Saturday, December 31, 2011

How to nudge your bartender to give you a bigger drink

By Katrine Lund Skov & Pelle Guldborg Hansen

Low on cash?
At the end of the month, when the money is low, we often find ourselves Friday night at a bar stuck with the problem of maximizing fun (read: alcohol) at the lowest cost. To many this means ordering cheap brands, but here’s how to nudge your bartender to fill the glass more than he intends so you can stick with the good stuff.


In the book Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, Wansink explains how the shape of glasses has an effect on just how much people pour into them. As it turns out, people pour 20 to 30% more fluid into a glass when it is short and wide rather than tall and slender.

If you have problems believing this, then you might want to read up on Wansink’s study.

In this Wansink asked 45 bartenders pour up 40-ml. of liquor into various types of glasses. While some of the bartenders were men, some women, some young, some old, some working at expensive restaurants serving Dom Pérignon, others working at places usually serving tequila shots, they all had at least 5 years of experience. While the bartenders didn’t have much of a problem when the glasses were tall and slender, none of them were able to pour the right amount of liquor into glasses when these were short and wide. Instead, they poured 37% too much up.

Thus, if you want to maximize the amount of liquor relative to cost, please ask your bartender to give you a wider, though shorter glass, instead of the regular tall and slender one. You might just end up with a bigger drink which ultimately will allow you to stick to the good stuff.

Low on calories?
Fortunately, this nudge can also be used the other way around. When serving expensive or high calorie drinks for yourself or for your dinner guests, give them tall and slender glasses. For water, use the short glasses.

How come a simple design can fool us?
If you take a look at the figure to the right, which line do you find longer?

The vertical one!

Nonetheless, this is not the case. Both lines have the exact same length. However, we automatically find the vertical line longer due to a visual illusion. This is also what happens when we, or even the experienced bartenders, are pouring up liquor. The tall and slender glasses appear smaller, than the low and wide glasses, why you can nudge a bartender, your guests or even yourself to drink more or less all depending upon your intentions.

P.s. One of us, Pelle, used to be a bartender for many years. He also makes the mistake. Still, as you probably have noticed most regular restaurants have adopted the standard counter nudge of using measuring cups and like instruments. More expensive restaurants, however, are still usually too proud to use such rude instruments for their fine liquors.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

How to Nudge your Xmas dinner even better

By Katrine Lund Skov & Pelle Guldborg Hansen

Recently we wrote about how the size of your plate affects how much you eat. But at Christmas people take eating a step further. In Denmark alone 50 – 100 people end up hospitalized because they eat too much.

In this post we continue in the food & Christmas section, and let you know, how to nudge your family to love the Xmas dinner even more – after all you have prepared this for several hours, or perhaps even days!

First of all you can put a lot of salt sugar and fats in the food. Our ancestors ate salt to prevent dehydration, fat helped them to fill up their calorie reserves for winter seasons and sugar helped them know the difference between sweet eatable berries, and sour poisonous berries (Wansink 2008:188). This has given humans an insatiable craving for these ingredients, which you can take advantage of. Though, if you want your family members to be able to walk around the Christmas tree you probably shouldn’t.

Confirmation bias at the X-mas dinner
Wansink's bestselling book
Instead use our plan B: Just tell them how delicious it’s going to be. Let them know it’s home cooked. How you have used special recipes. How creamy, juicy and delicious you have prepared it to be - use details to tell them exactly just how tasty your home cooked Christmas dinner will be.

At least this is what American nutrition professor Brian Wansink’s (1960) suggest as to how to turn the confirmation bias to our advantage: If we believe that the food we are about to eat will taste good, our taste buds can be preprogrammed.

To examine just how effective the confirmation bias is, Wansink sat up a test where 32 persons had to test the taste of a new strawberry yoghurt flavor. Wansink didn’t want the appearance of the yoghurt to have any influence on how well they liked it, why they ate it in a dark lab. 19 contestants told that it had a great strawberry taste, and one contestant even said it was her new favorite. There was just one twist to the test – it was not strawberry yoghurt, it was chocolate yoghurt. Just by telling the contestants it was strawberry yoghurt, their taste buds got preprogrammed and thereby told them so. Restaurants have used the trick of our confirmation bias for several years. Wansink calls this the magic of the menu card. Similarly, you can preprogram your guests to enjoy your Christmas dinner even more than they probably already would have merely by telling how delicious it is.

