Nudge of the Month

“Are You A Voter?”

By Francesco Amighetti and Beatrice Del Frate

Few political and social occasions have been needing and taking advantage of behavioural insights as much as the period preceding political elections and the moment of the vote itself.

28722350_10215636544330017_1689889187_nIn fact, nowadays, two major problems obstruct the correct and useful functioning of the democratic ritual that voting represents: on the one hand, the constant lowering of voters’ turnout that modern democracy is currently facing, and, on the other hand, the ambiguity of the formulation of questions and answers on the actual voting ballot, which only leads citizens to get confused about how they should vote. The applications of nudges during political elections have been numerous and widespread in the last few years and to give an idea of the immense power that behavioural interventions can have in this field, the following paragraphs will propose a comparison between a disastrous case that was caused by poor application of behavioral insights versus some clever and winning examples of it.

American elections (horror) story: the case of 2000

In 2000, candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore were running for the U.S. presidential elections. At that time, in Palm Beach County (Florida), it was common practice to adopt a punch card voting system: voters just had to punch the ballot to select their favourite candidate. Unfortunately, the so called “butterfly” ballot was so wrongly designed that more than 2000 Democratic voters confused the democratic candidate Al Gore with the Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan. What has gone wrong?

Many voters said they had expected Gore and Bush to be the first two choices, and – since people usually tend to limit their cognitive effort – they also never scanned the names in the right-side column to check their assumption: as a consequence, they automatically punched the second hole instead of the third. As predictable, Pat Buchanan recorded in Palm Beach 3,407 votes (where only 371 were statistically predicted), and George W. Bush got enough votes to win in Florida with a 537-vote margin.

palmballot

As we know from nudge literature, a certain design has the power to influence behaviour of people, and, in this case, it ignored voters’ status quo bias: a cognitive mechanism that makes us stick to the first decision or assumption made to avoid supplementary cognitive work. A better design should therefore have reduced the cognitive work involved in understanding where the first two candidates were listed. Unfortunately, ballot design change is a complex matter that still causes concern today: in his research, Lawrence Norden stated that in the 2008’s and 2010’s general elections more than 400,000 voters had their ballots annulled for mistakes. This happens because improvements are slow due to bureaucracy, and best practices tend to be implemented too late.

However, different solutions do exist. In particular, policy-makers should aim at the adoption of a more user-friendly layout of paper ballots, designing them to avoid any kind of bias through clearly stated instructions and distinct colour patterns (moreover, showing facsimiles to instruct voters beforehands can always be a good idea). Similarly, in the case of use of electronic systems, it could be useful to assess the efficacy of the interface through the now common usability tests.

 

American elections (behavioural) story: the case of 2008 and 2012

2008-10-11-BarackisHope-thumbWhereas in the previous cases it was possible to notice an evident absence of behavioural consciousness in the policy-makers, America also provides a virtuous example of application of behavioural insights. In fact, with Barack Obama something began to change: he was one of the first American presidents who made explicit use of behavioural insights to his advantage. Recruiting an actual team of behavioural scientists to sustain and guide his political campaigns, he eventually managed to beat his Republican opponents both in 2008 and 2012.
So, what did this behavioural insights team find and how did it help Obama win?

The strategy of behavioural scientists David Nickerson and Todd Rogers – from University of Notre Dame and Harvard Kennedy School respectively – was to focus on monitoring what can be called people’s “behavioural journey” towards the vote. They studied which cognitive biases can arise when people have to face a future vote. What they found is that people don’t only struggle to make a decision about who to vote for, but they often also fail to plan how to vote, finding themselves trapped in procrastination, laziness, and confusion about where to go and what exactly to do on the crucial day.

