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The Science of Swaying Choices

One barrier to climate change is bad choice architecture. If we frame a fee as a “carbon offset” instead of a “carbon tax,” we could move people to make more environmentally friendly decisions.

This term “choice architecture” was coined by Thaler and Sunstein (2008) and refers to the practice of influencing choice by changing the manner in which options are presented to people. For example, this can be done by setting defaults, framing, or adding decoy options.

Default options are pre-set courses of action that take effect if nothing is specified by the decision maker (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008), and setting defaults is an effective tool in choice architecture when there is inertia or uncertainty in decision making (Samson, 2014). Requiring people to opt-out if they do not wish to donate their organs, for example, has been associated with higher donation rates (Johnson & Goldstein, 2003).

In Framing Affect, choices can be presented in a way that highlights the positive or negative aspects of the same decision, leading to changes in their relative attractiveness. This technique was part of Tversky and Kahneman’s development of prospect theory, which framed gambles in terms of losses or gains (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979). Different types of framing approaches have been identified, including risky choice framing (e.g. the risk of losing 10 out of 100 lives vs the opportunity to save 90 out of 100 lives), attribute framing (e.g. beef that is 95% lean vs 5% fat), and goal framing (e.g. motivating people by offering a $5 reward vs imposing a $5 penalty) (Levin, Schneider, & Gaeth, 1998).

Our decisions are constantly shaped by subtle changes in our environment. Even choices that feel deliberate and conscious can be swayed by cues that we may not even notice, such as social norms or the setting of a default option. Behavioral scientists use the phrase “choice architecture” to describe the ways in which the environment influences how we decide.


Contact us at info@ippaworld.com to conduct a workshop on Choice Architecture: How to Design Choice Environments that Influence Choice.

This workshop is recommended for professionals in Customer Experience, Marketing, Communications, and Sustainability.


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Behavioral Economics: Change is created by smart interventions in an individual’s choice architecture. That ıs the context where behavior takes place.

Advertising: Change is created by communications.


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For a fine story on the Economist: The Tyranny of Choice

Photo Credit: The Economist

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