Behaviors that cause our blood to boil are prime candidates for nudges

PsyBlog picks up on a paper that identifies the top 5 “uncivil behaviors” that cause French urbanites blood to boil over. (What would be the top 5 for American suburbanites?)

  1. Failure to pick up after one’s dog
  2. Littering
  3. Illegally parked car
  4. Graffiti
  5. Aggressiveness towards others

The paper’s authors, Nadine Chaurand and Markus Brauer from the University of Clermont-Ferrand, suggest that we are most likely to try and eliminate these behaviors through “social control,” when we feel responsible to a particular geographical area, when we think we have a legitimate right to intervene, and when our anger stokes us to action. Thinking about this statement from a Nudge perspective, we would be most likely to activate or tap into preexisting social norms as a form of persuasion when we are upset about uncivil behavior in our neighborhood park.

What would be the best messages to, say, cut down on disgusting dog poop? Psyblog writes:

Authorities can remind citizens that removing litter and cleaning up dog poop all costs money – money that comes straight out of our taxes; money that is better spent on schools, hospitals and other public services.

At the Nudge blog, we are not convinced this is the best message, largely because dog poop and litter are relatively low cost public services. On a per person basis, the extra taxpayer dollars spent to clean up dog parks twice a week would probably seem worth paying compared to the high probability of stepping in dog business, or the high personal cost of tip-toeing around to avoid it.

PsyBlog also points to Sinagpore as an example of a country that has successfully eliminated most uncivil behaviors.

Singaporeans who litter or spit in the street now face stiff, rigidly enforced penalties, making them one of the most litter-conscious countries in the world. Singapore is now rightly famous for its clean streets.

When to use traditional economics incentives versus social norms is an important ongoing public policy debate. It’s worth pointing out that while all incentives are nudges in our categorizations, not all nudges are incentives. And indeed, a common statement by economists about many minor violations is that the low cost of the penalty limits their effectiveness. If illegally parking in a handicapped spot was punishable by death, it would never occur. Regardless, these types of violations are probably better handled by other kinds of nudges instead of strong deterrence incentives.

What behavior drives you crazy? What kind of nudge might reduce it?

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3 Responses to “Behaviors that cause our blood to boil are prime candidates for nudges”

  1. Stella Says:

    Here in Tasmania, popular dog walking areas have been fitted with plastic bag dispensers with friendly messages reminding people to clean up after their dogs. It works; there is far less excrement on the pavements than I remember from my youth.

  2. Steve Says:

    Oddly enough, read a dog psychology book to find out a good way to handle molding people not only into doing what you want, but making them happy/proud to do it.

    and it works too. using punishment to change people makes them do things out of fear. you want to make them happy and proud to do those things.

  3. Driver Says:

    Some twenty years ago, the University of Southampton (England) had a very effective system for preventing illegal parking. Instead of issuing fines, they would stick a large yellow sticker onto the car’s windscreen, which you would need to peel off before being able to drive away. Only, these stickers were made of cheap paper with strong glue and didn’t peel off too easily. They would break up leaving little bits of yellow paper behind, taking a lot of effort to remove completely.

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