Nudge of the Month

“Nothing is certain except for death and taxes”

One of the greatest headaches of tax authorities is simply to get people to pay their taxes, preferably on time. People tend to view taxes as a punishment, instead of them funding public services. Benjamin Franklin is credited to have said “Nothing is certain except for death and taxes”, yet some still try to avoid the latter and become free-riders.

Recently, a growing number of experiments set out to identify the nudges that could potentially be effective in increasing tax compliance, essentially simplification, social norms, moral suasion and threats.

What, according to empirical evidence, actually works? Continue reading ““Nothing is certain except for death and taxes””

Our Work, Uncategorized

Your BE guide to Online Dating

man and woman holding heart boards
Photo by on

In the 21st century, the chances of encountering fairy-tale romances are rare. That cute guy or girl you locked eyes with at the bar the other day fades into a distant memory as we become less likely to initiate contact with strangers.

This attitude can be explained through understanding the conduct of the conscious brain. This conscious brain is on the constant lookout for threats or a new focus of attention. Approaching someone you are interested in, becomes troublesome to navigate in a new territory of uncertainty. Your brain begins imagining a multitude of possible ways things could go wrong. Without the guidance of technology, human contact can be a daunting initiative. This is where dating apps enter.

The prime aim of dating apps is to bring together two strangers in the age of disconnect by pooling them on a basis of availability. This way, a market for singles looking to form a relationship is created. However, dating apps are designed in a manner to aid the human mind, which doesn’t function as smoothly as a neo-classical market. Dating apps have been reported to be a highly unsatisfying experience for many due to the room for bad decision making it allows. Dan Ariely accurately nails down the failures of dating apps in an interview at Google[1]. To better understand the significance of his insights on the failures of online dating, it is essential to see why we are prone to make bad decisions in the online dating market, through the concept of ‘cognitive ease[2]

As proposed by Daniel Kahneman (in his book Thinking Fast and Slow[3])we can split the mind in two systems, System 1 (fast, automatic, unconscious) and System 2 (detailed, slower, conscious, lazy). The design of dating apps allows for system 1 to take over most of the decision-making process as it allows for ‘cognitive ease’ rather than ‘strain’.  Each of the points discussed below allow for cognitive ease to flow, which is signified by sense of familiarity and goodness. This is when the decisions made by the individual are more inspired and carefree with a higher chance of decision-making error.

  1. Decoy Effect: For those who are familiar with how dating apps work, you may often find yourself surprised when you are matched with someone you don’t recall swiping right on. The frequency of such cases can be explained by the decoy effect. A choice is made more attractive by placing a less attractive option before it. This, then raises the value of the initial option. In this way, a present match could appear more attractive to you if the preceding match was not your type. Cognitive ease is what makes you swipe right on the antecedent. The clear display of the options available to you make the decoy effect stand out more. Since clear display is an engager of cognitive ease, you decide to immediately swipe right, without a thought about the error in your better judgement.


  1. Heuristics: Dating apps implement profiles with pictures and a bio to help condense the best aspects of a person’s personality and help them find a match. This decision-making process is limited to a simple swipe of the thumb, while the weight of the decision to pick a potential date is daunting in contrast. To bridge the gap between the two, heuristics step in. When dealing with such heavyweight questions, the brain tends to answer a smaller set of questions known as heuristics. In context to dating apps, a witty opener could signal to the brain that this person could cheer me up when I down while broad shoulders could signal dependability. An interesting and thorough profile is enough to convince your mind that this person might just be ‘the perfect partner’ by filling in the gaps missing from their profile to suit your primed idea of one. Primed ideas are another enabler of cognitive ease. Once all the gaps have been filled, the profile in front of you feels familiar and true and hence, you swipe right.


  1. Loss Aversion: One of the key issues with relationships developed through an online platform is the lack of investment people devote in developing an intimate relationship. This fact can be attributed to loss aversion. This is the principle that people are more biased towards avoiding losses than gaining equivalent gains. With the number of options available to people, they face a trade-off between investing time and effort to get to know one match intimately (what one could gain) and keeping themselves available to any potential new matches (missing out from dating pool). Consequently, people choose to invest less effort to familiarize themselves with one match in order to preserve availability, which ultimately leads to both parties to have an unsatisfying experience. Additionally, people are forced to move out of a state of cognitive ease. Allowing themselves to explore uncharted territories of another’s personality and life, does not feel familiar or even pleasant to many. Hence, people choose to go for what they know is easy by returning to these dating apps and the cycle of frustration is prolonged.

