The Prospect of Nudges Generating the Biggest Shove

Remember the time you promised to lead a healthier lifestyle? Or the time you vowed to procrastinate less? It all starts out the same– determined individuals with a drive for change. Yet, a majority find themselves right back where they were.

Indeed, convenience, habit and temptation often hamper even the most conscientious goals. Thankfully though, all hope is not lost. The concept of “Nudge”, made famous by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, provides vast insight on how judgements and choices can be made easier, without resorting to coercion. In fact, nudges pervade our lives!

A case in point would be Google. Although the organization has earned the reputation of fattening up their staff with food on demand, Google has adopted nudges to advance healthy eating initiatives. Similar to IKEA’s design of food placement as mentioned in class, the salad bar is placed strategically within sight upon entering the cafeteria. This is reinforced by studies that have shown that people tend to fill their plates with whatever they see first. Thus, by adjusting the ease and access to the leafy greens, while positioning Desserts down another line of sight, Google has successfully encouraged higher nutrient uptake.

Google has also successfully adopted environmental cues. Before a Googler grabs an empty plate, he is faced with a sign that people with bigger dishes are inclined to eat more. While the sign does not tell him what to do, it affects his behaviour. This increased small plate usage by half, to 32% of all plate traffic.

Nudges can also be observed closer to home. I am sure most of you would be familiar with the following promotion materials. With names like Move-In Martin and Give-way Glenda, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) hopes that these avatars can be embodied in commuters.

By appealing to social pressure, LTA hopes to encourage commuters to act with social grace.

As with all such campaigns, success rate varies and the inevitable question comes to mind: What are the reasons behind the different success levels resulting from different types of nudges?

To answer this, I would like to introduce a video titled “All Washed Up”, which focuses on influencing behaviour change. Specifically, combining the following four influences help significantly when trying to modify behaviour, i.e.:

  1. Personal Motivation
  2. Change Environment
  3. Deliberate Practice
  4. Social Influence

Such findings do shed some light on the differing success of nudges adopted by different organizations. Consider the following examples:

The first is the “Travel Early, Travel Free” program by LTA. Many incentives were introduced to encourage commuters to travel early. For one, as evident from the poster below, 15 McDonald’s outlets gave out free coffee to early commuters. This incentive encouraged commuters to travel early, by bundling the positive (incentives and freebies) with the dreaded (setting off earlier). This uses personal motivation to effect behavioural change.

To facilitate pre-peak train travel, LTA assured that there will be more train trips during the pre-peak morning period to ensure sufficient capacity. Further, LTA actively worked with employers to facilitate their employees to travel pre-peak period. Thus, LTA initiated changes to the environment by adjusting the ease and access of pre-peak travel.

LTA also relied on social influence to encourage the masses, evident from the following poster. By putting a name and face to a member of the public, it allows us to relate to the individual and hence increases the appeal to participate in the program.

Using three of the four influences highlighted in the video, the campaign has seen 7 per cent of commuters shifting to the pre-peak hours since the introduction of the scheme, and the scheme has since been extended till June this year.

On the other hand, the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) had set up a kindness popup café to offer customers discounts on a cup of coffee by saying “please” and “thank you”. Relying solely on personal motivation to drive polite behaviour did not sit well with the public, as some felt that basic manners should not be inculcated by way of monetary gain. Thus, although nudges may be well intentioned, it is imperative to consciously review the message an organization is sending through their nudges.

In closing, the efficacy of nudges, like all tools, depends largely on how we utilize them. The video shared four key influences to successfully drive behavioural change, and the class has touched on other influences such as adjusting ease and access, social pressure and bundling—all of which strive to make hard choices easier to make. That said, despite the appeal of nudges, organizations should exercise due diligence and thought when nudging people to a desired behaviour. Notably, organizations should be mindful of the message they are sending through their nudges. However, when effectively utilized, nudges may very well generate the biggest shove.

Kuang, C. (2012, March 26). 6 Ways Google Hacks Its Cafeterias So Googlers Eat Healthier. Retrieved from Co.DESIGN:

Kwara, M. (2014, May 9). Free early-morning MRT train rides to the city extended. Retrieved from Yahoo! News Singapore:

Land Transport Authority. (2013, April 16). Travel Early, Travel Free on the MRT. Retrieved from LTA Main Website:

Law, J. (2014, June 13). ‘Kindness cafe’ sends wrong message. Retrieved from The Straits Times:

Lim, J. (2014, June 20). LTA’s Thoughtful-Me campaign is just waiting to get trolled. Retrieved from

Tyers, R. (2014, April 08). Nudge yourself better: how to become your own Choice Architect. Retrieved from The Society Pages:

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