Why nudging is better than giving commands

People may be more likely to change if they are nudged towards something rather than told to do it. This is the suggestion of a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, which found shoppers will alter their behaviour if they voluntarily commit to changing as opposed to being instructed to do so.

The investigators therefore noted people should be carefully pointed in the right direction in order for them to indulge in more eco-friendly behaviour.

By pledging specific steps to promote desired actions, this commitment can lead to consistent changes in the way individuals act, the authors observed, writing: "Consumers who publicly express a commitment to the environment will reinforce their commitment and increase sustainable behaviour."

The researchers found people in a hotel were more likely to be eco-friendly during their stay when they made a specific commitment to practice sustainable behaviour and were given a Friend of the Earth lapel pin to symbolise their efforts.

Nigel Marlow, a Chartered Psychologist from London Metropolitan University, comments:

"This technique of 'nudging' is an aspect of obtaining compliance using the 'foot-in-the-door' technique. Basically, it is a process whereby small requests for changes in behaviour are agreed to by the target, particularly if the initial changes appear to cost little in terms of psychological or material commitment, and are for a good cause.

Once this initial step has been taken, the magnitude of future requests for changes can be increased and the individual feels duty bound to continue supporting the initial behavioural change or commitment, otherwise they will begin to experience dissonance; they have to convince themselves that they believe in the ideas supporting the new behaviour, otherwise their initial compliant behaviour lacks rationality. And we all know that our behaviour is always rational!"