Therefore, to understand how to nudge people to actually go out and cast that vote, the two scientists conducted a randomized control trial on 278.000 eligible voters of Pennsylvania during 2008’s elections, dividing the subjects into three groups: one control, one receiving the standard phone call reciting the protocol “get out the vote” message, and a third experimental group that, after the standard message, was also asked practical questions about what time they were going to vote, where they were coming from, and what they would be doing before voting. The results showed an increase in the turnouts of about 9% from people in the third group, showing that when people are nudged to make up a specific plan, it is then easier for them to stick with it. A simple but effective application of this principle therefore consists in giving practical information about the modalities of vote as much as possible.

o1Moreover, another interesting study was led during the same period by social psychologist Christopher J. Bryan and his colleagues from Stanford University. Before the same 2008’s elections, they sent out an online survey divided into two target groups: one asking people whether or not they thought it was important for them “to vote”, the other one asking whether it was important for them to “be a voter”. Not only they received answers to the survey from 87% of the people in the second group versus the 55% of the first, but they also found – in a follow-up study – that 96% of the people in the second group actually voted, against 82% of people from the first group. What this study clearly shows goes beyond a simple framing effect (the cognitive bias that makes us perceive the same thing differently based on how it is framed or formulated), pointing to the interesting conclusion that people respond better to a call to action when they are appealed and motivated by the idea that they are shown about themselves doing that action, rather than by the idea of the action per se: a phenomenon called personal-identity phrasing. Again, this useful insight was used during Obama’s campaign by addressing the potential voters in a way to remark their identity as a voter, powerfully triggering the need to reaffirm that identity once more.   

In conclusion, the presented examples showed how behavioural insights (and sometimes their absence) can have massive impacts in the context of political elections: a context where the ability to drive the behaviour of considerable numbers of citizens is of crucial importance. Therefore, it is important to recognize how this power can be exploited for political purposes and that it might affect political results in desired or unexpected ways.

 

Sources:

www.asktog.com/columns/042ButterflyBallot.html

www.jstor.org/stable/3117714?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

edition.cnn.com/2001/ALLPOLITICS/03/11/palmbeach.recount/

www.stat.unc.edu/postscript/rs/pap4.pdf

www.brennancenter.org/publication/better-design-better-elections

www.behavioraleconomics.com/mini-encyclopedia-of-be/status-quo-bias/

www.marketingsociety.com/the-library/obamas-team-nudged-voters#yL7DYUbitWl6ZPRk.97

inudgeyou.com/en/voting-behavior-nudging-citizens-to-the-polls/

 

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Nudge of the Month

Good Resolutions and How to Keep Them

By Beatrice Del Frate and Francesco Amighetti

Christmas holidays represent a good moment to spend time with family and friends and to escape from routine. After majestic meals and never-ending celebrations, the onset of the new year is always accompanied by a list of desires, very likely the ones we had the previous year. Probably one of the most common wishes is to finally obtain that so much desired beach-body.

Obviously, immediate solutions might be to have a gym membership or to go to the swimming pool. Nevertheless, if you are starting from a period of prolonged inactivity, it may be better for you to begin with smaller steps…literally! A common suggestion for maintaining resolutions is to decompose bigger goals into smaller sets of sub-goals that are easier to achieve. To maintain the goal of becoming more active in the next year (and hopefully lose weight in the process), it may be helpful to keep in mind that there are also smaller and simpler gestures that can have a huge physical impact in the long run: this is the case of taking stairs whenever there is the chance.

Jan1

Luckily for us, nudges can help do this without much thinking. Stairs nudging is one of the most famous nudge cases: it is simple to implement and monitor and it has a high degree of effectiveness. Principally, stairs are made more attractive through bright colours and visual signals, and/or through motivational quotes and messages (like the calories burned for each step). Here are some creative and smart examples.

Catching the underground?

Redesigning of stairs in metro station is one of the most common and fun ways to implement this kind of nudge, usually done by city associations or temporary sponsors.

For example, in Lyon, in 2016, Pep’s association monitored a  350% increase in the number of stairs users simply by making metro station stairs more captivating. They used a colourful floral design and a simple but clear message: “Your good health is at the end of this staircase”. Furthermore, what they experienced is that people reported a higher intention to take the stairs again if confronted with the same choice in the future.