By writing this piece, I wish to show people the errors in judgment they could possibly make while using dating apps, which are not inherently bad. Understanding the mistakes, one could make in the slippery road of dating in the 21st century could be the first step for many individuals to understand what it is they are truly seeking both from themselves and their potential partners.

Isha Induchudan

Continue reading “Your BE guide to Online Dating”

Our Work

How behavioural economics matters in dealing with gender discrimination

Talking about gender discrimination in 2019, an era where it looks like women are treated the same as men, may seem unneeded. But how many of us are actually completely gender neutral, especially when it comes to topics like career and family?

I’ve recently taken an “Implicit Association Test” (IAT) on this topic and it showed that, though I consider myself an activist for women’s right and gender equality, I do tend to slightly link male with career and females with family. This online tests, available on different topics at the link, let people discover that our subconscious isn’t completely immune to biases, no matter how strongly we believe so, and how widespread these latter actually are.

Gender discrimination, especially in the office, comes from men as well as from women themselves, although unconsciously. For example, women tend to refrain from asking higher salaries or negotiate with customers simply because  they feel satisfied with what they have, and they don’t consider like they deserve more: women settle for less while men are four times more likely to ask for higher pay than women with the same qualifications. (“Women don’t ask”; L. Babcock, S. Laschever).

In the movie “On the basis of sex” (2018), the main character, a female lawyer in 1970 fighting for gender equality in front of the law, claims that the few ladies accepted at Harvard Law School in those days didn’t even have a female bathroom but never complained about it simply because they felt incredibly blessed to be accepted in the first place, despite their gender. This is just one example to show how sometimes women don’t fight for their rights just because they feel like they don’t deserve to do so. Although the situation has enormously improved since those days, today still too many women feel “lucky” enough to even have the opportunity to work instead of staying at home and therefore, unlike men, feel like they’re not entitled to more benefits.

Another very common behaviour in this field is the so-called “moral licensing” that becomes the reason why often diversity trainings don’t work. According to this bias, people feel excused for their bad behaviours after doing something good: executives who implement diversity programs, for example, may feel like they have done enough, and therefore feel licensed to go back to their usual behaviour. It is the same mental mechanism that makes us feel like we “earned” eating a chocolate cake after eating a salad.

Solving the problem by trying to change people’s mind seems practically impossible as the majority of employers assures that they would hire the most talented employees, without biases; but we’ve seen that too often that is not the case, even if not consciously. Perhaps the best way to deal with the issue is to implement transparency and honesty, to assure the availability of clear information to be aware of our rights and to push women to find the confidence to know and demand what they’re entitled to.


Costanza De Grandi

Our Work

Green Nudging: a gentle push towards a sustainable environment

On 2nd May 2019, together with the Green Light for Business association, BBias held the event called “Green Nudging: a gentle push towards a sustainable environment”. As it was many times remarked during the event, occasions like this one are very important to deepen concepts that we might not be familiar with and to raise awareness on topics that are getting more and more relevant and urgent. As we heard from many participants, it was also a first possibility to understand what nudging practically means and what are its potential applications. In particular, we saw the “green” application of nudges through the presentation of two firms, Patagonia and Too Good To Go.green_nudgind_event_pic

