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04 Jul 13 17:12

We have seen marketing companies using these behavioural economic interventions for years to try and influence our purchasing behaviour.

More recently, various governments have also implemented these in public policy to influence people's behaviour, for example using the default option of auto-enrollment to change the social norm towards pension savings. It is interesting to think about how such interventions can be applied to improve health and environmentally responsible behaviours.

Paul Dolan and Robert Metcalfe (2011) did a study on norms and energy consumption in the UK in which they compared peoples' energy consumption to their neighbours. They looked at three groups:
• group one received their usual energy bill,
• group two were sent a bill in which their consumption was compared to their neighbour's and
• group three received the comparison and information about how to change their behaviour.

Dolan and Metcalfe found that people who were compared to their neighbours reduced their energy consumption by 2.9 % and people from the norms and comparison group reduced by 9.6 %. The results demonstrate that norms do influence behaviour, but also suggest that to sustain behaviour change it is more effective to tap into both our automatic and reflective thinking.

Has anyone seen examples of norms being used to improve health behaviours? If so, have they been effective at obtaining sustained behavior change?

The full research paper can be found here:

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