Written by Shelley Plett Tuesday, 10 February 2009 13:58
We propose a Civility Check that can accurately tell whether the e-mail you’re about to send is angry and caution you, “Warning—this appears to be an uncivil e-mail. Do you really and truly want to send it?” —Excerpt from “Nudge” by Richard Thaler and Cass. R. Sunstein
Experiments on human behavior are in full force inside stalls of the men’s restroom at the Amsterdam, Netherlands, airport.
If you want insight into what motivates people to make certain choices, paint (literally) images of flies near the urinal drains. After the “flies” landed on the porcelain, the floors were 80 percent cleaner.
“Men evidently like to aim at targets,” was the explanation from Richard Thayer, professor of behavioral science and economics.
This tactic is called “nudging’” The concept, altering someone’s behavior without being intrusive or taking away free will or choices, has been around awhile.
It’s a given that people are probably going to make certain decisions out of habit, laziness or simplicity, and that’s their prerogative. What you do is add a specific alternative and subliminally “nudge” them to do things another way.
Thayer wrote a book about it with Harvard law professor, Cass R. Sunstein. It’s called “Nudge” and in it they list a range of ideas beyond “aim” with tips on how to control eating, excessive debt, safe driving, etc.
But it’s already going on. Grocery stores put the milk and eggs in the back of the store so shoppers have to walk past all the good stuff to get to the staples. People have no control—and other people are on to that fact.
Advertising is a form of nudging. There’s even a science to restaurant menu layout. “Menu design consultant” is an actual job title. These experts make money by studying human behavior and the writing reports about it for publications that nobody reads, such as the International Journal of Contemporary Hospital Management.
Time magazine reported in its article “The Menu Magician” about “menu engineer” Gregg Rapp, who analyzes menu design for restaurants from all over the world. The keys, according to Rapp, are clean lines and simple fonts with nothing too funky or out of alignment.Except the prices. Instead of stacking them on one side, stagger them behind each item description. This “nudge” keeps diners from scanning down a vertical line and ordering the cheapest thing.
The sweet spot on the menu is the top right hand side (on a single-fold format that opens like a magazine, he points out). This location is where the most expensive specialty items should be displayed with fancy descriptions and discreetly noted costs.
We, the public in general, tend to shift our attention to the top right when looking over our choices. Keep in mind: If you look to the right, you’ll spend more.
When you eat out, go shopping, see a movie, or use a public restroom, remember the new universal motto: “We have ways of making you (fill in the blank).”
We’re wishy-washy. And they’re onto us.
I just picked up a tube of porcelain paint and my toilet should be fully drained by now. I have some painting to do.