In the first part of the event, Giovanna D’Adda (assistant professor at the Department of Economics of “Università degli Studi di Milano”) introduced and briefly explained the concept behind nudging: an alteration of the choice architecture that gently pushes people towards certain (positive) behaviours. The attention was also partially drawn on the ethical debate concerning nudges: as a matter of fact, many are sceptical about their application, since they think that nudging limits the set of possible choices, hence the freedom of choice. However, it was clearly explained how nudges actually leverage on behavioural biases that are common to most of us, without actually restricting the set of choices, so maintaining freedom. Notice though that this debate is currently going on and, if properly faced, it can be much more complex than how it was just presented. We proceeded understanding how the standard economic model does not fit and explain the actual functioning of the “real” world. In fact, we have behavioural biases that limit us; the most important categories of these systematic deviations are: bounded rationality, bounded will power and bounded self-interest. Briefly, bounded rationality refers to the fact that we have a limited cognitive capacity and therefore we cannot use in the best way possible all the information we receive: this violates the classical principle for which the more information we get, the better our choices will be. Bounded will power is the concept for which we always plan to do something (go to the gym, for example), but we always end up procrastinating, since we are not strong enough to impose to ourselves self-control. Finally, bounded self-interest is a way to say that individuals are not purely selfish, but they care about each other. Nudges leverage exactly on these limitations and possibly help individuals in reaching what they want. Drawing the conclusions of her intervention, professor D’Adda remarked how behavioural biases affect significantly resources consumption. As a matter of fact, consumption choices are frequently based on habits, they are sort of an automatic processes. The firm Amphiro started producing showers with a display that shows how many litres of water are consumed while taking the shower. This produces a remarkable reduction in the water consumption because it somehow resets the reference point for consumers: while before people did not have any clue on their water consumption, with the adoption of this device consumers perceive every litre as a loss and consequently they tend to consume less. Another example of nudge is the one of putting the default option of printers on front and back, with the consequence of reducing the usage of paper. People commonly do not change the default options and hence, with the adoption of this simple trick, they unconsciously save more paper.

Next, the two firms presented their goals and the way they exploit nudges to reach their environmentalist goals. Michele Martinotti (marketing manager) introduced Too Good To Go, a firm whose aim is to reduce food waste, one of the main causes of pollution in the world. Moreover, food waste is a social and economic issue. Practically, Too Good To Go is an app that allows to order unused food from restaurants and supermarkets. Their mission is to empower and inspire everyone to take action against food waste. The way the firm “nudges” people is by reframing the information set: in Denmark, the supermarkets will put the sentence “often good after” right next to the classical “best before” date. “Best before” does not mean that it has to be thrown away after that date; however, the use of that sentence gives a negative framing to the problem, highlighting the negativity of consuming the product after that date. Instead, by writing “often good after”, there is a positive framing of the problem, therefore underlining the importance of checking the product (that might be still good) before throwing it away. Next, the firm Patagonia, an outdoor clothing brand, was presented by Stefano Bassi (sales associate). The activist company is well-known for its social purpose; they claim “we’re in business to save our home planet”. The reputation of a trusted and honest business allowed the impressive growth of the company, that is now making the difference inside the industry (being a relevant part of it). The way they “nudge” people is through advertising the fact that buying their products means also contributing to a good cause: a clear example of this is the famous campaign “1% for the planet”. In this way, buying the product produces a higher degree of satisfaction on those who are concerned with environmental issues. In the end, the more people buy their product, the higher is the 1% contribution to the planet.

To sum up, behavioural biases influence our environmental decisions. Therefore, policies that incorporate behavioural insights through nudges can be effective in facing the environmental problem. However, as noted by the guests, there are still little incentives for firms to invest on the research of new helpful nudges. We will not see firms investing in lab experiments in order to understand what nudges to implement or which strategies might be useful for achieving their goals. The consequence is that the academic world and the business world are not as connected as they should be and therefore they cannot help each other. Trying to solve this lack of connection might be useful in order to make easier the challenge that we face daily: reducing waste and pollution and saving the environment.

Nudge of the Month

Nudging art lovers to contribute to the cultural economy

By Giovanna Mazzeo Ortolani

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Recent events around the world show the potential damages to non-profit organizations or public institutions which face revenue uncertainties, usually due to funding cuts during economic slowdowns.

At the beginning of September, a fire burned down Brazil’s National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, a 200-year-old institution whose collection used to contain, among other preciosities, the oldest human fossil ever found in the country. Not only was its repository lost, but also a part of Brazil’s memories and national identity. The main explanation behind the accident is that the institution did not have a protection against fires due to consecutive cuts in its budgets, despite the billions of reals funneled towards the 2014 World Cup and 2015 Olympics. Although this is an ultimate consequence of restrained budgets, there is a common understanding that culture and arts are not perceived as top priorities in national investment. What can be done to remediate this?

Private donations are a common supplementary source of revenues to exhibitions, but the search for donors is a pursuit on its own. One possibility is to explore the psychological characteristics of prospective donors. For instance, nudges can be used to induce loss aversion through a hypothetical scenario of missing existing exhibitions instead of emphasizing the possibility of attending additional ones.

