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What is Nudge Theory?

Nudge Theory is a concept that has become popular in behavior economics and behavioral sciences such as psychology, the nudge theory uses positive reinforcement of behavior to aid in the decision making process.

The theory was made popular around 12 years ago, thanks to scientists at University of Chicago and the book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. The theory has played part in helping British and American politicians in their desison making and their abilities to inform the public on current and important events or instruction.

To summarize, the theory is based on three key elements:

  • An ability to priase wanted behaviour before it happens.
  • The ability to implament this anywhere within or around your business.
  • Making enviromental changes to ensure that wanted behaviour is being adhered to.


Examples of Nudge Theory being used.

Nudge theory is being used in everyday life to ensure that we are following the wanted behaviors. There are a few examples to draw light to:

  • Speed Signs – You may have noticed when entering a village or suburb you will be welcomed with a sign that says something along the lines of “Welcome to xxx thank you for driving carefully”  even though you havent even entered the place yet. These signs are used to demonstrate that the behaviors requested are the kind of behavior that a place expects and it also demonstrates that people are already doing it. This will trigger our need to be a part of a society and conform to the behaviors that are already being given to us. Signs that say “Watch your speed” have been shown to have little affect on peoples behaviour as we would expect everyone to watch their speed, however, when presented with the thought that we have already completed the task this has been shown to increase our desire to conform to what is expected.
  • Parks and Public Places – Parks and public placeds are renowned for their use of nudge theory, by creating a serene and pleasant place for people to relax with frieds and family. At the entrance to the majority of parks there will ususally be a small notice ending with “Thank you for not littering” or “Thank you for keeping our park tidy and clean” These signs are more examples of how councils are ensuring that we conform to the behaviors that we are already being praised for even before we enter a park.

All nudge theory uses positive reinforcement to help people adhere to the desired behaviors set out for us.

How should this be applied now?

Nudge theory could be used in the application of helping maintain social distancing measures during the current Coronavirus outbreak.

Using positive reinforcement for maintaining social distancing can be very effective method of ensuring that we as businesses and the public are sticking to the government issued guidelines of staying 2 meters away from each other at all times.

As it stands when walking down high streets or standing in ques to get into shops the signs usually read as forceful instructions such as; “keep your distance” or “Please stay 2m away from each other”, by changing these signs to read as positive reinforcement we can help maintain the social distancing rules for much longer, we can do this by changing the signs to read “thank you for keeping your distance” and thank you for helping us to keep safe” a simple change in wording coupld help see social distancing be a sustainable option for society.

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