Merry X-mas from the iNudgeYou-team!

PS. Make the table decoration beautiful. Just by having a great mood setting atmosphere your family members will enjoy the whole arrangement even better, which also will effect their appreciation of the dinner.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Nudge - By Definition

By Pelle Guldborg Hansen & Andreas Maaløe Jespersen

Confusing confusion

"The definition of nudge is vague and more work should be done on clarifying this before we can consider..." 

"Nudging is basically about controlling incentives - penalties and rewards..."

These are just some of the remarks we are often confronted with - even by Academics, including people who sit on boards and committees who's function is to hand out money and thus invest and direct future research.

What is most disturbing about this, isn't that these remarks are plain wrong. Rather, it's that they seem to result from people confusing their own confusion with regard to some simple facts and concepts that may quite easily be checked.

Nudge - by definition
On page 6 in both the US and UK version of Thaler & Sunstein's Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth & Happiness (2008) it is written that:  
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. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid.
Now superficially, this may seem as a straight-forward definition liable for vagueness. However, what one has to remember, that this definition is coined against the background of behavioral economics. 

If you don't have the time or patience to sit down and work through the literature in this field, this is the rule of thumb: any intervention that would influence an unbounded, unrestricted rational agent, is not a nudge. Hence, a nudge does not invoke incentives - positive or negative.

At a more abstract level, a direct consequence of this is that 'a nudge' is defined as effecting a deviation from mathematically well-defined baseline models. Hence, saying that the definition of nudge is vague is straight-forwardly wrong.

A problem with the original definition   
However, the attentive reader will by now have discovered a flaw in Thaler & Sunstein's original definition (we think it is an unfortunate simplification). 

The payoff-functions of rational agents are affected by other things than mere economic variables. For instance, the expectation of cake, electric shock or social ostracism. Hence, restricting the definition to economic incentives seems wrong. For this reason we usually adopt the definition provided by Hausman & Welch (2010):
Nudges are ways of influencing choice without limiting the choice set or making alternatives appreciably more costly in terms of time, trouble, social sanctions, and so forth. They are called for because of flaws in individual decision-making, and they work by making use of those flaws. 
(Hausman & Welch 2010:126)
God and evil nudges
However, while Thaler & Sunstein as well as Hausman & Welch extends the notion of 'a nudge' to cover any attempt of influencing behavior - well- or ill-intended (in fact, Thaler & Sunstein's notion is even broader) - we suggest limiting the notion to only well-intended for several important conceptual reasons of conistency.*

Nudge - US paperback version 

Nudge US hardcover version
Nudge UK paperback version

This post draws on points from a forthcoming journal article of ours. Thus, if you intend to cite or use points from the above, please contact us.  

Monday, December 19, 2011

Nudge yourself to a healthier life: plate size

By Pelle Guldborg Hansen

This is a classic. Still, we thought that X-mas might just be the right occasion to write about Wansink's famous study of the effect that your plate's size has on your intake of calories.

Mindless eating
Brian Wansink is professor in consumer behavior and nutritional science. However, to most people outside of academia he is perhaps best known as the author of Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think (2006).

The multiple studies of food psychology and behavior reported by Wansink in Mindless eating carries a simple message: most of our eating behavior occurs through non-conscious processes and is thus also affected by cues, feats, and factors that we do not know about. In the language of Kahneman: most of our eating behavior is controlled by System 1.

Plate size
One of the features that affect how much we eat and hence also how many calories we consume is plate size. In a study carried out by Wansink and his team it was shown that moving from a 12-inch dinner plate to a 10-inch dinner plate leads people to serve and eat 22% less!*

Obviously, plate size shouldn't have any effect on an unconstrained and hyper-rational person. Such a person would have a plan as to how much to eat and know exactly how to carry this plan out to perfection.

Such ideal behavior is by no means unattainable. Heck, I once had great success monitoring my calorie intake through an electronic food diary called Madlog. The only problem was that my everyday life didn't allow be to give that much attention to closely monitor my intake. Weighing and measuring everything that I was eating throughout the day while doing my job and enjoying myself with my family turned out to be impossible. It just required too much effort and attention from system 2.

Consequently, as so many others, I need to find some simple and smart ways and heuristics to nudge myself to a healthier lifestyle... and when we can't manage to monitor the details of everything we eat, plate size does matter.

