Choice architecture: a key to change behavior?
Earlier today, I received a random joke on WhatsApp (in Hinglish) … so for the benefit of the larger audience I will attempt to translate it below.
It might not sound as funny in English but I’m assuming you will get the gist of it.
A guy buys a pack of cigarettes and walks out of the store.
He notices the Warning reads: Smoking causes ‘Impotency’.
Shocked with this, he rushes back to the store saying,
“Hey man, what pack have you given me? … Can you please give me the one with the Cancer warning on it?”
It might seem funny … but at the same time it made me think if there were a couple of insights underlying this transaction which if studied well, can potentially help change behavior!
Needless to mention, it reiterates the known theory of how irrational we human beings are.
Firstly majority of us have a tendency to overestimate the likelihood of a positive outcome whilst underestimating the likelihood to experience a bad event in the future. We are fundamentally optimists and not realists. Neuroscientists call this the Optimism Bias.
Whilst optimism bias can be a good thing, it also has its own disadvantages as observed with smokers.
Despite the large warning signs in both text and visual depiction about the consequences of smoking … most smokers believe they cannot be affected by Cancer.
Probably its a function of the Availability Heuristic where the person overestimates the information available to them. They would say, “I know someone who was a chain-smoker and smoked 2 packs a day most of his life and lived healthily upto 85yrs without any illness… and also knows someone who didn’t smoke but ended up with very ill health.”
Furthermore very few people have the discipline of knowing what they want most (great health) vs what they want now (cigarette) … and since the repercussions are not immediate, but in the long term, in a lifespan which itself is uncertain, makes it difficult to get them to change their behavior.
However, in this case a nudge like “impotency” can change behavior seemed like an interesting and a thought-provoking idea. Not sure if people assume ‘impotency’ might happen in the immediate future vs Cancer in the long-run or whether they believe it to be far worse than Cancer would be an interesting area to study.
So I wonder if the answer simply lies in developing the right choice architecture to change behavior?
Images used here have been sourced from google and the rights belong to their own respective owner.