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Nudges starting to improve our lives in many ways

01 Jun, 2020 Persuasion, influence, motivation

This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.

People are being nudged in many ways to improve their behavior. Nudging is any means that gently influences people to form good habits and make responsible decisions so they benefit themselves as well as the wider community. It also has great potential as a form of change communication.

This new field of behavioral science influences people in easy and usually cost-free ways. It is based largely on the concept put forward in a book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness, by Nobel prize winner Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in 2008.

Nudging opens up many possibilities for communicators to influence behavior changes on behalf of government policy (poverty reduction, early childhood development, community cohesion and respect, mental health and productivity at work, protecting the environment, volunteering and fundraising for charities, and personal wellbeing), as well as in marketing and in people’s daily lives.

Governments are keen on nudging people into good habits without forcing them to make the change. An example of a health nudge is government encouraging delis and cafeterias to display fruit at eye level so it comes easily to mind for a customer to buy instead of less healthy options. This is much more subtle and acceptable than banning junk food. Supporters claim nudges are at least as effective, if not more effective, than direct instruction, legislation, or enforcement.

Pedestrian safety

Photo image 

An example of nudging is this pedestrian crossing in Iceland. It has been painted on the road as a 3D image, which makes drivers take notice and approach the location more cautiously.

Tree patterns slow speeding drivers

Another example is planting roadside trees in a certain pattern to slow drivers as they approach built-up areas. A UK council found that using speed cameras was a costly way to slow down drivers, so it used a nudging technique by planting trees in the shape of a funnel.

Trees were placed at steadily shorter distances apart on the approach to a village, causing drivers to see trees passing by faster in their peripheral vision. This influenced them to slow down because they thought they were going faster than they really were. Drivers slowed down by an average of 2-3 mph.

Saving lives on the roads


Image: o-behave

Similarly, the UK Behavioural Insights Team drafted text within a standard penalty notice to drivers who had been caught speeding. The team simplified the visual format and improved the call to action, with text explaining why speed limits existed and the consequences of speeding. Results: Reoffending rates dropped by 20% within 6 months of driver offences. Almost 14% improvement in payments. Likelihood of prosecution reduced by 41%, and the new notices were paid 20% faster.

Some people think this type of activity is manipulative and therefore undesirable, but if ethical considerations are  properly taken into account, there shouldn’t be problems.

If you are interested in how nudges can influence behavior change, read the many case studies in the Ogilvy Change behavioral science blog. Also, the UK-based Behavioural Insights Team has been especially active in this field in the public interest. As well, you can read Yannick Bikker’s 2019 Medium article titled, “The 7 Most Creative Examples of Habit-Changing Nudges,” (not sure if you have to be a subscriber to access). I find all this very positive and fascinating!

Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash.

About the author Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from

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