Major new study on ‘nudge’ theory in supermarkets, bars and restaurants

‘Nudging’ is an approach to behaviour change and a ‘nudge’ can be healthy or unhealthy. Nudging involves structuring the choices that people make in order to lead them towards particular outcomes. It is described as “interventions that involve altering small-scale physical and social environments, or micro-environments”, usually those within buildings such as restaurants, workplaces, homes and shops to cue healthier behaviour.

The level of success of nudging techniques is sometimes debated, so a major project to investigate whether behaviour change can be designed into retail and hospitality settings to improve health is very welcome.

In July 2017, behavioural and cognitive scientists at the Universities of Cambridge and Bristol were awarded a prestigious Wellcome Collaborative Award in Science.

An overview of the study design is here.

The research will involve an ambitious co-ordinated set of studies to robustly test promising interventions to reduce food, alcohol and tobacco consumption. The team will be working with over 140 student bars, 1,700 grocery shops and 100 workplace cafeterias alongside experiments in specialist labs in Cambridge and Bristol to find out what works.

More information on ‘nudge’

Nudge is also sometimes known as a ‘choice architecture intervention’.

Nudging is concerned with the design of choices, which influences the decisions that are made, based on the concept that people often decide instinctively and irrationally rather than logically. It is based on indirect encouragement and enablement, and it avoids instruction or enforcement.

It is an indirect approach which alters situations for people so that options are designed to produce choices that create helpful voluntary changes in people.

Practical examples of potentially beneficial nudges for a workplace include:

  • positioning of drinks and water coolers where workers can easily access them
  • providing smaller containers of carbonated drinks (a 330ml can versus a 500ml bottle)
  • displaying fruit at eye level at checkouts – eye level is buy level
  • displaying useful information appropriately – for example nutritional
  • information of dishes at point of purchase in a queue area of the canteen

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