Tag Archives: Nudge

Food is Meant to be Enjoyed: Parenting Without Borders, Part 3

It’s been almost five months since I wrote a post in this series. In fact, I looked back at the first three posts in this series and noticed that there was a rather large lag between some of the posts (Intro to Part 1 = 3+ months; Part 1 to Part 2 = ~1 month; Part 2 to Part 3 = ~5 months). I wonder if we can consider this some kind of metaphor for how it can be with parents who try to cross some things off their to do list. Anyway, my hope is that I’ll be able to post a few more parts of this series in the next month and a bit. Let’s have a quick refresher on the first three parts.

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Chapter 3, we’ll take a closer look at the different ways that children around the world eat.

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One of the first things that struck me about this chapter was the aspect of neuromarketing. I’ve written about this in the past. From the book:

Food manufacturers spend enormous amounts of money to market their product to even the youngest eaters. The labels are brightly colored and appealing, and the foods are advertised directly to children on TV and the Internet. Supermarkets often put these kid-friendly foods at a child’s eye level so a child will be more likely to take them off the shelves and put them in the grocery cart when a parent’s back is turned.

Somehow, this seems… wrong. I totally understand the idea of free choice, free markets, and all that it encompasses, but is it really in our collective best interest to be pumping our kids full of sugar? More importantly, is it really in our collective best interest to allow an industry to surreptitiously convince our children that the foods they should be eating are found in the dry good aisle, rather than the produce section? Again, I totally understand that some folks are adamant about letting the ‘market’ correct failures, but it seems to me that in certain areas (healthcare being another one), there should be a bit more regulatory oversight.

On that note, I a little while back, I had what I thought was an interesting idea that incorporate some of the principles of Nudge:

The idea: a marketing campaign in which we tell people that, when they get unhealthy, their spouse or their kids will have to pay for it.

Circling back to the chapter, here’s another bit that I found startling:

It’s not just what kids eat, but how much. In the past thirty years, portion sizes have grown astronomically: a cookie today is 700 percent bigger than it was in the 1970s.

Seven hundred percent! That’s incredible. And that reminds me of one of the anecdotes I talked about when I wrote about how I stopped eating dessert:

There’s a story that I remember being told about Kate Hudson. I tried to find it just now, but Hudson recently mentioned something about a story in France that has similar keywords to the search I ran and so I’m not able to find it. It may or may not be true, but let’s just say that it is. When Hudson was young, her mother (Goldie Hawn), taught her an important lesson when it came to dessert: only take one bite. That is, when you’re served a piece of pie or a piece of cake, it’s not necessary to eat the entire piece. Instead, just take one bite of the dessert to “enjoy” the taste of the dessert and let that be it.

Can you imagine a sugar-starved kid only having one bite of their cake and leaving the rest? The stereotypical child that I’m imagining — of course — couldn’t do that, but I wonder if we move back to smaller portions (and smaller plates!) and teach our little ones about the importance of moderation, might this venture be a bit easier?

Before we close out this post, I wanted to share a couple of bits from the chapter about how food socialization of children in other parts of the world. In Japan, for instance, food is part of the education system. In the earlier grades, kids are learning about all the different uses for soybeans and by the time their in middle school, they’re already learning the basics of how to cook. I think most folks know that the school calendar is different in Japan (longer school days and longer school year), which allows for time for other learning. Rather than strictly focusing on academic instruction, Japanese students receive an education fit for the ‘whole’ of the person.

You might also find Sweden’s way of doing things refreshing — kids get to pick what they want to eat. The small catch is, the fridge is stocked with only healthy/good choices. In this way, a child in Sweden will never make the ‘wrong’ choice.

Eating in South Korea is similar to eating in Japan. One of the things I didn’t mention about Japan, but that is very important in South Korea, is that the family eats together. Everyone is eating the same things and there’s a real emphasis on a shared eating experience.

Moving west to France and Italy — food is meant to be enjoyed. A quick example from France:

School lunch in France is a class in itself. Children get one and a half to two hours to eat a leisurely, three-course lunch, followed by a recess. A typical menu for preschoolers in Versailles has children eating sliced radish and corn salad with vinaigrette dressing and black olive garnish, roasted guinea fowl, sautéed Provençal vegetables, and wheat berries, Saint-Paulin cheese, vanilla flan, and wafers.

I suspect that the meal above probably sounds better than what you had for lunch and probably sounds better than what you’re going to be having for dinner tonight.

Choice Architecture: Even in “Heads or Tails,” It Matters What’s Presented First

If you’re familiar with behavioural economics, then the results of this study will be right up your alley.

The researchers set out to determine whether there was a “first-toss Heads bias.” Meaning, when flipping a coin and the choices are presented “Heads or Tails,” there would be a bias towards people guessing “Heads” (because it was presented first). Through running their tests, they found something else that surprised them [Emphasis Added]:

Because of stable linguistic conventions, we expected Heads to be a more popular first toss than Tails regardless of superficial task particulars, which are transient and probably not even long retained. We were wrong: Those very particulars carried the day. Once the response format or verbal instructions put Tails before Heads, a first-toss Tails bias ensued.

