Bioethics Blogs

Getting People To Get Things Done – A New Psychological Trick

Subtly designing people’s choice environment in a way that they decide for a desired cause of action – so called “nudging” – receives growing interest as a potential tool for practical ethics. New psychological research suggests a surprisingly simple, but potentially powerful strategy to nudge people.

In an intriguing series of five experiments, published a few days ago online in the Journal of Consumer Research, Yanping Tu and Dilip Soman look at the impact of time categorisation on task initiation. They found that “people are more likely to initiate a task when the deadline is categorized in a like-the-present category than in an unlike-the-present category”. The simple trick behind this abstract wording can be best illustrated with help of the first experiment reported in the article. This field experiment involved farmers from rural India as participants. The authors offered all farmers a financial incentive – provided they opened a bank account and committed to saving a certain amount of money within 6 months. The farmers could either complete the paperwork for opening the account right away (with a bank representative who was present at the study), or do so later by going to their closest branch of the bank. Now, here is the trick: half of the farmers were approached in June, so their 6-months-deadline for opening the incentivised bank account was December of the same year (like-the-present category). The other half was approached in July, with their 6-months-deadline being January the year after (unlike-the-present category). Fascinatingly, ~ 32% of farmers whose deadline was in the same year opened a bank account right away, whereas only ~ 8% of the “the deadline is next year”-farmers did.

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