Jan2

During the same year in Hamburg the stairs of the metro station have been painted like an athletics red track, in order to publicize the Hamburg 2024 Marathon and consequently to incentivize the use of the stairs by travellers. Unfortunately, in this case no data have been collected, but given results from previous studies, it is likely to have been effective.

Jan3

 

Or catching a flight?

A very recent study conducted by Dr. J. Bellettiere and colleagues, published in December 2017, tested the effectiveness of stair nudges in a different context: San Diego International Airport.

For 22 days, the team introduced five signs with different messages at the starting point of the stairs and the escalators. The messages were the following: “Please reserve the escalator for those who need it.”, “Don’t lose time, lose weight. Use the Stairs.”, “Don’t waste Time, trim your Waistline. Use the Stairs.”, “You’ll get more stares if you use the stairs.”, and “If you want to feel younger, act younger. Step it up! Use the stairs.”. The messages were alternated for ten days, and between each a “no sign day” was added as control. Moreover, the subjects were stopped and asked to fill in a survey about their physical habits.

Jan4

The results showed that the signs doubled the number of people that decided to take the stairs (despite carrying luggage!). These included not only regular exercisers but also non-regular exercisers and – most importantly – non-exercisers.

These results taken together emphasize the efficacy of motivational signs in nudging people by reminding them their core values and goals.  

Sources:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/nudge-stairs-experiment-urban-design-lyon-subway-nicolas-fieulaine/

http://www.filedier.nl/ov/via-de-atletiekbaan-naar-de-metro/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/changepower/201711/take-the-stairs-in-busy-airport-you-will-if-you-see

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10935-017-0491-6

Nudge of the Month

Espresso…What else?

Just start with few questions for coffee-addicted people: how many coffees do you take per day and how much sugar do you usually consume per coffee?

We all know that the world divides into two types of people: those who like their coffee natural, and those who like it sweet (sometimes very sweet).

Coffee

If you happen to be in the second group, we have bad news for you. According to the WHO, sugar is one of the major causes of several diseases, especially obesity. Given that the limit of sugar that an adult male can ingest is about 50g per day (7-10 teaspoons of sugar), charging your coffee with extra sugar may not be the best choice for your health, especially if you drink more than simply one or two coffees per day.

Changing habits is easier in words than in action, but there is also good news for all sweet coffee lovers: several kinds of nudges have been developed to address the issue, and have the potential to find further applications in the food sector, for our health’s sake. Here are two simple but effective examples.

 

Do you like to take your coffee at the cafeteria?

Coffee2

Have you ever realised that every time you go to the cafeteria taking a coffee, a tea or a cappuccino, automatically you accompany it with one or two sugar bags?

A study conducted in Italy has investigated whether coffee consumers are aware of how much sugar they consume each time they take a break.

The behaviour of two groups of people has been monitored for 6 days – each one before and after reducing the weight of sugar in each packet from 7g to 4g. The research has shown that the reduction in sugar consumed per client is statistically significant.

This means that reducing the weight of sugar does not affect the number of packets clients take, as people tend to pick up a fixed number of packets out of habit.

Or are you just looking for a quick break?

Coffee3

Most of the times, busy students and workers prefer to just grab a coffee at the nearest vending machine. In this case, how often do they actually pay attention to choosing the amount of sugar?

Assuming that students do not change the default amount of sugar that is set by the machine (e.g. leaving the selection to 3 out of 5 units of sugar), a first simple way to reduce sugar consumption may be reducing the default level of sugar from 3 to 2. In this way, increasing sugar would be an active choice, that is likely not to happen. In fact, behavioural scientists have largely shown that people generally have a bias for maintaining the status quo.

A nudge has been hypothesized by Albert Gascon, a participant in a Nudge Competition on edx.org.
It consists of two intelligent strategies tested in a single nudge intervention.

Firstly, the choice of sugar may be put before the choice of the drink; secondly, instead of reporting “more sugar” and “less sugar”, the extremes of the scale may report the options “healthier” and “less healthy”. In this way, consumers are induced to pay more attention to their choice – instead of relying upon the default option – and are nudged towards a better choice through highlighting the consequences of their choices, that are too often not taken into consideration.

