Tag Archives: Richard Thaler

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.

What’s the Status Quo From the Other Side: List of Biases in Judgment and Decision-Making, Part 14

It’s Monday, so you know what that means — cognitive bias! When I write that, I sort of imagine a “live television audience shouting in chorus: cognitive bias!” Wouldn’t that be fun? Well, maybe it wouldn’t, but it’s kind of funny to think about. I’ve only got a couple of more biases that I’d like to mention, so let’s get right to today’s — the status quo bias.

The status quo bias, like many of the previous biases we’ve talked about, is exactly what it sounds like: a preference for the how things currently are. You may even look at this bias as some people’s inability to accept change or a fear of change, but that probably wouldn’t be completely accurate. Let’s go back to one of those journal articles we looked at in previous biases — Anomalies: The Endowment Effect, Loss Aversion, and Status Quo Bias:

A large-scale experiment on status quo bias is now being conducted (inadvertently) by the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Both states now offer a choice between two types of automo­bile insurance: a cheaper policy that restricts the right to sue, and a more expensive one that maintains the unrestricted right. Mo­torists in New Jersey are offered the cheaper policy as the default option, with an opportunity to acquire an unrestricted right to sue at a higher price. Since this option was made available in 1988, 83 percent of the drivers have elected the default option. In Pennsyl­vania’s 1990 law, however, the default option is the expensive policy, with an opportunity to opt for the cheaper kind. The potential effect of this legislative framing manipulation was studied by Hershey, Johnson, Meszaros, and Robinson (1990). They asked two groups to choose between alternative policies. One group was presented with the New Jersey plan while the other was presented with the Pennsylvania plan. Of those subjects of­fered the New Jersey plan, only 23 percent elected to buy the right to sue whereas 53 percent of the subjects offered the Pennsylvania plan retained that right. On the basis of this research, the authors predict that more Pennsylvanians will elect the right to sue than New Jerseyans. Time will tell.

Another example:

One final example of a presumed status quo bias comes courtesy of the Journal of Economic Perspectives staff. Among Carl Shapiro’s comments on this column was this gem: “You may be interested to know that when the AEA was considering letting members elect to drop one of the three Association journals and get a credit, prominent economists involved in that decision clearly took the view that fewer members would choose to drop a journal if the default was presented as all three journals (rather than the default being 2 journals with an extra charge for getting all three). We’re talking economists here.”

You can see how important this bias would be for your life in making decisions. Should I sell my house (when the market’s hot) or should I hold onto it? You might be more liable to hold onto your house, even though there are economic gains to be had by selling it and, in fact, there are economic losses by keeping it!

As we’ve mentioned with some of the other biases, this bias can operate in tandem with other biases. For instance, think about the scenario I just mentioned and how that might also be similar to the endowment effect or loss aversion.

Ways for Avoiding the Status Quo Bias

1) Independent Evaluation

It really can be as easy as this. Have someone (or do it yourself) do a cost-benefit analysis on the situation/decision. In this way, you’ll be able to see the pros/cons of your decision in a new light. Of course, you may still succumb to the status quo bias, but you might be less likely to do so.

2) Role Reversal

While the independent evaluation makes “good sense” in trying to avoid this bias, doing some sort of role reversal will probably be the most effective. That is, look at the decision/situation from the other perspective. If it’s a negotiation, imagine that you’re in your negotiating partner’s shoes and you’re actually doing the trade from that side. Evaluate the deal. This may help to shake loose the status quo bias.

If you liked this post, you might like one of the other posts in this series:

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?