Whenever we make a choice, especially a social one, like giving money to charity or paying our water bills, we rarely think about the potential effects that faces and eyes could have in our final decision. It may sound odd that something as straightforward as a face or a glance could influence our behavior, but we humans have developed neuronal structures to recognise and react to facial characteristics, and it just so happens that these neuronal structures influence areas inside the brain that are related to the decision making process.
By now, we recognise nudges as a tool that helps us lead people towards socially desired behaviours, but… what happens when these nudges don’t work the way we want them to and the results turn out to be negative? i.e., when people are accidentally led to make a non-desirable action like increasing their sugar intake instead of reducing it.
If the nudges we plan are not properly designed and implemented, there is a big risk that those nudges may actually backfire on us. This tends to happen in social-media campaigns, where the messages that we try to communicate are not properly embraced by our audience. To understand this we must differentiate the circumstances under which the descriptive norms (what people usually do) and the injunctive norms (what people usually approve or disapprove) work.
A couple of days ago, we had the chance of giving out a Behavioural Design talk in an innovation bootcamp for entrepreneurs. Fortunately, the talk went really well, and the young entrepreneurs found it very useful, however the whole experience left us with some fundamental doubts regarding the whole innovation culture that is currently thriving in Mexico.
Most of the times we generate innovative ideas, we tend to visualise them as considerable improvements in efficiency and results over the current ideas that exist in the market. This would make a lot of sense if we were what we are not! Or in other words, this would make a lot of sense if we were fully rational agents.
During an after-dinner conversation with some friends a heated conversation came up regarding the next question. Why do we keep avoiding energy efficient light bulbs?
t’s a fact that technology has gradually allowed us to dispose the old 100-watt bulbs for ultra efficient light bulbs that consume 5 or even less watts. And it´s also a fact that it does not take any complex calculations to realise that led bulbs save an incredible amount of energy compared to conventional bulbs or compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). This should then facilitate the decision to buy LED or other energy efficient light bulbs; surely most people would agree in buying a LED bulb over any other options. But why is it that when we are in front of the shelf, facing 3 different bulb options we tend to keep away from buying the energy efficient bulbs?
Usually when we’re in the supermarket we tend to have a certain bundle of products that we purchase simply by habit, and others that have to go through an evaluation phase before we decide to actually buy them. We commonly take the decision to buy these products in two different ways: a) When we evaluate the product we take into account the attributes that the brand offers, this is called the category effect; and b) We take into account only the products’ tangible characteristics, this is known as the ranking effect. These 2 effects are the reference that we have to properly evaluate products. Depending on how we buy a product, we’ll have a different evaluation of it; either we transfer to it the value and characteristics of the brand or we take into account the attributes that put it in a certain rank of its own category. These weighting applies to any product like clothing, electronics, musical instruments, etc.
“Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers.” – Irvine Welsh.
Nowadays we have the fortune (or misfortune) of being able to choose a product out of hundreds of brands with various different characteristics; some would think the more, the better. And it is because of this “The more, the better” mind frame that we have so many options available for almost everything in our lives. This is why we can find entire supermarket aisles dedicated to just one type of product like milk or cookies, stores with hundreds of similar mobile phones, and even crucial life decisions tend to be full of options like which career to choose.
We are always setting goals to reach our objectives, it doesn't matter if our goal is something trivial like fixing the leak in the sink, arranging a meeting with a friend that we haven’t seen in a long time or removing the Christmas lights; or something that takes more time and effort like exercising three times a week, saving money for a new car or finally writing that novel that we’ve always wanted to write.