The maximization of private donations is challenging and has been approached by different researchers. Kotler and Scheff (1997) believe that factors influencing market segmentation are fundamental to effectively reach potential donors (e.g. differing their interests, attitudes and motivation). Bennett (2003) emphasizes the importance of a connection between donors’ personal values and those of the organization in order to stimulate willingness to donate, while Guest (2002) remarks the influence of emotional response or aesthetic appeal for arts organizations.

Lee, Fraser and Fillis (2017) investigate how it is possible to nudge visitors of a major visual arts gallery in Scotland to increase private donations to a specific exhibition. Using a contingent valuation method to estimate the value attributed to art by individuals, the authors assume that loss aversion affects willingness to donate. Three different scenarios are proposed to individuals, who have to precise how much they would like to donate under each case, i.e. a voluntary price discrimination on donations:

  1. Unframed: assesses the current utility position of visitors (control group)

Q: “This exhibition is the only exhibition showcasing the artworks of Scotland’s emerging talent. Supposing that the gallery was raising funds for the exhibition, how much would you be willing to donate?”

  1. Gain-framed: elicits visitors’ willingness to donate so as to enjoy an additional similar event (first treatment group)

Q: “Supposing that the gallery is raising funds to provide another platform similar to the exhibition for emerging artists within Scotland, how much would you be willing to donate?”

  1. Loss-framed (second treatment group)

Q: “Supposing that the gallery was in a position where it had to discontinue the exhibition because of financial constraints, how much would you be willing to donate in order for the gallery to be able to continue with the exhibition?”

They found that non-frequent gallery-goers allocated to the gain-framed scenario are willing to donate more than those allocated to the unframed scenario. However, frequent gallery-goers are more prone to donate under the loss-framed scenario, as the social value attributed to the exposition experience is significantly correlated with their willingness to donate.

Therefore, there is a potential to nudge art lovers to contribute with private donations to stimulate the cultural economy. Alternatively, other strategies have also been proven effective to increase charitable giving, such as drawing on peer effects (as presented in this NOTM article), default options to increase membership levels, and personalized messages to communicate with future donors.



Behavioural Insights Team (2010). Applying behavioural insights to charitable giving.

Bennett, R. (2003). Factors underlying the inclination to donate to particular types of charity. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 8, 12-29.

Guest, S. (2002). The value of art. Art, Antiquity and Law, 7, 305-316.

Kotler, P. & Scheff, J. (1997). Standing room only: Strategies for marketing the performing arts. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Lee, Boram, Ian Fraser and Ian Fillis (2017). Nudging Art Lovers to Donate. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 46(4): 837-858.

Thompson, E., Berger, M., Blomquist, G. & Allen, S. (2002). Valuing the arts: a contingent valuation approach. Journal of Cultural Economics, 26, 87-113.

Nudge of the Month

Do not bite off more than you can chew

By Martina Barjaková


Have you ever been on holidays in a 4- or 5-star hotel, with an all inclusive buffet? Do you remember the huge variety (and amounts) of food served there? It was probably very hard to choose from. So it may have happened that you wanted to try a bit of so many things that you ended up with a table full of food that you could never finish. And of course, the rest of your dinner ended up in a trash bin.

This is not an unrealistic scenario. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, one third of the food (corresponding to roughly 1.3 billion tonnes!) produced each year gets wasted. Only with the food wasted yearly in Europe, 200 million people could be fed. On the individual level, each person in Europe or North America wastes 95-115 kg of food per year.

Hopefully these figures are enough to say that we (humanity) have a huge problem here that we should really try to solve. And as usually happens to be the case in our (B.BIAS) articles, we argue that behavioural science may help also with this issue. Often, our eating habits are quite automatic and therefore could be changed with some clever nudges.

Taking less food in buffet restaurants/canteens

As the example at the beginning of the article illustrates, many times we waste food by taking too much of it. We eat with our eyes first.

A study conducted in more than 50 hotels in Scandinavia tried a simple nudge – telling people in a salient way that instead of taking a lot of food at once, they can visit the buffet as many times as they wish. This resulted in 20 % drop in the food wasted.

