Miss Illinois, a Nudge fan, answers our questions
Q: Were you interested in psychology or economics while in school?
Lorenz: I avoided Econ at all costs during undergrad but did consider minoring in Psychology. I’m fascinated by human behavior and the way that science has the ability to predict, influence, and correlate our actions. Freakonomics was the first book on Economics that I dared open and it turned out that I couldn’t put it down. Nudge, to me, seemed like a nice follow-up to a topic on which I had virtually no education.
Q: Do you discuss it much on the pageant circuit? In what context? If so, why do you think it has an appeal?
Lorenz: I use, or try to use, the concepts I learned from Nudge almost every day. As a role model, I’m constantly in a position to shape and change the lives of the people I meet and it’s important for me to be aware of how I affect them. I can’t say that I’ve specifically had conversations about the book while competing, but I have applied what I’ve learned to conversations about our current economy and how nudging could be a step toward putting us back on track.
Q: Pageant contests suffer from the biases of outsiders, especially the representativeness heuristic in which people assume similarities between objects of similar appearance, or between an object and a group it appears to fit into. The YouTube clips of 2007 Miss Teen South Carolina have probably damaged the reputations of thousands of pageant contestants. Humans would call this a form of stereotyping. Have you seen any common behavioral biases such as representativeness or others like loss aversion, anchoring, etc., inside the pageant world by contestants, judges, or promoters?
Lorenz: Since August, I’ve spoken to 68 middle and elementary schools totaling over 11,000 students. I start every middle school presentation by asking them three questions – Have you ever heard or thought that all pageant contestants are ditsy and dumb? Have you ever heard or thought that pageant contestants only want “world peace”? Have you ever heard or thought that pageant contestants lose weight unhealthily – through anorexia or bulimia? At every school, half or more of the students’ hands go up for each question. I’m completely aware of the stereotypes I need to break down and use the students’ preconceived notions about me as both an ice breaker (they nervously laugh when I ask to admit those thoughts) and an opportunity to speak about my education, service, and healthy lifestyle.
Q: Tell us about the choice architecture of the pageant process. Are there features of the environment that subtly, or not so subtly, nudge the behavior of participants?
Lorenz: The Miss America interview is famous for being more difficult than any other job interview a contestant will face. Seven judges spend ten minutes driving questions on politics, world events, and controversial and topical issues to ensure the future Miss America can handle anything the press throws at her. Every morning, each contestant was provided with a newspaper that we, in turn, diligently brought to rehearsals during our ten days in Las Vegas. I can almost guarantee that had that paper not been provided we most certainly would have chatted, or slept, or found other ways to occupy our time. By creating an environment that encouraged us to stay current we, inevitably, were more prepared to handle that interview and made ourselves, and the organization, look a whole lot better.
Q: Once the pageant is over, what does a Miss Illinois do for the rest of the year?
Lorenz: Ha. Well this Miss Illinois is one busy girl! When I won the title of Miss Illinois in June 2008, I was asked to put both my career and graduate education on hold to perform the duties of Miss Illinois full-time. I represent three platforms and promote Children’s Miracle Network, character education through Character Counts!, and Volunteerism. I’ve made over 120 appearances as Miss Illinois, spoken at 68 schools, and to over 11,000 students. I’ll pass my title on in June of 2009 and can’t wait to get back to my MBA at Loyola University and my career in Hispanic Marketing!
Q: As Miss Illinois, do you try to practice any nudges in your own life? Or do you try to promote nudges for others?
Lorenz: I think putting nudges in your own life is much more difficult than setting them up for others. I’m constantly protecting myself from my “future self” by putting chocolate on a hard to reach shelf or having my bank automatically draw money from my checking to savings. “Nudging” for me is slowing becoming a more conscious and deliberate process to apply both in my own life and other’s.
Q: What do beauty queens and behavioral economists, or economists generally, have in common? What do you think economists could learn from beauty queens or vice versa?
Lorenz: Well, I’ve never considered myself a “beauty queen” and I suppose that’s a good place to start. Most women in the MAO (Miss America Organization) would prefer to be called a “titleholder” and that stems from our desire to accurately represent ourselves and our organization’s values. We’ve evolved from a beauty pageant, to a scholarship program, to an achievement program in an attempt to accurately name, classify, and portray our organization as it truly is. Behavioral economists, I feel, have that same desire to reassess the status quo and use that information to view our world and decisions more accurately. I have a whole lot to learn from economists – when’s the sequel?