Even in something as simple as flipping a coin, something where the script “Heads or Tails” is firmly engrained in our heads, researchers discovered that by simply switching the order of the choices, the frequency with which people chose one option or the other changed. That’s rather incredible and possibly has implications from policy to polling. However:

There is, of course, no reason to expect that, in normal binary choices, biases would be as large as those we found. In choosing whether to start a sequence of coin tosses with Heads or Tails, people ostensibly attach no importance to the choice and therefore supposedly do not monitor or control it. Since System 1 mental processes (that are intuitive and automatic) bring Heads to mind before Tails, and since there is no reason for System 2 processes (which are deliberative and thoughtful; see, e.g., Kahneman & Frederick, 2002) to interfere with whatever first comes to mind, many respondents start their mental sequence with Heads. However, in real-life questions people often have preferences, even strong ones, for one answer over another; the stronger the preference, the weaker the bias. A direct generalization from Miller and Krosnick (1998) suggests that in choices such as making a first-toss prediction, where there would seem to be no good intrinsic reason to guide the choice, order biases are likely to be more marked than in voting. At the magnitude of bias we found, marked indeed it was. Miller and Krosnick noted with respect to their much smaller bias that “the magnitude of name-order effects observed here suggests that they have probably done little to undermine the democratic process in contemporary America” (pp. 291–292). However, in some contexts, even small biases can sometimes matter, and in less important contexts, sheer bias magnitude may endow it with importance.

OK, so maybe these results don’t add too much to “government nudges,” but it can — at a minimum — give you a slight advantage (over the long haul) when deciding things by flipping coins with your friends. How?

Well, assuming that you are the one doing the flipping, you can say to your friend: “Tails or Heads?” (or “Heads or Tails?”) and then be sure to start the coin with the opposite side of what your friend said, facing up. A few years ago, Stanford math professor Persi Diaconis showed that the side facing up before being flipped is slightly more likely to be the side that lands facing up.

ResearchBlogging.orgBar-Hillel M, Peer E, & Acquisti A (2014). “Heads or tails?”–a reachability bias in binary choice. Journal of experimental psychology. Learning, memory, and cognition, 40 (6), 1656-63 PMID: 24773285

Do Percentages Matter in a One-Time Decision?

I write a lot about decision-making. It’s clearly something that interests me. As a result, I often find myself thinking about how to make better decisions or how to help people make better decisions. That’s why I’m already up to Part 10 of that series on decision-making (and I’ve got at least 4 more to go). I’m not including today’s post as part of that series, but it serves as an interesting addendum. Meaning, it should at least give you something to think about. So, here we go!

As I said, I often find myself thinking about how to optimize decisions. Often times, when people are trying to make a decision about something in the future, there may be percentages attached to the success of a decision. For example, if you’re the elected leader of a country, you might have to decide about a mission to go in and rescue citizens that are being held hostage. When you’re speaking with your military and security advisors, they may tell you the likelihood of success of the different options you have on the table.

I was going to end the example there and move into my idea, but I think it might make it easier to understand, if I really go into detail on the example.

So, you’re the President of the United States and you’ve got citizens who are being held hostage in Mexico (but not by the government of Mexico). The Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff presents a plan of action for rescuing the citizens. After hearing about the chance of success of this plan, you ask the Chief what the chance of success is and he tells you 60%. The other option you have is to continue to pursue a diplomatic solution in tandem with the Mexican government. As the President, what do you do?

So, my wondering is whether that 60% number really matters that much. In fact, I would argue that the only “numbers” that would be useful in this situation are 100%, 0%, or whether the number is greater than 50 or less than 50 (to make sure that this is still three numbers, we could call this last number ‘x’). This sounds silly, right? A mission that has a 80% chance of success would make you more inclined to choose that mission, right? The problem is that 20% of the time, that mission is still going to fail. And my point is that since this is a one-time decision (meaning, it’s astronomically unlikely that the identical situation would occur again), there won’t be iterations such that 80% of the time, the decision to carry out that mission will be successful.

I suppose the argument against this idea is that in a mission that has only a 51% chance of success, there’s a 49% chance of failure and one would presume that there are more factors that might lead to failure with these percentages (or at least a higher chance of these failures coming to fruition).

I realize that this idea is off-the-wall, but I’d be interested to read an article in a math journal that explains why this is wrong (using reasoning beyond what I’ve explained here) or… why it’s right!

New Perspective on Healthiness: When You Get Unhealthy, Your Spouse or Your Kids Pay For It

I’m certainly a fan of behavioral economics, behavioral finance, and especially the ideas in Richard Thaler‘s book, Nudge. After reading Daniel Pink’s To Sell Is Human earlier this winter, I was thinking about how to combine some of the principles of those books in tackling what is a self-inflicted crisis: obesity.

Last month, I wrote about the importance of considering neuromarketing in the discussion of obesity, but I think there’s another way to frame this discussion. More importantly, at first blush, when framing it this way, I think it could motivate some people to take better care of themselves (at a minimum, it helped to motivate me to do so). I don’t remember how I came to this idea, but I know that it combines some of the things that I’ve read in the books I mentioned above (and was why I made note of them).

The idea: a marketing campaign in which we tell people that, when they get unhealthy, their spouse or their kids will have to pay for it.

Most people don’t want to burden their spouses (or their children), so I thought that by drawing to their attention that their spouse/kids will be the ones who’ll have to take care of them (and maybe pay for the cost of their care?), it might sway people away from making those choices that negatively affect their health.

When I had a conversation with someone about this, they raised the important point that many people don’t have spouses and many people don’t have kids, so this campaign might not be as successful as I first thought. Those are very valid points, but don’t we think that many people will — eventually — have spouses? If we can agree to that we then could add “future” spouse or “future” children to the campaign. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the underlying principle of the idea. Do you think that people care that their spouses/kids will be left to take care of them?