1_4yVLJUmI8Mw1d6cn-9vyXgThe same study tried another approach – simply decreasing the plate size – and found that reduction of the size of 1 cm resulted in 2.5 kg reduction in food waste (over 7 %). Another team of researchers tried this strategy with a sample of businessmen in Denmark and also found a significant result – 3 cm reduction in plate size led to 26 % reduction in food waste.

Another strategy, this time created by one of the winning teams of the Nudge Challenge 2017 (a student contest organised by Nudge France), used salience to inform people about how much food is being thrown away in the school canteen. They put up posters around the canteen saying how many kg of food (and how many entire meals) were wasted the previous day. This led to a decrease of more than 40 % in food wasted in just two days.

Taking food home from restaurants

Sometimes it is not up to us to choose the amount of food to be eaten, e.g. when we eat out in restaurants. Can something be done to reduce food waste in such settings?

Probably the best option is to pack the remaining food for guests to eat at home. However, in many countries asking for a “foodie bag” (doggy bag) is not the norm and people may not feel comfortable doing it.

Il-nudge-contro-lo-spreco-alimentare-la-psicologia-al-servizio-del-benessere-sociale-IMM-1.jpgNudge Italia came up with a nudge to make taking food home a default. In front of each diner in a pizzeria, they put a poker-like token, coloured green on the top and red on the bottom. On each table, there was a leaflet with the caption “I DON´T WASTE” (“#IONONSPRECO” in original) explaining the meaning of the token – turned on the green side it means the remaining food will be automatically packed to be taken home. In case one does not wish to get the doggy bag, they need to turn the token to the red side. And the result? Normally only around 40 % of customers would request the doggy bag, while after the implementation of the nudge, it was 85 % of diners.

A similar idea has been tested in a restaurant in Thessaloniki by the Nudge Unit Greece, though they used only flyers distributed on the tables, raising awareness about the food waste and making salient the availability of the foodie bags. This strategy produced a 10 % increase in the demand of these bags.

Buying less food in supermarkets – something we should think about as well

It would probably be unfair to blame only restaurants, hotels or canteens for all the food waste produced. Households may also contribute to it, by buying more food than can be consumed before it gets rotten or past the expiry date.

However, this seems to be an issue that behavioural science has not tried to solve yet. Can you think of any ways of nudging people to make better (in terms of quantity) food purchasing decisions? Let us know in the comments, we will be happy to discuss with you!


Nudge of the Month

We need to drink more! …Water

By Martina Barjaková

Summer has officially started in the northern hemisphere and with it, the eternal problem of people not drinking enough water has become urgent to solve once again.

We all know drinking water is important for our bodies. And yet, we often fail to drink enough of it. Not because we do not want to, we simply forget.

So, what to do with this problem? Can behavioural science also help in this setting and provide some useful tools to remind us to drink more?

One day I was at my grandma´s and saw a huge glass full of water on her table. She told me she would always fill it in the morning and try to finish it by the end of the day. She also told me that without having it on the table, she would just forget about drinking water. In other words, she invented a very simple nudge for herself. Many of you can probably relate to this problem and have come up with such simple ideas yourselves.

However, there exist many more sophisticated nudges that have been applied in various settings.

Smart bottles and other technologies


We live in a world full of new technologies. And yes, the technological development concerns also water bottles. Nowadays there are several companies that produce so called “smart bottles”, which are designed as to remind us to drink water. Companies like Briefcase or Hidrate Spark developed bottles with microchips built in the caps or with LEDs, which allow them to start beeping or glowing if they have not been opened for a certain amount of time and so work as a reminder to the user that it is time to drink.

But many producers go even further, producing bottles that can be connected to mobile apps or wearables, such as Fitbit or Apple Watch, to allow you to track your water consumption together with other measures. Examples of such bottles are H20Pal, Ozmo Active Smart Bottle or Hidrate Spark 2.0.

If you do not want to invest in a smart bottle, you can just buy a gadget, such as Ulla, to be stuck on your normal bottle and to give you glowing reminders to drink. Or you can simply install a mobile app, such as Hydro Coach, Daily Water or Waterlogged, which will remind you to drink and will monitor your water consumption.

