driver attention

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Brown psychologist Steven Sloman asked his students to propose a social policy nudge grounded in behavioral science. “It turned out to be harder than expected for students to decide what counted as a nudge as distinct from a shove,” he writes the Nudge blog. “But they all succeeded in the end.” Students proposed nudges for presenting the uncertainty associated with diagnoses of mental disorders, for rationalizing the rate “at which investors sell winning and losing stocks,” and for making the expense of cigarettes and the wastefulness of leaving the tap on more salient. Sloman sends along an account of three nudges that are noteworthy for “their simplicity and their strong scientific roots.”

1. Paige Kirstein proposed a nudge to reduce use of bottled water in fast food restaurants. Her idea is that tap water should be displayed prominently on menus beside bottled water either with a price of “free” or with a nominal charge for the cup that it is served in. Paige argued that customers will increasingly choose the tap water with consequent benefits to the environment because of the direct contrast to bottled water.

2. Maia Kipman proposed an automated system to induce drivers not to text while driving (estimates are that 66% of drivers 18-24 years old practice this dangerous habit!). Maia’s system would put the phone in a special mode when the vehicle is in motion. In this mode, the telephone would work normally but incoming text messages would not be heard. Once out of the car, the phone will inform the driver if they have a message. The phone will automatically let the sender of the message know that the driver is busy and cannot attend to their message but will respond shortly. Finally, if the driver tries to send or read a text, the system would play a recording by a celebrity suggesting that doing so is not a good idea. For instance, Maia suggests that Bill Maher might be induced to record a message that says “New rule: No killing people ‘cuz you are too self-involved.” She thinks it’s important that the message change frequently and hopes that the general public would get involved in generating such messages.

3. Aaron Foo proposed a whole series of nudges to get consumers to stop abusing credit cards. One of his ideas was similar to that of another student, Chloe Swirsky. Their proposal is to take advantage of mental accounting and prior commitment to get consumers to commit to spending limits for various categories of expenditures at the beginning of each time period. The credit card company will place each expenditure in one of those categories and enforce the spending limit. For instance, if the consumer decides that they do not want to spend more than $50 on fast food that month, then the credit card will not work in a fast food location after $50 has been spent.

For a past Nudge in the classroom, click here. To professors and students working on nudges in their classrooms, please share your stories with us.

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The Let It Ring campaign (second video) is now over. It would be easy to replicate in a U.S. state.


Seven months ago the town of Oak Lawn, a south suburb of Chicago, began experimenting with some humorous traffic signs in an attempt to capture drivers’ attention. Recently, the Illinois government ordered the town to remove the signs. In memoriam, some of the soon-to-be-gone signs are posted here. Oak Lawn has no statistics on whether the signs reduced accidents or stop sign running.

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