Leading Edge / Winter 2014

Adults more likely to behave in socially beneficial ways when prompted

We can all use reminders occasionally to do the right thing. When we’re growing up, these prompts – such as to eat healthy food or finish homework – often come from our parents. But as adults, we sometimes let things slide: we don’t always pay our taxes on time or we forget to have a yearly medical checkup. Lately, Dilip Soman, a professor of marketing at the Rotman School of Management, and his colleagues have been investigating how behavioural economics can be used to “nudge” people to behave in socially beneficial ways. (Companies also use nudging to influence consumers.)

In one experiment, Soman and his colleagues found that randomly assigning people a doctor’s appointment and asking them to call if they couldn’t make it quadrupled the likelihood they would see their doctor compared to those who were left to schedule an appointment themselves. “We make a distinction between a nudge from a ‘superior authority’ such as the government, or something that you would normally do yourself,” says Soman. “Then you don’t get into arguments about ‘who are you to decide what’s good for me.’”

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