Drinking water while drinking alcohol


Apart from drinking water in general, it is especially important to do so on a night out – in between alcoholic drinks. However, as was the case before, people often forget about this. The famous beer producer Heineken decided to design an intervention to solve this problem. During the campaign called “This one is on us” they would automatically provide a plastic cup together with their bottled beer and they would install beer-style taps in the bars, from which people could tap water in their cups for free. In this way, they made water drinking easier, more fun (arguing that everyone likes using the tap) and made the problem more salient in people´s minds. And Heineken was one of the winners of the Brands Nudging for Good 2017 contest thanks to this intervention!  

Drinking water as a public policy

Until now, we saw nudges that people can implement themselves and a nudge created by a private company. But drinking water is an issue tackled also by policy-makers, as they are interested in their citizens´ health and well-being as well.  waterfountainbottleIn Melbourne, Australia, the local authorities decided to install around 60 water fountains all around the city to make it easier for people to drink water when they are not at home. The placement of the fountains has been thought through carefully and they were installed in places with a high frequency of pedestrian traffic or in places where people usually do some physical activity.


To sum it up, it seems that behavioural science together with new technologies is making our lives easier once again. So, install your drinking app or buy a smart bottle and enjoy your summer without dehydration!


Nudge of the Month

Summer holidays are coming (but not for all of us)

By Francesco Amighetti and Beatrice Del Frate



June has come and, for the majority of college and university students, this means free time that can be spent with families and friends, while being on holidays without studying.

Nevertheless, some of them who failed or postponed exams may be worried about their upcoming outcomes, while others may be confused whether they are ready or not to begin university life after the college experience.

Different nudges have been developed with the aim of improving students’ grades and likelihood of applying to universities. All of them are principally based on text messages, a cost-effective instrument that allows schools and institutions to plan and implement interventions. Following, some examples of the different forms that such an easy nudge can take.

Motivational SMS

An experiment conducted by the Behavioural Insight Team (UK) showed that students receiving motivational text messages were more likely to pass exams (English and Maths in the example) than companions. Students nominated a “study supporter” (e.g. a family member) that rece

ived the text messages and was encouraged to send a motivational message to revise to the students. Results showed that both attendance and possibility to pass rose dramatically. This exemplifies the possibilities of leveraging the pressure in form of encouragement coming from families and friends to keep students motivated in their tasks.

Furthermore, in Middlesex Community College (CT) and similarly in Ohio University, SMS-based nudging is used to help incoming students to stay motivated and to clearly define their goal-setting strategy and the when and how for achieving their long term goals through a personalized system.

SMS for social norms

Text messages have the power to leverage on social norms and to diffuse good behaviours that should be shared all across the students’ community. First-generation students can be helped appreciating the increased level of independence, the possibility of working in teams and of sharing passions and experiences with other students, feeling engaged in the community and reducing the feeling of loneliness, or reducing the fear of going to talk to professors and tutors (e.g “Most students who visit the tutoring center earn As and Bs. Will you commit to visiting this week?”)

SMS to reduce dropouts

Studies suggest that about 20% to 30% of low-income students in urban districts admitted to educational institutes decided not to enrol. 


SMS may help to connect the intentions of these students to their actions: texts may remind about tasks that must be completed to be enrolled, and encourage to ask for assistance for more complex tasks (e.g. tuition payments). The intervention in Lawrence and Springfield, MA, showed an increase in the likelihood of enrolment of 10%.

Therefore, to whom is always concerned that the widespread use of smartphone is killing students abilities to study and learn, it is now possible to respond that, sometimes, even a single SMS can make a big difference for students to reach their goals.




Nudge of the Month

I want to save the planet…tomorrow!

By Francesco Amighetti and Beatrice Del Frate

The problem of climate change is one of the richest and most complex issues to hit communication channels nowadays: news regarding global warming, overpopulation, melting of glaciers, greenhouse effect, protection of endangered species, desertification, pollution in all its forms are heard on TV, newspapers, and social media on a daily basis.

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Together with climate change awareness, also the consciousness of the key role of human activities is growing: a survey conducted in April 2018 by the leading company for global market and opinion research Ipsos states that half of the Americans acknowledge the fact that humans themselves are causing this already well known climate change. Still, “most Americans are not willing to make changes to their personal behaviours to help limit climate change”, the survey further reveals. How come such a big contradiction exist in the human minds?

