choice architecture

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Assorted links

1) Would you shop more in your hometown if it had a rewards program?

2) Why a proposed rookie wage scale emerges from the lessons of Thaler and Massey’s research on the NFL draft.

3) Why Swipegood won’t lead to more charitable giving.

4) A No-Lose lottery now in Alabama.

5) Choice architecture in the wild: Mobile phone edition.

6) An entry in a $25 lottery or $.05 off every trip if you bring your own bag. Which one works better? Hat tip: Rags Srinivasan.

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Reader Brooks Lambert-Sluder passes along an observation about utensil choice architecture at the 13 dining halls on the College campus at Harvard.

At twelve of those (dining halls), the tray and silverware are presented to diners before they approach the food.  I almost invariably take a knife, a fork, and a spoon.  At the end of many meals I find myself with a clean spoon, and sometimes even an unused knife. Of course, I still put those away in the dish room to be washed.

At the thirteenth (Kirkland House) the silverware appears after diners have filled their plates and bowls.  There, I only take a spoon when I have already gotten a bowl of soup.  This is a small nudge, no doubt, but a noticeable one.

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The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy has published an intriguing report on parking reforms throughout year designed to reduce car use. While many of the reforms are standard economics tools like taxing car use and regulating available spaces, some cities have also used innovative physical choice architecture.

Striped Lines: (In Stockholm)…Entire sections of curbside are demarcated with one large box sometimes taking up an entire street as the latest practice. One large box encourages smaller vehicles to squeeze into the limited space. In this way the city optimizes revenue from its pricing program.

Street Geometry: Strategically arranging existing parking spaces can help make other street users more comfortable. In Zurich, alternating parking spaces on two sides of a narrow street act as a chicane that slows vehicle speeds. Amsterdam has zones called woonerfs that use parked cars to create a winding passage which forces vehicles to move at a pedestrian’s pace. Paris and Copenhagen have bike lanes that are protected by parked cars—these act as a barrier between the cyclists and moving traffic. Copenhagen and Antwerp have play-streets that allow children to safely spend time on the
street without the threat of getting hit by a car—trees, benches, and other physical obstructions cue vehicles that they are guests in the space.

Article and full report are here. Hat tip: Impossible Software.

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Or maybe it should be called the small beer that is a larger beer. Either way, at Qwest Field, fans of the Seattle Seahawks were paying $1.25 more for a large beer, when the small beer cups held the same amount of liquid. If more fans bought small beers, this would qualify as a dumb oversight on the part of the concession owners. If large beers were more popular, this would qualify as wicked choice architecture.

After this video circulated on YouTube, the company in charge of concessions said it would be making changes to the cups.


That’s the rule at the Ogori cafe in Japan. It’s a creative, if strange little set-up since you still face the problem of choice overload – you have to pick something off the full menu – and the requirement to make a choice for yourself, without the benefit of getting what you ordered. More troubling, you are in the dark until after the whole thing is over.

Here is how the cafe explains the procedure on cards it hands to patrons after they’ve ordered – and picked up the item ordered by the person ahead of them.

  1. Let’s treat the next person. What to treat them with? It’s your choice.
  2. Even if it’s a group of friends or a family, please form a single-file line. Also, you can’t buy twice in a row.
  3. Please enjoy what you get, even if you hate it. (If you really, really hate it, let’s quietly give it to another while saying, “It’s my treat…”)
  4. Let’s say “Thank You! (Gochihosama)” if you find the person with your Ogori cafe card.
  5. We can’t issue a receipt.


The fake bus stop outside a nursing home is a well-known example of how health care facilities use choice architecture to keep Alzheimer’s patients from wandering off the property. Another example popped up in the NYT recently, this time about a home in Phoenix, Arizona, that uses carpeting to keep dementia patients from leaving their floor.

And Beatitudes installed a rectangle of black carpet in front of the dementia unit’s fourth-floor elevators because residents appear to interpret it as a cliff or hole, no longer darting into elevators and wandering away.

“They’ll walk right along the edge but don’t want to step in the black,” said Ms. Alonzo, who finds it less unsettling than methods some facilities use, bracelets that trigger alarms when residents exit. “People with dementia have visual-spatial problems. We’ve actually had some people so wary of it that when we have to get them on the elevator to take them somewhere, we put down a white towel or something to cover it up.”

When elevator doors open, Beatitudes staff members stand casually in front, distracting residents with “over-the-top” hellos, she said: “We look like Cheshire cats,” but “who’s going to want to get on the elevator when here’s this lovely smiling person greeting you? It gets through to the emotional brain.”

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Tom Vanderbilt spots this video. Pity that more stores, especially grocers, don’t do this.


Assorted links

1) Nudging rules for charities.
2) Exercise meets commerce.
3) Just buy this one – a site that radically simplifies shopping (and requires a lot of trust in its consumer ratings). Hat tip: Rory Sutherland.
4) Washington State posts surgical infection rates at all state hospitals online. Hat tip: Maria Kovell.
5) Electronic prescriptions lead to higher non-adherence? Strange. Hat tip: Gilad Buchman.
6) A version of RECAP for bank loan fees in India. Hat tip: Mostly Economics.
7) What’s the secret to marketing the McRib? Artificial scarcity.

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Reader Elaine Wang sends along this report, originally posted, she says, on a friend’s Facebook page. It’s a version of the grocery cart choice architecture idea applied to recycling.

In my former city (Fort Collins, CO), they decided to switch things around so that recycling went in the big 90 gallon container, and everyone got a small 35 gallon container for trash. Everyone who was previously filling up just a small bin of recycling suddenly started filling up the 90 gallon and NOT having as much trash, so the 35 gallon for trash was just fine. Turns out, people only recycle as much as you give them space to recycle. If you make their trash capacity smaller and give them unlimited room to recycle, they will remember to recycle SO much more. It was awesome. I was even shocked at my own recycling efforts!

We’d love to know more about this initiative from our readers in Colorado – and elsewhere!

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From the Chicago Tribune:

“There’s a reason why produce and often the bakery are the first sections you hit,” Underhill explained. “First of all, the produce section tends to be lit theatrically, so that everything looks better in the store than it ever will when you get it home. Almost every supermarket knows that if they can get your saliva glands working, you will tend to buy more. So there’s a reason why the bakery is up front, or the flowers are up front.”

The dairy case is usually way in the back as a way to pull the shopper as deeply into the store as possible.

“The dairy section has both the highest number of … shoppers and historically has the highest conversion rate,” Underhill said. “There are very few people that go look at milk and not buy it.”

So on your way to getting the milk, you walk through the middle of the store 5 — historically where the tougher-to-sell items are displayed — past jumbo olives and potato chips that you had no intention of buying. But seeing them on the shelves …

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