Nudges, Mirrors, and Food Choice


Tech and marketing writer James Curtis contributes this definition of the social engineering tool called the nudge:

It is a subtle push that aims to alter a person’s behavior without really being noticed. Instead of forbidding choices, or using overt incentives, a nudge acts more like a light breeze that our mind catches like a sail, pushing us into a preferred direction.

He gives seven great examples of applied choice architecture, this one having to do with persuading shoppers to choose more healthful items. Researchers used duct tape to divide each grocery customer’s cart into two sections, and they were instructed to place their fresh produce purchases in front of the tape, and all the rest of their groceries on the other side. The result, Curtis says, was a “102% increase in purchases of fruits & veggies.”

And if you want customers to steer toward the produce department, just paint big green arrows on the floor — which they will follow even if they don’t know why! Now, here is an interesting “awareness” trigger that helps grocery consumers just when they need it most:

This nudge tugs shoppers out of the overloaded marketing circuitry of a grocery store and hopefully back in control by simply placing a mirror at the end of shopping carts. Serving as a constant self-reminder, this grocery store nudge aims to keep shoppers constantly aware of their health when making purchasing decisions, as opposed to running on autopilot…

Another mirror story, this one from a Monday morning breakfast challenge, was reported on by Design Incubation Centre. Researchers set up a buffet table that offered fruits and muffins, and during one time period most people helped themselves to fruits, while during an equal time period, they mostly chose muffins. Why?

To influence choices, we placed a mirror behind the breakfast table as research shows that causing people to self-reflect prior to making a decision encourages them to take healthier options.

They also experimented with taller or shorter serving dishes, and during the “fruit condition,” when the choice architecture was aimed at influencing the subjects to prefer fruit, they played Caribbean music.

Childhood Obesity News previously mentioned how the staff of Massachusetts General Hospital took part in a long-term study meant to nudge them away from unhealthful choices in the cafeteria. Other examples of choice architecture associated with healthier food choices are health labelling at point of purchase, manipulating plate size, assortment manipulation, and payment option manipulation. A promising school study offered fresh vegetarian specials daily, stickers on sandwiches containing salad, promotional posters, and a decorative display of whole fresh fruits.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “How Placing a Fly in a Urinal Might Be Just What Your Business Needs: 7 Awesome Nudging Examples,”, 03/04/14
Source: “Nudge,”, undated
Photo on Visualhunt

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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