Here’s my latest article on McKnight’s Long-Term Care News:
Standing by the salad bar in the newly opened restaurant, I recoiled at the sign that read, “Please don’t use your hands.” I suggested to the manager that the notice should instead advise diners to “Please use the serving spoons.” My recommendation for that short-lived establishment followed what’s known as “nudge principles.”
What are nudge principles?
Nudge principles use basic human tendencies to encourage people to engage in positive behavior. One aspect of nudge is to craft messages, like how to use the salad bar, in ways that are more likely to result in positive action.
Another aspect, according to Tori DeAngelis in Coaxing Better Behavior, is to harness “our less laudatory traits — short-sightedness, inertia, inflated optimism and our tendency to submit to peer pressure.”
Research shows people have a “default bias” which makes them more likely to choose the first option in front of them. Putting fresh fruit before the desserts in a cafeteria line would be one way of making positive use of this bias. Another is creating a default option that enrolls employees in a retirement account rather than requiring them to opt into the program.
Care must be taken to create good default options, though, or they can backfire. One poorly constructed automatic retirement account enrollment, for instance, resulted in more individuals contributing, but fewer dollars set aside overall. Why? The default choice set aside less money than what people might have chosen if they’d given it more thought.
Starting with the end result
Some “nudge” researchers identify the outcome they want to see and then look at what methods are most successful in achieving that outcome. In one study, the British government sent letters to delinquent taxpayers, saying, for example, “You are one of the few who have not paid us yet.” They altered the wording of the letters to see which phrasing would result in the greatest collection of outstanding funds — and retrieved an extra $15 million overall.
Applying nudge principles in LTC
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