Why plate size matters
There are several causes to why the size of your plate matters. For one, the size of your plate effects the visual representation and following evaluation of how much food is on your plate.  

Of course, while this may cause you to put more food on your plate, it isn't sufficient for making you eat more. Unfortunately, your brain takes care of that - often even if you think about.

For one, food on a plate in front of you acts as a multi-level sensory cue for your brain to activate eating behavior and continue eating until you reach your physical limit. Behind this behavior lies the fact, that we didn't evolve at McDonalds, but in environments where scarcity of food was the fundamental human condition. Perhaps that explains why my Grand mom always says "eat while you can".   

Second, it takes a while before your stomach gets around sending that signal to your brain, that you're full. Some say that it takes as much as 15 minutes - and those 15 minutes can become very dangerous for your health.

Finally, there are social norms associated with leaving food on your plate. These might in turn be associated with norms of masculinity, politeness and norms of sustainability - it's masculine to eat much, it's not polite to leave food on the plate when you're a guest and it's just plain wrong to throw out food. All of these values enforce the norm of finishing your plate - especially when you think about it.

Do yourself a favor - nudge thyself
Now there is little chance that your brain or stomach will change. Further, the values coordinated through social norms may be to our liking and thus a matter of preference that it is not our job to judge or influence.

But fortunately, the size of our plates is under your control and thus you can nudge yourself. By simply finding some smaller plates you can affect the amount of food you eat. Also, you may do your guest a favor at the X-mas dinner - after all, it's unfortunate to kill your guests slowly by having norms of masculinity, politeness and sustainability finish them off.

Other blog entries on food and health:
How to grow your own nudge
Why nudging is better than the fat tax and other tools of the trade
A Nudge to walk around the Earth

Read more: 
Wansink, Brian (2006) Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. Bantam Books.

* "The Perils of Plate Size: Waist, Waste, and Wallet (2008), Brian Wansink and Koert van Ittersum, Journal of Marketing (the paper is not yet published, but it may be downloaded here). 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Nudging employees' behaviours

See the video here
By Pelle Guldborg Hansen

I just found this on Youtube and thought I would share it with all of you. The original content description is as follows:  

"On 23rd November 2011, Prof. Adrian Furnham (UCL) gave a talk to the guests of Mountainview Learning on how the Nudge theory can be used by HR professionals to increase employee motivation and engagement.

In the first part of this talk, Prof. Furnham discusses why Nudge is such an attractive concept and begins to explain how human decision-making process works."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nudge in business: mission impossible or win-win?

By Andreas Maaløe Jespersen & Pelle Guldborg Hansen

The nudge-doctrine is primarily developed as a strategy for creating smarter public solutions in health, economy and citizenship. But as the idea has evolved and disseminated, private companies and non-profit organizations have shown a keen interest in adopting nudge-like strategies as well. 

Credit to Xedos4
Businesses in the private market have a long history of using behavioral strategies when engaging with their customers, and they definitely have a lead on the public institutions when it comes to knowledge about their customers behavior and how to affect it. 

In the private market this has traditionally been referred to as marketing strategies, and it covers everything from fancy "buy one get one for free" offers to the supermarket's space-management that always makes us buy more than we thought we needed. 

At just a quick glance marketing and nudge could easily be confused as being the same thing - they both shape behavior by adjusting the context in which we choose or our perception thereof, and they both aim at actual behavior change rather than just information change. But in fact, there is especially one key factor that separates nudging from marketing, and prompts the question “is nudge really a viable strategy for businesses?” 

The key to unlocking the answer is found in the observation that in traditional marketing, there is no real need for the concept 'nudge'.

This crucial element for this difference is that a nudge by definition aims at making people better of: according to their own reflected judgment. This means, that when we nudge people, we have to make certain that we nudge them in a direction they themselves would have taken if they had thought things through and following had unlimited energy to constantly monitor their preferences, without restricting those who reach different conclusions than then one nudged for. 

Credit to Xedos4
Marketing usually aims at increasing profits, and usually does this without considering what people would actually prefer if given the time to think things through. As a result increasing profits often make people worse off according to their own judgment. No one thinks that leaving a supermarket having spend 30 pct more than they initially planned actually leaves better them off (especially not when the 30 pct is spend on items that will also ruin their desire to loose weight), and who is really satisfied by watching money disappear every month for a fitness subscription they no longer use?

