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Posts Tagged ‘Nudge’

Some very exciting research in the field of social networks psychology, could revolutionize the way green ventures approach citizens. The latest study, by Dr. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School, and James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, reports on the social factors in quitting smoking. It was published this morning in the New England Journal of Medicine, and is already creating ripples throughout the media, starting with the New York Times. From the study’s abstract:

The study examined the extent to which groups of widely connected people quit smoking together.

The results showed that:

  • Whole groups of people were quitting in concert 
  • Smokers were also progressively found in the periphery of the social network
  • Smoking cessation by a spouse decreased a person’s chances of smoking by 67% Smoking cessation by a sibling decreased the chances by 25% 
  • Smoking cessation by a friend decreased the chances by 36% 
  • Among persons working in small firms, smoking cessation by a coworker decreased the chances by 34% 
  • Friends with more education influenced one another more than those with less education. 
  • These effects were not seen among neighbors in the immediate geographic area.

Conclusions are :

  • Network phenomena appear to be relevant to smoking cessation. 
  • Groups of interconnected people stop smoking in concert, and smokers are increasingly marginalized socially.

These results are similar to results of a prior study from same authors on obesity. The network effect is at work not just in the halting of negative behaviors, such as smoking or unhealthy weight gain, but also in the spreading of positive life changes such as happiness. The latter will be documented in a forthcoming study by the authors on,’The Dynamic Spread of Happiness in a Large Social Network’.

The implications for climate strategies are obvious. Behavioral change conservation efforts, will work best if focused on groups, not just individuals. This is a confirmation of the research done by the ‘Nudge‘ team at University of Chicago. The smoking study also shows which clusters to focus on. Friends, as in Facebook or Twitter, coworkers as in Carbon Rally, spouses as in family systems

Thanks, Meryn, for all the links

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Want to bike or drive?‘” Prad was testing my green-ness once more. For a moment, I wavered. The easy way with the car tempting me. And the pressure to get to the gym quick, so that I could get back to my day of work. “It won’t take us much more time. And it’s sixty four degrees outside.” Prad was making a convincing argument. Plus the feeling from Robert Redford‘s talk the night before was still fresh. “ok, let’s bike!“.

That was two days ago. Since then, I have noticed I have been using my bike more and more, did not even drive once yesterday. And today, I returned to the gym, alone this time, and on my bike. It felt good . . . I am starting to look at the people in their cars differently. I am joining the bike folks. I am feeling a shift. Not unlike what happened with shopping a few months ago.

One year of sustained attention and conversations with people like you, and a final nudge from Robert Redford, that’s what it took.

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I don’t always agree with John Tierney, but I have to thank him for pointing me in the direction of ‘Nudge‘, a new book by University of Chicago professors, Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler.

The authors agree with economists who’d like to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by imposing carbon taxes or a cap-and-trade system, but they think people need extra guidance.

“Getting the prices right will not create the right behavior if people do not associate their behavior with the relevant costs,” says Dr. Thaler, a professor of behavioral science and economics. “When I turn the thermostat down on my A-C, I only vaguely know how much that costs me. If the thermostat were programmed to tell you immediately how much you are spending, the effect would be much more powerful.”

It would be still more powerful, he and Mr. Sunstein suggest, if you knew how your energy consumption compared with the social norm. A study in California showed that when the monthly electric bill listed the average consumption in the neighborhood, the people in above-average households significantly decreased their consumption.

Meanwhile, the people with the below-average bills reacted by significantly increasing their consumption – not exactly the goal of the project.

That reaction was avoided when the bill featured a little drawing along with the numbers: a smiling face on a below-average bill or a frowning face on an above-average bill. After that simple nudge, the heavy users made even bigger cuts in consumption, while the light users remained frugal.

Mr. Sunstein and Dr. Thaler suggest applying those principles with something more sophisticated than smiley faces. A glowing ball called the Ambient Orb, programmed to change colors as the price of electricity increases at peak periods, has been given to some utility customers in California, who promptly reduced their usage by 40 percent when the ball glowed red in peak periods.

Another gadget, the Wattson, which changes colors depending upon how much electricity a house is using, collects data that can be displayed on a Web site. Clive Thompson, a columnist for Wired, has suggested that people start displaying the Wattson data on their Facebook pages, an excellent idea that I’d like to take a little further.

I have written before about the need for people to be recognized for their good deeds, and what that means in terms of behavioral strategies for the climate fight. At heart, we remain little children. No matter how grown up I may pretend to be, there is this place inside my heart, that smiles whenever my efforts get acknowledged . . . I call that the ‘sticker effect‘. The other insight deals with the ‘lemmings‘ phenomenon, a behavior I have often observed in myself! Both behavioral tendencies are interrelated and stems from our inherent nature as social beings.

Nudge‘ is behavioral psychology at its best. Maybe not as appealing to the big boys as fancy technology, but potentially just as effective to fight climate change.

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