Actually, this phenomenon does not come as big news. The same failure in sticking to plans and good resolutions has already been investigated in contexts such as  gym attendance, savings, or voting. In psychological terms, it is possible to speak of an actual “intention-action gap”: a human inability to stick to good intentions that is both physiological and contextual. This happens mainly because, even with a good environmental awareness, most of our anti-ecological habits are very ingrained and difficult to change from a rational perspective.  

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Of course, it is here that green nudges can intervene. According to a report from COWI A/S (an engineering and environmental science Danish consulting firm), green nudges can be classified into four different categories: provision of information, changes in the physical environment, changes in the default option, social norms and regular feedback. Some examples of how these different kinds of nudge work follow.

  1. Provision of information

According to the EU legislation, consumers should be able to choose between electrical appliances in the most transparent way possible: that’s why today energy labels report energy use in kWh per year. Despite this intervention, few of us really know what it means in monetary terms, and how this will impact on our bills. With this in mind, in 2014, the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change in partnership with the Behavioural Insights Team and John Lewis conducted a field study. They came up with the expected results: providing information on the electricity lifetime running costs of a certain electrical appliance, consumers are unconsciously driven to buy more energy-efficient appliances.

  1. Changing the physical environment

In many areas of Africa, drinking water without having previously purified it is a dangerous behaviour that can have serious consequences, as water-borne diseases create health issues for local populations and can be sometimes lethal. In Kibera (Kenya), researchers were not able to understand why the demand for the chlorine solution used for purification was so low, even if discount coupons were offered to incentivize its consumption. In reality, villagers had to walk every day to water sources, and were expected to do an extra trip to the nearest shop to buy the chlorine solution. As people prefer to save energy, very few of them were willing to do the extra effort. Only positioning chlorine solution containers next to the water source, researchers were able to change the behavior of locals and of their neighbours.

  1. Default options

In most of our previous articles we have discussed the power of default options. This is probably the most powerful nudge intervention. Examples include setting printers to print double-sided by default, sending to customers mails instead of paper bills or providing to the new ones green energy plans as a default option. One case that has been analysed extensively is the impact of the default option as a way to reduce meat consumption. Meat is considered one of the main causes of food-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and reducing it from our meals is a great way to mitigate its production effects. Researchers tried, for instance, to influence food choice in campus dining halls presenting a meat-free menu as default. Results showed that this intervention significantly increased the probability for students to choose a meat-free meal option, facilitating pro-environmental behaviours.

  1. Social norms and regular feedback

Social norms can be considered the accepted guidelines of behavior of social groups, and can be leveraged in a smart way to arrange effective nudges. In this way, it is possible to spread pro-environmental social norms and unconsciously influence behaviour on a large scale. The main example can be found once again in the realm of energy bills. In two studies, approximately 200,000 households received periodic peer feedback reports on consumption. Every household was compared to the average consumption of similar households  in terms of family dimension and location, and was provided targeted energy efficiency advice to achieve “the average”. This system is shown to produce significant results, and it can be easily scalable through e-mails or social media. Nevertheless, it presents also weaknesses: below-average consumers may increase energy consumption causing a boomerang effect of the intervention. Targeting directly only the above-average consumers can prevent this.


In conclusion, it is clear that the intention-action gap in the context of eco-friendly behaviour is a complex issue that should be tackled, in the best of all possible worlds, with greater political campaigns for sensibilization and with greater information and data about how best to behave. However, it is exactly in contexts where things are not that easy that nudge interventions work best.






Nudge of the Month

Nudging can be a child’s play…but it’s not!


A (funny) reflection on the nature of nudging

By Francesco Amighetti and Beatrice Del Frate


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Nudge interventions take several forms. Sometimes they can be very sophisticated and relying on long and complex empirical studies, sometimes they can be very nice, funny, and easy to implement. Among the nudges of this second kind, it is often possible to find nudges that ultimately look like little games to play. In fact, one example comes from one of the first and most famous nudge interventions to be known: ever heard of the so-called “urinal fly”?

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The urinal fly, as can be easily guessed, is a fly-resembling sticker that was introduced into men’s urinal bathrooms in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport in the early 1990s as an incentive for users to aim at it. Looks like a game, right? A very simple game that was actually very effective in reducing spillage on the bathroom’s floor by as far as 80%! The effectiveness and simplicity of the intervention opened the door for the imitation and multiplication of similar interventions that actually looked like games that made it funny and engaging to do boring actions.

