Nudgespotting: A Ballot, an Email, and Stairs

By Jamie Kimmel (ideas42)

Welcome to the inaugural post for Nudgespotting! Each Monday I'll be taking a quick look at three real-world nudges, with a healthy dose of commentary and behavioral references.

This week we'll take a look at Greece's referendum ballot design, a helpful reminder from Porter Airlines, and stairs that push individuals to exercise. Here we go:


Ballot for the Greek Referendum

Greece's referendum ballot placed 'No' (OXI) before 'Yes' (NAI)

Greece's referendum ballot placed 'No' (OXI) before 'Yes' (NAI)

On July 5, Greece's public voted on bailout conditions proposed by the EU and the IMF. The ballot placed a 'No' before a 'Yes,' which is largely unprecedented for a referendum. A BBC article quoted an expert on electoral reform, stating that the format of the ballot is "unusual." Could placing the 'No' first actually affect the way individuals voted? 

There's no way to know, since it wasn't tested in this context (missed opportunity for behavioralists!), but the Greek public ended up voting ‘No’ with 61% of the vote. Read about the behavioral implications of this ballot’s design from Jon Jachimowicz and Sam McNerney here.

And for some more nefarious uses of nudging in ballot design, check out Chile’s 1978 referendum on the approval of its President’s policies ('yes' is higher and coupled with Chile’s flag), or Germany’s 1938 ballot on unification of Austria and Germany and approval of Hitler (which provided a large 'yes' and a small 'no').


Benevolent Airport Arrival Suggestion

Porter Airlines (Canada) gives a suggested time to arrive at the airport

Porter Airlines (Canada) gives a suggested time to arrive at the airport

I received this in an email confirmation for an upcoming flight with Porter Airlines. An “arrive by” suggestion is likely effective because, in the absence of a prompt, people are left with just a reference point of the departure time. Meaning we'd have to do the math to figure out when to arrive at the airport, and, at the same time, fight off the urge to be overconfident in our estimation.

Google Maps recently started to integrate upcoming events into the actual map interface, so it would be neat to see them use Porter's "arrive at..." time. Or, even better, do the math for every other airline and just display it on the map.


Calorie Counts on Stairs

Utah Valley University adds a nudge to their stairs

Utah Valley University adds a nudge to their stairs

Nudges like these are supposed to fix a fundamental principle of behavioral economics: limited self-control. Ideally, reducing the uncertainty around how many calories you’d burn by climbing a set of stairs should increase willpower.

But this is an expectations game - it's only likely to help if your estimation was less than what the nudge is disclosing to you (for example, if you thought you’d only burn 1 calorie from climbing the stairs, but the reality was that you'd burn 3). If instead your estimation was that you’d burn more (let’s say 5 calories), then this may actually decrease willpower. Whoops.

Echoes of this sentiment:


Have you spotted a nudge in the wild? Feel free to send them my way by:

We might feature you in an upcoming post!