 

Sources:

State of mind http://www.stateofmind.it/2017/11/nudge-quantita-zucchero-caffe/

Albert Gascon http://albertgascon.com/behavioral-economics-in-action-be101x-nudge-challenge/

Nudge of the Month

A little encouragement goes a long way

When we think about improving student performance, we usually think of major changes in the education system, improving infrastructure, hiring more qualified teachers, etc. All of which are important of course, but could we be missing something? Perhaps something less costly and easier to implement?

Having someone that supports you in your activities is important. There may be times when you feel demotivated, and you just need someone to be there and check on you.

This is exactly the idea that has been used by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) in the new UK in their new trial in the context of education. They looked at students who, at the age of 16, had failed Maths and English exams.

Such students were asked to choose their own “study supporter” (e.g. a friend or a relative) –who was supposed to send them text messages encouraging them to study or revise for the upcoming exams.

Could this really make such a difference, you may ask?

The answer seems to be an unambiguous YES. Students were 27% more likely to pass the exams. It seems like knowing that someone cared about their results helped them find the motivation to work harder!  

 

Source: Forbes article.

Nudge of the Month

Challenging the Broken-Window theory

How can we prevent individuals from urinating in open areas?

In the Nudge TV show “The Power of Habit”, Sille Krukow, a behavioural expert based in Denmark, designed a nudge to help the Copenhagen Central Station. The problem they were faced with was that many men would urinate in hidden corners outside the building, despite the close location of public (and clean) toilets.

Cleaning.png

Staff has to clean the area several times a day

According to Ms. Krukow, this phenomenon can be explained by the broken-window theory of policing (Wilson and Kelling, 1982). When individuals observe others misbehaving, they tend to act in the same way, instead of doing the right thing.

The solution adopted in the show was to add a urinal to the area in question and stickers on the sidewalks signaling the direction and distance to the closest WC.

WC stickers.png

Implementation of the WC stickers

Urinal.png

Urinal installed in the most critical zone

Around 500 people had been observed urinating in two corners of the station during the week before the experiment. After the intervention, half of the people did the right thing, i.e. they instantly used the urinal, while the other half started  to urinate on the street, but changed their behaviour once they saw the urinal. This means that the cleaning staff and station customers were saved of 5,000 liters of urine a week!

To learn more about this nudge (and other experiments), you can find the episodes online here.

Nudge of the Month

Nudges and Social Norms

When are nudges most effective? A study by Pelle Guldborg Hansen, founder of the Danish Nudging Network, a non-profit organisation in Copenhagen, suggests that nudges may work only if they are in line with social norms. They tested two potential “social nudges” in partnership with the local government, both using symbols to try to influence choices:

In one trial, green arrows pointing to stairs were put next to railway-station escalators, in the hope of encouraging people to take the healthier option. This had almost no effect.

The other experiment had a series of green footprints leading to rubbish bins. These signs reduced littering by 46% during a controlled experiment in which wrapped sweets were handed out.

footprints

“There are no social norms about taking the stairs but there are about littering,” said Mr Hansen. Hence, perhaps existing social norms must be studied before designing a nudge!

Our Work

Nudges for a healthy lifestyle – Part II

In the article Nudges for a healthy lifestyle – Part I”, we talked about the nudges created by governments around the world related to improving people´s lifestyles.

If you wonder why governments care about lifestyles of their citizens, the reason is mainly money. Unhealthy diet, frequent consumption of addictive substances (mainly alcohol or tobacco), and lack of physical movement are all widespread and may lead to “non-communicable diseases”, such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. The governments have two possibilities – either encourage the change in lifestyles and decrease the occurrence of such diseases or pay for the cure. Obviously, prevention is a cheaper choice and in case of lifestyle issues, also feasible.

Moreover, if governments understand human behaviour, their attempts to change it will probably be more successful. That is why Behavioural Economics can be helpful in this domain.

