I was reading a piece today on how Big Food applies a complex understanding of our physiology and psychology to sell us more junk food.
Dopamine in the brain is the city circle tram that communicates between the pleasure centre in our brain (VTA) and the part that metes out rewards (The NA). The VTA has a big role in understanding, motivation and orgasm. Here is where habits are formed.
Food scientists have figured out how to get us off with corn chips and cola.
Pretty shameful stuff but then, also not that surprising. Most food and drink companies are trying to maximise revenue and our well-being is not their concern.
Manipulating our chemistry is at the sinister end of what are commonly known as ‘nudges’ or design to affect behaviour change in people.
Nudges or use of cognitive biases have been around for a while but you don’t often hear about their use for the right reasons. Here’s a few examples of brands and orgs doing the right thing by people.
Smarties in Canada and Nestle are reducing portions to meet their nutrition goals for kids. The triple portion box is a great idea to help measure consumption.b
Melbourne City Council (and others around the world) are adjusting their pedestrian management to suit new behaviours. These light strips at ground level help those using their phones to navigate a crossing more safely.
Possibly my favourite example of a great nudge is using football fandom to create organ donors in Brazil.
The approach is even being used to navigate difficult end of life decisions (relevant in Victoria right now!) by a doctor and his team at the University of Pennsylvania.
Much evidence suggest gentle design cues work.
The creepy Christmas lunch uncle of nudges, Richard H. Thaler says using them responsibly means:
All nudging should be transparent and never misleading.
It should be as easy as possible to opt out of the nudge, preferably with as little as one mouse click.
There should be good reason to believe that the behaviour being encouraged will improve the welfare of those being nudged.