Choice Architecture: Are You Using It?

Ever Heard of Nudges? You Might Not Know You’re Being Nudged Every Day!

Choice architecture is the practice of influencing choice by changing the way in which options are presented to people. Sometimes you may see the term interchanged with “nudges” or “behavioral economics.” The concept is based on the principle that people do not make decisions in a vacuum.  People use environmental cues (conscious and subconscious) which can influence their decision. This can take place in any setting such as offices, supermarkets, schools, or homes.

How does it work?

There are a few strategies frequently employed when implementing choice architecture, which include using: 1. Default options, 2. Framing, and 3. Decoys. When you make something the default option, the action happens if the decision maker doesn’t specify a change.  For example, if your lunch comes with a water bottle unless you specify a different drink. When you frame an option, you highlight the positive or negative aspects of the same decision, leading to changes in their relative attractiveness. Such as, putting the water bottles in a pretty display at the front of the line and having other drinks in a closed cooler at the end of the line. The decoy strategy is when people’s preference for one choice over another changes by adding a third (similar, but less attractive) option, like giving a free piece of fruit with the water bottle but offering nothing with the other drinks.  Want more examples and strategies that aren’t based in the lunchroom? There are more tactics that are specifically geared for the business community (like simplification of procedures) found in this 2014 short article.

How can it help your organization?

Now that you know how choice architecture works, think of a project you are working on that could benefit from these strategies. There’s a lot of research that shows that choice architecture works well when trying to get employees or students to make a healthy choice. Some simple, low-to-no cost changes like having a salad or a fruit come with all sandwiches offered in the staff cafeteria (default) or changing the way a menu item is listed such as “succulent Italian seafood fillets” instead of “fish sticks” (framing) can have a huge impact. Even rearranging the products in your vending machines could help make the health choice the easy choice.

Choice architecture can even be used in human resources and getting employees to save more for their retirement. One study found that companies that enrolled their employees automatically in a workplace pension program, while giving them the opportunity to opt out, had an increase in participation by 37 percentage points.

Making an Impact Using Choice Architecture

Marketing campaigns and choice architecture strategies alone cannot ensure that people will continue to choose the healthy option. These efforts need to be complemented with education, which has also been shown to be effective in changing habits. CNY can help you design a campaign and materials to help your employees, clients, or community members make the desired choice on their own. Currently, CNY is working with a national organization using choice architecture principles to improve the nutritional landscape of food pantries. The strategies can be beneficial in any environment or field of work- find out more today!


Sources:                                                                                                   Accessed on April 23, 2018.                                        Sunstein, C. (2014). Nudging: A Very Short Guide. 37 J. Consumer Pol'y 583. Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. (2008). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.                     Wansink, B., van Ittersum, K., Painter, J.E., (2001). Descriptive menu labels’ effect on sales. Cornell Hotel Restaur. Admin. Q. 42, 68–72.