Is it ethical to force people to act in certain ways? According to conventional wisdom, it is not, particularly in western societies, which prize freedom and individualism, perhaps above all else. However, according to Nudge Theory, there is another way, less paternalistic than merely forcing your customers, clients or citizens to do certain things. This involves using the principles of behavioral psychology, small environmental changes, and subtle suggestions to change people’s behavior whilst allowing them to have ‘free will’.
One example of this in social policy comes from Britain, where the government was concerned that citizens were not saving enough for their retirement. Rather than legally requiring citizens to enroll in a pension scheme, the government made pension enrolment an opt-out, rather than an-opt in, system, meaning that, if you didn’t want to enroll in a pension scheme, you simply had to call and opt out. This increased pension savings, without impinging on our right to freedom. Other examples include the tendency of governments to make organ donations opt out, the policy of businesses to more prominently display healthy foods, and even the example of businesses placing a picture of a fly on the inside of men’s urinals to avoid the tendency of men to ‘miss their target’!
Thus, businesses, politicians and other organisations can make profound changes in their respective areas with really simple, subtle changes. This is backed up by numerous studies, and has been put into practice in various areas.
To find out more about real life examples of Nudge Theory, see the infographic below from Marcus Clarke.
CIIM (2018): How to use Nudge Theory for business success
Financial Post (2017): How to get your employees to (happily!) spend less on business travel
Inc. (2014) – How to Get Your Employees to Save Money on Business Travel
UBP (2017): Applying nudge theory to private banking
Wall Street Journal (2006) – Exploiting Travelers’ ‘Visual Guilt’.