Nudges to encourage energy saving behaviour

Published on Monday, 23 July 2012 09:44
Posted by Vicki Mitchem

Monkey See, a market research agency based on behavioural economics, has developed a radically new way of thinking about how to change behaviour. This thinking helps understand how to nudge people to change habits and save energy.

It was believed that if people were made aware of an issue, they would take notice and change behaviour accordingly. It's become clear that this is not the case and new evidence in the world of behavioural economics has proved why.

Daniel Kahneman distinguishes between "System 2" (the thinking, rational brain, which arrives at logical answers) and "System 1" (the automatic, intuitive brain, which makes quick decisions These are often contrary to ideal behaviour).

The issue is "System 1" dominates. As Kahneman states:

"We conduct our mental lives by the law of least effort"

Understanding how "System 1" makes these automatic decisions is vital to trigger new behaviour.

Monkey See has developed a new structure for thinking about these influences and identified 5 areas to be considered and explored in research to better understand how to nudge people.

1.  Playing to Innate Tendencies.

Behavioural economists believe we are hard wired to act in certain ways, which will dictate our behaviour. Taking just one of these - 'short term bias'. People are more likely to act if they can see an immediate reward. For example the health app, SlimKicker, does just this, leading people through small, achievable fitness regime providing rewards for small results along the way. Discovering the most fruitful biases to play on to encourage sustainable behaviour will be integral to its achievement.

2. Using the Influence of Others.

We are all influenced by what others around us say and do. That's why waiters always place people in the window seat of an empty restaurant. Research to understand who the influencers are and how to help them influence will be instrumental in campaign planning.

3.   Creating Social Norms.

Creating the feeling that a behaviour is 'normal' in society or cultural group can help ensure it catches on. Consider re-cycling and how its visibility has started to make it the norm. Cycling in London also has been helped to become a 'norm' by the obvious visibility of the Boris Bikes. Ensuring sustainable behaviour is visible could help its spread.

4.  Making Sustainable Behaviour Easy

One of the overwhelming findings of behavioural economics is that we are essentially lazy and the easiest behaviour is most likely to triumph. A case study by Monkey See found wrestling with Weetabix's inner packaging stops frequent eating. Understanding where the 'bumps' in the journey are and how we can make sustainable behaviour the easier option is essential to ensure mass adoption.

5.  Creating a frame of reference

People find it hard to make decisions in isolation, they need to be anchored to something. Hence, why the campaign for rear seat belts works well when it anchored the behaviour to murder rather than safety. Finding the best frame would also help to nudge in the right direction.

Exploring many of these areas can be the best route. The multi pronged attack on smoking which saw messages designed to produce a Pavlovian response (cigarettes = fat), smoking becoming against the social norm (banned from pubs) and it becoming harder (more expensive) work to achieve a more effective quit rate than previous campaigns.

As Helen Nuki from Monkey See states:

"Conducting market research to understand these sub-conscious influences can really help develop the best nudges to affect positive behaviour change"

Source: ©Monkey See

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