Can a Nudge Change Behavior Patterns?

"GMA" conducts a behavior lab to see how subtle changes affect our decisions.

ByABC News via logo
March 19, 2009, 9:35 PM

March 20, 2009 — -- A simple, sometimes unknowing suggestion can alter human behavior dramatically. That's the theory in Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein's recent book, "Nudge."

"A nudge is any small feature of the environment that captures our attention and alters our behavior," he said.

The tiny and painless cues can influence people, like they did in the Amsterdam airport. There, an artist painted flies on the urinals near the drain. The idea was that the nudge would make men take better aim.

"[The result was that] spillage was decreased by 80 percent," Thaler said.

If a fly could make such a large impact, "Good Morning America" wondered what else a nudge could do.

"GMA" conducted a hidden camera experiment at Manhattan Mortgage, which has 50 employees.

The camera was set up in the break room and for two days it recorded employees eating from a catered breakfast on a flat table.

On average, the workers were big doughnut eaters and only ate about a quarter of a bowl of fruit each day.

But when "GMA" gave the healthier food a little nudge by elevating it and putting the danishes and doughnuts of to the side, more people opted for the healthier fare.

When "GMA" elevated the fruit on cake plates, in fact, it was wiped out in less than 30 minutes, which was less than a third of the time it normally took.

When granola was elevated, consumption doubled.

As for doughnuts, consumption dropped by 10 percent when they were sidelined.