behavioural nudges

The nudge theory is a concept in behavioural science which uses insights about our behaviour and how it can be subtly “nudged” to influence our decisions. The concept focuses on how in control humans are of their own decisions and their power to choose.

The nudge theory’s inherent belief is that the majority of decisions people make are made instinctively and unconsciously rather than made with rational decision making. This in turn allows the use of nudges which come in the form of small changes to the environment to influence this decision making process without limiting or interfering with their freedom of choice.

The use of nudges has been widely used by governments around the world with the UK Government even creating a Behavioural Insights Team, known as the Nudge Unit, to tap into this method of influence. With several governments and industries studying and implementing this theory to try and achieve desired behaviours, it has been noted that one of the most powerful and widely used nudges is social proof.

This is based on the insight that people are heavily motivated by the behaviour of others and as an example, by merely saying that most people conduct a certain type of behaviour, increased the probability of this behaviour being exhibited in the target population. For example, a field experiment in Switzerland showed that displaying the message “9 out of 10 people in [town] pay their tax on time” increased tax compliance by 16 percentage points. By contrast, the conventional moral appeals in tax letters, “paying taxes is the right thing to do” essentially had no impact on tax compliance.

Furthermore, the insight around social proof means that conventional persuasion techniques can backfire. A great example of that relates to Arizona’s national park authorities who put up a sign designed to reduce wood theft. The sign read “Many past visitors have removed wood from the forest changing its natural state”. This did not however, lead to the desired effect of convincing people not to steal wood, but instead increased theft in the national park by 8%. Due to the wording of the sign, the sign implicitly nudged the population to continue or increase taking wood from the park as it was understood that this act is already being undertaken by several others, so there is no harm joining the rest of the population in the act.

Formulating behavioural insights like these is the specialty of our agency here at Behave. Our in house team of behavioural science experts are highly skilled at developing recommendations relevant to each business case based off of a vast selection of nudges and desired outcomes.

This process involves researching existing literature as well as creating new hypotheses and gathering evidence to support our theories. We actively conduct original research projects to test theories continuously in order to quantitatively demonstrate the effectiveness of the nudges.

For more information about Behavioural Nudges and how we can help your business,  please email

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