Vlaev (2010) about influencing behaviour to facilitate change or shape our behaviour. Listed below are the nine influences that can affect our behaviour by Dolan et al. (2010).

  1. Messenger: who communicates the information influences us
  2. Incentives: are shaped by mental shortcuts to avoid loss
  3. Norms: we are influenced by other people’s behaviour
  4. Defaults: we go along with others using pre-set options
  5. Salience: we give attention to novel and relevant situations
  6. Priming: our behaviour is influenced sub-consciously
  7. Affect: emotional associations shape our actions
  8. Commitments: be consistent with promises and reciprocate favours
  9. Ego: we make ourselves feel better in the way we act

Dolan et al. (2010) conducted a study to reduce littering in Southwark England, the citizens of the community considered littering a major issue and it also cost the London Borough of Southward an estimated £547 million in the year 2005-06 (Keep Britain Tidy, 2006). Dolan et al. (2010) used the concept of norms and salience to change the behaviour of the citizens of Southwark. Incentives were introduced with a £75 fixed penalty notice issued for littering and an awareness campaign was commenced to make all citizens aware of the new penalty. To attract attention to the campaign the council hired actors that were dressed in giant litter costumes to engage with the public, they also thanked citizens who put their rubbish in the bin (Dolan et al. 2010).

Dolan et al. (2010) contend there are three advantages in the way they used salience on this occasion.

  1. Because they had actors that were dressed in giant litter costumes it provided a salient message for delivering the serious matter they were trying to convey.
  2. The costumes connect the issue of littering with visual images of the actors dressed as litter, this novelty event makes it more likely that it will be remembered in the future.
  3. Actors were dressed in the most common form of litter found in Southwark, including Coke cans, fast food, and cigarettes. It is hoped that when confronted with discarding these items they will remember the actors who were dressed as the items and put their rubbish in the bin.

Although the program has not been formally evaluated, informal reports suggest the novel approach was successful and by using humour to help get citizens involved it has helped the Southwark community by making it a cleaner environment to live (Dolan et al. 2010).

Food studies[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Placement of food items[edit | edit source]

Helping people to eat food which is better for their health such as fruit, and resisting temptation by not eating foods such as confectionery, was the purpose of a study by Chapman and Ogden (2012). Their study examined if, by manipulating the location of food and controlling availability of a specific food, differences in the way people purchased food would result. The study was conducted in the canteen of the College of Richard Collyer at Sussex.

Food was manipulated by placing it nearer to, or further from, the checkout in an aisle. The study revealed that food sales depend on their location, for fruit sales the aisle, rather than at the checkout, was found to give the greatest sales (Chapman & Ogden, 2012). The reason for this, Chapman and Ogden (2012) contend, may be because people who are buying fruit do so because they intended to and are not impulse buying.

For confectionery Chapman and Ogden (2012) thought the results would show more sales at the checkout but this was not found, in fact confectionery sales decreased at the checkout. Chapman and Ogden (2012) speculate their study failed to show an increase in confectionery sales at the checkout because the waiting time to be served in the canteen was very low compared to supermarkets, where time spent waiting in a line can be as high as 5-7 minutes, which gives shoppers more time to impulse buy. The second study Chapman and Ogden (2012) conducted was to see if having only brown baguettes available for one day, and removing all white baguettes, would increase sales of brown baguettes in the future. The removal of white baguettes for one day did not change customer’s preferences when ordering baguettes in the future, but it showed the same quantity of baguettes were sold that day. Chapman and Ogden (2012) in their conclusion argue that although dietary habits are hard to change and there are changes throughout the lifespan, some changes can occur without effort or intention. Chapman and Ogden (2012) contend that this study shows the impact of two changes in the environment and by manipulating the availability and location can nudge customers to make better, healthier choices.

Placement of food at a salad bar[edit | edit source]

Another demonstration of food manipulation by Rozin, Scott, Dingley, Urbanek, Jiang and Kaltenbach (2011) sought to determine if changing the location of specific food items would decrease or increase food consumption. The study was conducted at the University of Pennsylvania Health System cafeteria and involved measuring the food consumed at the salad bar, in the middle location of both long edges and the middle centre that can be accessed twice. The study found food consumption to be 13.4% less at these locations of the salad bar. Rozin et al.( 2011) also found presenting food in two trays instead of one tray at a salad bar only reduced the average intake of food by 1.33%. This study also looked at the amount of food consumed with tongs compared to a spoon and found food consumption to be reduced by 16.5% with tongs.

Rozin et al. ( 2011) suggest that the decrease in food consumption in all middle locations of a food bar could be accounted for by customers wanting to minimise their energy in obtaining food. It is hoped this information can help when arranging food at salad bars, so that the healthy options would be displayed at all middle locations to help customers choose their food but not limit their choice.