Of course, when it has already happened, we are rarely willing as consumers to admit our own failure, and to resolve the resulting cognitive dissonance we come up with reasons that rationalize our actions to save our self-image as rational and responsible decision makers.  

The difference between nudge and marketing comes down to which end we aim to satisfy - the customer's or the business? Unsurprisingly these elements are not as incompatible as they initially seem - take a company like Apple - who have made a hefty profit of supplying their customers with gadgets that are user friendly and intuitive, or a company like Amazon how have revolutionized customer service from something that used to be painful and slow to a pleasant hassle free process.

In fact, a hall-mark of paying proper attention to the nudge-doctrine and getting acquainted with insights from behavioral economics, cognitive psychology and marketing is that it open up new alleys for identifying win-win strategies in the interaction between marketing and consumer welfare. Why not sell more mineral water instead of more softdrinks? And why not sell more whole wheat bread instead of bad white toast bread?   

If businesses are serious about nudge - we hope that the future will bring supermarkets that make you healthier by default, fitness subscriptions that automatically goes on time-out when you're not using them and plane tickets that actually state the full costs before you buy them - only by then can the market truly be said to be nudgers.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Nudge: when knowledge becomes a Democratic challenges

By Pelle Guldborg Hansen & Andreas Maaløe Jespersen

Some days ago we were asked by the leading Danish forum for communication professionals to write something up about the nudge-doctrine. You may find the result HERE.

While it's in Danish, Google translate shoudl be able to do the job.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

NudgeNews, December, 2011

By Pelle Guldborg Hansen

Everyday quite a few articles, blogs and papers on Nudge and related issues are made available online. NudgeNews is our way of trying to facilitate a better understanding of nudging by giving you access and an overview.

Dec. 14, 2011

Nudge-initiative to nudge consumers toward sustainable practices

(consumer, sustainability, marketing)

Akshay R. Rao at the Carlsson School of Management, University of Minnesota is reported to have started up an initiative or consortium involving goverment agencies as well as companies aimed at boosting research in earth-friendly behavior and products:
Initiative to nudge consumers toward sustainable practices

Suggestion that UK government should counter market's use of behavioral economics with a ban

(consumer, alcohol consumption, marketing)

One of the issues that keeps coming up, is how to counter the industry's use of behavioral economics, especially when it leaves to severely harmful behavior. In this piece from The Telegraph Andrew M. Brown provides a balanced and sound argument for why we should consider to counter use of insights from behavioral economics by banning multi-buy deals in relation to alcohol consumption:  
Boozy Britain: your very good health?

Dec. 12, 2011

UK to nudge job creation
(work, incentive schemes)

Ed Davey, employment relations minister in the UK, has announced a plan for re-arranging incentives for employment providers that will have them pay more attention to whether they provide a sustainable job opportunity. Read more about it in the following two links:
A small job can boost job creation says Davey
'Nudge in the right direction' helpful for job creation  
Dec. 4, 2011

Nudging for healthier hospital cafeterias
(health, cafeterias, food)

A new study evaluates cafeterias in children's hospitals. Standards on how to present food and other nudges could be part of such evaluations in the future, says Dr. Lenard Lesser, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation clinical scholar at UCLA's medical school and the lead author of the study.
UCLA study on healthy food at children's hospitals

Dec. 2, 2011

Smarter lunch rooms
(health, cafeterias, food) reports on a programme called "smarter lunch rooms" working in collaboration with Cornell. The article features little documentation, but some great ideas and illustrations of how one works with nudging healthier food choices in cafeterias and lunch rooms.

School lunchrooms strive to get smarter

Dec. 1, 2011

Nudging in the UK 

(nudge politics, problematic cases, car-theft)

A blog update on Marketing about Nudging in the UK by Nicola Clark seemingly based on a talk by Sam Nguyen from the Behavioural Insight Team at Marketing's Trends+ conference.   While there is no direct point in the update, it does feature three pieces of interest: (1) an attempt to get UK consumers to use more money with a nudge that seems samewhat unlikely to succeed; (2) the usual case of a  seemingly problematic case out of reach for the nudge-doctrine; and (3) a very interesting report of a social disclosure nudge in car-theft security.