It has been established that our behaviour varies according to the environment. The environment here is not limited to physical surroundings alone but also involves digital, social, and economic environments. This piece discusses how small changes in the physical environment may help us behave better.
There is an increased application of the interventions for individual behaviour change. For example, changing environmental cues have offered the potential to change behaviour. More commonly, they are referred to as choice architecture or nudge interventions.
After the publication of Thaler and Sunstein’s work in 2008, choice architecture or nudge interventions caught the attention of researchers and policymakers. The focus is on small cues around the physical setting that unconsciously define our behaviour. These can be as little as creating an illusion of speed by painting the roads to slow down the vehicles. Such interventions thrive from the human sensitivity to cues around them and provide a framework to design an environment which promotes the best behaviour.
External factors determine the creation of perspectives in the environment for more accessible choices or situationism. Personality traits, motives, and internal factors take a backseat. In a sense, this is not a theory. Instead, it provides a framework. The interactive process of conscious and non-conscious choices conceptualizes choice architecture. Dichotomies such as situation versus motivation, automatic versus reflective, and conscious versus non-conscious are oversimplifications. The approach of choice architecture highlights two things: the role of context and non-conscious processing.
For the proximal physical micro-environments, the typology TIPPME outlines different types of interventions such as altering properties, how to place the objects, proximity of stimuli, and perception of senses.
Availability (whether a given object is present) and position (the object's location in the environment) are usually manipulated. Other factors such as presentation, size, functionality, etc., also influence.
Healthier Food Choices
Based on the option or the availability of healthy food may affect individuals' selection and consumption patterns.
To make an action more likely to be chosen, increased availability of the object in question is required. It works by making the desired choice the most obvious and reachable, with prompts for the desired outcome (i.e., placing an apple instead of a chocolate bar at shoppers' eye level). This manipulation may be associated with the “mere exposure effect”, wherein an individual is repeatedly exposed to the object for appeal.
Similarly, the size of wine glasses can influence drinking behaviours. The inward sloping glass will affect the individuals’ sip size, how fast they consume the drink, and the consumption volume. To afford less capacity and more excellent reward value, the adjusted share size of glasses is manipulated.
Graphic Health Warnings
Such interventions entail adding a graphic earning to the user in the form of an image to create awareness about the harm associated with consumption/overconsumption of a particular item. The associated risks are shown to heighten the perception and result in a balanced intake.
Further replication of the studies in different contexts and with larger sample size is needed to ensure robust behaviour change interventions. Initial proof of phenomena may be observed in the laboratories, but real-world evidence is required for real-world applications. And for the science of human behaviour to advance, the answer lies in moving beyond noticing one phenomenon, framework, or theory. Extensive literature that offers explanation, prediction and development of choice architecture is the need of the hour.