Study: Small Environment Changes Can Lead to Healthy Behavior Changes

In terms of application, the authors of the study noted that the results were intended to act as a reference for policymakers who want to implement new practices around supporting healthy behavioral changes.

A new study found that by making small changes in the environment, such interventions can encourage changes in our behavior while still preserving freedom of choice. For example, the investigators observed that by adding informative labels or reorganizing food offerings in a cafeteria, individuals may be encouraged to make more positive health choices without feeling pushed to do so.

The “nudging” theory, developed by American economist Richard Thaler, is based on the principle that our choices are not only determined by our ability to reason, but also by certain biases based on emotion or memories.

In behavioral sciences, researchers call this “choice architecture,” which can help a population pick healthier choices without removing their freedom of choice. An example of this would be putting a healthy food choice deliberately at the top of a menu, which would visually encourage customers to select the option that will benefit their health the most.

A research team from the University of Geneva worked to conduct a meta-analysis to look at the effectiveness of these “nudges” and the areas in which they are the most relevant.

“We have collected more than 200 scientific articles published over the last 15 years on the subject, which represent more than 450 'nudge' strategies," said study first author Stéphanie Mertens, MSc, a PhD student in the Swiss Center for Affective Sciences at the University of Geneva, in a press release.

The researchers went on to classify the nudges by “information,” “structure,” and “assistance.” The first set was grouped by interventions whose objective is to inform individuals to motivate them to make certain choices. The second set grouped techniques that deal with the structure of an environment, whereas the third set classified nudges involving a form of commitment.

The team concluded that all 3 groups are effective, but that the techniques in the “structure” group were the most effective.

“Within these groups, we also compared different areas of application, such as health, finances or energy consumption. In the end, we found that nudges work best in the area of food," said Tobias Brosch, director of the Consumer Decision and Sustainable Behavior Laboratory, in a press release. "It is imperative that the overall study quality increases because of the impact that nudges can have on the daily lives of citizens.”

In terms of application, the authors of the study noted that the results were intended to act as a reference for policymakers who want to implement new practices around supporting healthy behavioral changes.

REFERENCE

Inciting instead of coercing, 'nudges' prove their effectiveness. ScienceDaily. January 17, 2022. Accessed January 18, 2022. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/01/220117093004.htm

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