Give it a nudge:
Our 5 favourite ‘positive manipulations’

Are you being manipulated for your own good? In Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein argue for new ways to ‘nudge’ people towards the right health, financial and environmental decisions. From loos to lollipops, here are five of our favourite nudges.

It’s an inescapable fact that smokers pay higher insurance premiums than non-smokers. Along with increased taxes, advertising bans and numerous by-laws these premiums are both a pragmatic approach to covering costs and a not-so-subtle influence on the individual to make healthy decisions.

Some smokers will find such measures authoritarian – the “nanny state gone power-mad”. Others accept it as sensible way to help them quit. However most would agree that these actions are disciplinary. What about the more positive ways to quit smoking?

Here’s one positive approach to quitting smoking and a few other ways that help influence people into doing the right thing…

  1. Holding smokers to account

People with poor self-control (i.e. nearly everyone) often struggle with the bad habit of consuming too much of a favourite thing. Addicted smokers need a strong influence to quit. But how do you make the stakes worth it?

One programme in the Philippines asked volunteers to put their money where their smokes were. They had to open a bank account and deposit an agreed amount in each week. After six months a biochemical test was taken and, if this proved the participant had quit smoking, they got to keep the money. If they didn’t the account was closed and the money was given to charity. Evidence suggested this approach increased the chance of quitting by around 35%.

  1. Defeating the card sharks

People lack focus. Psychologically, once the primary task of any job is completed, people often forget about subsequent smaller tasks.

This became an issue at ATMs once the money (the primary task) was taken and people would forget to collect their bankcard out of the slot. The machine would chomp down on the card after a set time and the customer would be left with an embarrassing visit to their bank. It’s why nearly all ATMs nowadays refuse to release the money until the card is taken from the slot.

  1. Kicking it in the butt

Another smoking-related nudge took place on the streets of London, this time as a means of reducing litter from carelessly discarded cigarette butts.

Here the standard public ashtrays were replaced with clever ‘ballot bins’, each offering the smoker a chance to vote with their butt on all kinds of contentious issues. In America the initiative was tested in three different sites. After six months of the ballot bins being installed it was found that there had been a huge 74% decrease in cigarette litter on the surrounding streets.

  1. Staying on target

There are many different ways to properly disinfect men’s public toilets without having to resort to those weird-tasting urinal cakes*. However most toilets still use this type of disinfectant system in place for one simple reason. It gives guys something to aim at.

It seems that some men are perpetually stuck as four year olds when it comes time to point and aim – they’d much rather be writing their name in the snow. So getting them up close to aim at a brightly coloured object is therefore preferable, as it also keeps them near the target for when it’s time to ‘shake the dew off the lily’.

This is why some bars will even have small stickers of flies, bees or other ‘targets’ in their urinals because, admit it fellas, this works.

  1. Licking larrikinism

In England the affects of anti-social behaviour from pubs and clubs in suburban areas is well known. At closing time the inebriated spill into the streets, shouting and hollering and generally making a nuisance. Police can’t be everywhere at once to prevent it. So how do you prevent this occurring in the wee small hours? You use the old Chupa Chup.

No, that’s not cockney rhyming slang. Instead of giving over-exuberant partygoers a kick up the Khyber, police waited outside popular bars (and trouble spots) with free lollipops. It seems that the simple act of having a lollipop in your mouth is a deterrent to shouting out nonsense – and these sweets last long enough to see most patrons home for the night.

The technique has proven effective, so much so that other police forces have adopted it at late-night trouble spots around the world.

* Of course we’ve never actually done this – we’re just nudging to see if you’re paying attention!

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