Part I of this article was dedicated to the nudges related to food consumption. Part II will discuss nudges concerning tobacco and alcohol consumption and physical movement.

 

As for physical movement, there has been a very simple nudge trial conducted in the City of Melbourne in Australia. To encourage people to take the stairs instead of elevators in a train station building, the City of Melbourne had the stairs painted in a colourful and catchy way (see Picture 1). It may not seem like  a very strong nudge; why would anyone struggle on the painted stairs if they can see them also from the elevators? But it seems that the citizens of Melbourne did not think like this – according to a report by the Behavioural Insights Team (that collaborated on this trial), the usage of the stairs increased by 25% during off-peak times and by 140% in  peak times!

Stairway-art-Zest-Events-Southern-Cross-Station-Melbourne

Picture 1

Source: Zest Events

 

Moving to tobacco consumption, the nudges used around the world are quite uniform. There are two major manipulations that have been implemented.

1) The first one is plain packaging, whereby the tobacco producers cannot use the package as a marketing space and have to comply with rules for uniform font, size and colour of the text, as well as uniform package colour. The space previously used by companies is now dedicated to health warnings, both in words and in pictures (see Picture 2). The rationale behind such a policy is that it decreases the appeal of tobacco products and at the same time, gives more importance to the health warnings, which should deter people from smoking. It seems like a good idea at first glance, but when one thinks about it more, the following doubts arise. Firstly, there is a large amount of brand loyalty among smokers, so it is not probable that they will stop smoking only because of a change in design. Secondly, there is the optimism bias that goes against the effectiveness of health warnings. People usually overestimate the probability of positive things happening to them and underestimate the probability of the negative ones. Hence, when they see a health warning, they may simply think “it happens, but to the others, not me”.

Copy_right_Action_on_Smoking_and_Health_story

Picture 2

Source: WHO

2) The second widespread anti-smoking nudge-based policy is the tobacco display ban. In the countries where it has been introduced, tobacco products have to be displayed so as not to be visible to the customers in the shops (with the exception of specialised tobacco shops, of course). Again, such policy goes against marketing possibilities of tobacco producers and the hope is that it will decrease the amount of impulse purchases, which are frequent mostly among the young.

There are several papers trying to evaluate the impact of these two anti-smoking policies, but there is no clear conclusion to be drawn. It seems that smoking is a very complex issue and is cannot be easily solved by using only nudges. Another issue is that in many countries, these policies have been implemented only recently, so it is too early to know their impact. Anyway, even if the nudges are not the solution in this case, maybe they could still complement some other policies to make a real change.

The last lifestyle issue is alcohol consumption and there is a very nice example of the use of nudges in this domain. At the Northern Illinois University, a simple marketing campaign based on social norms (i.e. informing the students about how many drinks other students have when they party) was enough to decrease students´ binge drinking.

(If you want to know more about this particular policy, see the article A Social Norms Approach to Preventing Binge Drinking at Colleges and Universities.)

To conclude both articles about the nudges related to healthy lifestyles, I would like to say one thing. Clearly, nudges do not automatically solve all problems. But as long as they are low-cost and do not harm anyone (such as removing the salt shakers from restaurant tables or painting the stairs in a train station), I think they are worth trying, because even a small positive difference is a step forward towards a healthier life.

Nudge of the Month

Increasing charitable giving

How can we nudge people to donate to charities? There are many ways to do so, but we would like to share one in particular which is very simple and surprisingly powerful.

It seems that peer effects are an effective tool to change people’s behaviour. We want to do what people like us are doing. If teenagers have friends that smoke, they are very likely to start smoking themselves (and much more likely than if their parents smoke). The same holds for donations – if our colleagues donate, we would like to donate as well.