Among these, we can find more sophisticated versions of the urinal fly, such as the “urinal football goal” or the “bin basketball hoop”.unnamed (3)

Moreover, an object that was extremely subject to redesigns is the alarm clock, that began to become “smart”. What smart clocks do is easy: they play with cognitive biases to force you out of the bed. The first smart clock to be released was “Clocky”, the clock that runs away until you catch it and turn it off, soon followed by clocks designed to look like sport balls, that need to be thrown away to be turned off. In these cases, the clock works as a nudge because it gives an external environmental help to lazy people for battling with their weak self-control (of which people are aware, but cannot help to improve, especially in the morning). Many other clocks, however, go even further, doing the most annoying things to force you to wake up: even burning a dollar or donating to your least favorite charity if you don’t turn it off in time, therefore playing with the human loss aversion bias in a very exquisite way!


Given the examples of funny nudges just cited (and the list could go on even more), it is almost too easy to think about another trend that is very popular nowadays: gamification

In fact, when in need of a vast and fast behaviour change, nudging is not the only strategy available on the market: on the contrary, gamification is another intriguing strategy that is mostly used in marketing and business companies to interact with consumers and, possibly, make them feel engaged with the products or services offered by the brand. But what exactly is gamification? The gamification phenomenon can be defined as “the use of game mechanics and game design techniques in non-gaming context” and, as such, gamification is – exactly as nudging – a powerful tool to drive and direct behaviour change.


However, even if funny nudges seem to have so much in common with the gamification phenomenon, a consistent difference does exist between nudging and gamification. To disentangle them, it can be useful to remember one of the most commonly accepted definitions of nudge, as told by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein in their book “Nudge. Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness” (2008): “A nudge, as we will use the term, is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.” On the other hand, gamification relies, as said, on gaming mechanisms, which inherently consist in positive incentives such as rewarding the player with additional points, in-game rewards, the pleasure of reaching defined goals and the amusement of playing itself (let’s not forget that dopamine is the greatest reward for our brain!). In this way, gamification works by associating a positive behaviour with a positive reward – as a classical conditioning mechanism – and results in a motivation of the consumer driven by the promise of an external reward. From here, it is clear that the main difference between gamification and nudging relies in the concept of incentive or reward: gamification does exclusively revolve around the principle of the reward (even if it is not a purely economical one), whereas what nudging does, instead, is rearranging the environment around us exploiting human cognitive bases, to simplify decisions in a way to induce towards them without external incentives. To make this difference even clearer, here are some examples of gamification interventions that are essentially different from the funny nudges described before.

Recyclebankunnamed-1.png: a website app that uses gamification techniques (e.g. point, challenges, rewards, leader boards) to encourage sustainable behaviour like recycling, choosing greener products, pledging to take shorter showers, etc. The result of this campaign was a 16% increase of recycling in Philadelphia.

unnamed-8.jpgMobike: a Chinese company and the biggest Bike sharing platform available in the market that has developed a gamification system to ensure the respect of civil rules by all the users, in order to tackle the issue of thefts and vandalism – which is unfortunatelyvery common in Italy. Every account is linked with a score that can increase or decrease according to the behaviour of the cyclist (parking in appropriate areas, vandalism, signaling damaged bikes…), and that in the future will be linked with the tariff of the single user. To ensure appropriate parking behaviour, the app provides a map suggesting where to park your bike and hence helping you get additional points.

unnamedFitbit: a company that produces a series of wearable smartwatches designed to change lifestyle behaviours. These smartwatches can be considered the result of what can be summed up as “the gamification of healthcare”, an increasing trend especially in countries where obesity and the risk to develop diabetes are high. The system is aimed at making people feeling more engaged in their attempts to feel better and healthier. The software, designed to be attractive, motivates you through daily health goals that, when achieved, unlock points that can be used to get shopping discounts or even money!

In conclusion, we cannot deny that in few years both nudge and gamification applications have spread across any aspect of life going in similar directions. However, while certainly hoping that they can continue working in parallel or in synergy (with potentially interesting outcomes!), it is also equally important to always keep in mind that, however similar, they are two different strategies that work with very different cognitive mechanisms.



R. H. Thaler, C. R. Sunstein (2008), Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness, Penguin Books.