Menu item placement[edit | edit source]

Dayan and Bar-Hillel (2011) conducted two studies into the effect menu item placement has on placing your food order. The first study consisted of students at a Hebrew University who filled out a mock menu with the incentive of winning a pizza. The second study was at a Tel Aviv cafe, where the choice of menu items was manipulated for the experiment.

Both studies showed a definite advantage for an item to be placed on the top or bottom of a menu, an approximately 20% gain from an item placed in the middle of a menu. When an item was moved from the middle of the menu to the end of the menu a gain of 55% more orders were taken for this item. This study suggests that promoting healthier food choices could be easily accomplished by structuring menus with the healthy options on the top or bottom of the menu, this would also be a cheap and effortless way to manipulate healthier choices(Dayan & Bar-Hillel, 2011).

Nudges for better health care[edit | edit source]

People's judgements are influenced by who communicates the information; motivation occurs when we are given incentives, we have a strong aversion to avoid loss than for gains. Incentives can be used to motivate people into losing weight, exercising, taking medications and stopping smoking, but a novel use of incentives can be beneficial (Blumenthal-Barby & Burroughs, 2012). Incentives were used in Malawi where people were offered 10% of a day’s wage when they returned to pick up their HIV test results, this incentive doubled the patients pick up rate (Institute for Government and the Cabinet Office, 2010). In America some states pay teenagers that already have a child one dollar for each day they are not pregnant, this has resulted in a substantial decrease in teenage pregnancies (Blumenthal-Barby & Burroughs, 2012).

Monetary incentives were introduced for physicians to reduce every high risk health factors for their patients at Scottsdale Healthcare Arizona. A payment of $65 was made for every improvement in one of six biometric markers. The physicians referred patients to management programs for their illness two to three times more than normal which improved the health of the patients ten fold compared to a previous six month study with the same patients (Springrose et al., 2010).

By using the incentive that people will avoid losses, a study to combat obesity withheld money from the person until the person had reached the target weight. After seven months the incentive group had achieved dramatic weight loss when compared to the control group and their initial weight at the start of the program (Blumenthal-Barby & Burroughs, 2012).

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Nudge motivation is a useful technique that can be used in a wide range of situations. In the canteen Carolyn had the choice to help nudge students to make healthy choices, which will have an impact on their eating habits that will follow the students through their life and play a large role in influencing their health (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). The food studies have shown that placement of food items at a salad bar and menu placement has an enormous effect on the choices we make, so nudging customers to make healthy choices, while still allowing for people to choose freely, should be strongly encouraged. Governments can also play a role in helping citizens, by introducing some of the creative ways Mindspace has shown us that nudging works.

See also[edit | edit source]

Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Intrinsic motivation

References[edit | edit source]

Blumenthal-Barby, J., & Burroughs, H. (2012). Seeking better health care outcomes: The ethics of using the “Nudge”. The American Journal of Bioethics, 12(2), 1-10.

Chapman, K., & Ogden, J. (2012). Nudging customers towards healthier choices. an intervention in the university canteen. Journal of Food Research, 1(2), 13-21.

Dayan, E., & Bar-Hillel, M. (2011). Nudge to nobesity II: Menu positions influence food orders. Judgment and Decision Making, 6(4), 333-342.

Dolan, P., Hallsworth, M., Halpern, D., King, D., Metcalfe, R., & Vlaev, I. (2012). Influencing behaviour: The mindspace way. Journal of Economic Psychology, 33(1), 264-277.


Dolan, P., Hallsworth, M., Halpern, D., King, D., & Vlaev, I. (2010). Mindspace. Influencing Behaviour through public policy.

Evans-Pritchard , B. (2013) Aiming To Reduce Cleaning Costs. Works That Work (1),

Keeping Britain Tidy, (2006) Love Where you Live. Keep Britain Tidy

Rozin, P., Scott, S., Dingley, M., Urbanek, J. K., Jiang, H., & Kaltenbach, M. (2011). Nudge to nobesity I: Minor changes in accessibility decrease food intake. Judgment and Decision Making, 6(4), 323-332.

Springrose, J. V., Friedman, F., Gumnit, S. A., & Schmidt, E. J. (2010). Engaging physicians in risk factor reduction. Population Health Management, 13(5), 255-261.

Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2008). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness Yale University Press.

Volpp, K. G., John, L. K., Troxel, A. B., Norton, L., Fassbender, J., & Loewenstein, G. (2008). Financial incentive–based approaches for weight loss. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 300(22), 2631-2637.

External links[edit | edit source]