This is what has been tested by the UK´s Behavioural Insights Team in cooperation with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). The HMRC employees in Essex were sent postcards describing the donation efforts of their colleagues and encouraging them to do the same, to see if more people would start donating. However the experiment went even further (and this is where it gets interesting). One group of employees got postcards featuring a picture of the donor in addition to the above information (see Picture 1). An insignificant change, you may think, but 6.4 % of people signed up for the donation scheme in the latter condition, compared to 2.9 % in the no-picture condition.

Donations

Picture 1: Postcard featuring a photo of the donor

Source: The Behavioural Insights Team (2013)

If you want to know more about behavioural insights applied to charitable giving, see The Behavioural Insights Team (2010) and for a further discussion of peer effects (social norms), read Institute for Government & Cabinet Office (2010).

Nudge of the Month

Attractive names of meals for healthier diets of children

Carrots or French fries? Fruit salad or a chocolate bar? These are the dilemmas that children face when choosing their meals in school lunchrooms. From convincing them that veggies will give them superpowers to ominous threats of what will happen to their bodies if they don’t eat healthy, there are few options left unexplored on how to get kids to eat right.

Unsurprisingly, when all else fails, BE swoops in and saves the day. Discarding classical solutions such as information campaigns, it offers a much simpler alternative: make the healthy options more tempting.

How? By changing their names. Several research teams in the US have tried this strategy in various school canteens and they found that making the names “seductive”, catchy or funny can induce children to eat healthier.

choice
Decisions, decisions…

Source: Tes Global Ltd

Hence, instead of offering carrots as “vegetable of the day” or simply “carrots”, call them “X-ray vision carrots” or “twisted citrus-glazed carrots” and you will increase the probability that children will pick them!

For reference, see Wansink et al. (2012) and Turnwald et al. (2017).

Article Review

A Social Norms Approach to Preventing Binge Drinking at Colleges and Universities

Review of the paper by Michael P. Haines (1996)

It is well-known that increased alcohol consumption of young people is a persistent problem and college and university students are no exception.

The Northern Illinois University (NIU) came up with a solution that has since spread to other US universities and even high schools. It all started by conducting a survey about students´ drinking behaviour, which revealed the presence of a large knowledge gap. Most of the students thought that binge drinking was more widespread than it really was.

The Health Enhancement Services Office at NIU decided to take action – develop a campaign to correct the perceptions of the students. What is the logic behind this? It is the belief that people are sensitive to social norms and tend to behave in line with them. For example, we all know that when we ask for something, we should say “please” and “thank you”. We do it because it is a norm accepted in our society and everyone does so. There are several papers proving that perceptions about the drinking behaviour of other students are a strong predictor of the actual drinking behaviour, so norms are at work also in this case (for the reference, see Graham et al., 1991 or Prentice and Miller, 1993).

The organisers of the NIU campaign were very careful with the design, since they wanted to spread the message as much as possible. They chose the campus newspaper, widely read by the students, as their medium to publish the following very simple message: “Most NIU students (55 percent) drink five or fewer drinks when they party”. This message was repeated on flyers, posters and on any occasion the students were likely to hear it.

The NIU team also came up with incentives for students to pay attention to the message. Two students were hired to work as “Money Brothers” (inspired by the movie The Blues Brothers). They would ask students how many drinks most NIU students consume and give $1 to anyone who answered correctly.  They also created some posters and would give $5 to those students living in university dorms who were found to have it on the wall of their rooms during random checks.

It is clear that the NIU team really worked hard to make students notice the message. The result? After the first year, there was an 18 % reduction in perceived binge drinking and a 16 % reduction in real binge drinking. Obviously after such success, the campaign has been repeated in the following years and binge drinking decreased further.Graph

Source: Haines, M. P. (1996): A Social Norms Approach to Preventing Binge Drinking at Colleges and Universities

The take home message of this initiative is that social norms are powerful and capable of changing our behaviour. However, the message needs to be simple, truthful and most importantly, noticed by the target audience.

Since then, other universities and high schools applied the same technique to fight binge drinking of their students. Here are some of the campaign materials:

Sources: Social Norms Consultation & Nudge blog

How about you? Do you know how many drinks people from your university/company normally have?