Smart defaults and healthful snacking

Another great paper on using behavioral science to create smart defaults. It’s in the Proceedings of CHI 2011, that was just held in Vancouver. This study was on healthy snack choices (apples v cookies).  They did three studies.

The first one looked at human-human interaction. They had a person walking around an office offering snacks. He either offered both snacks equally or offered the apple and allowed them to opt in for the cookie instead. They picked their snack for that day (immediate gratification) and for the next day (more likely to think logically). As expected, people were more likely to want the cookie right now and the apple tomorrow then vice versa (although lots of people requested the same snack for both days). The interesting finding is that laziness bias arose even when asking for the cookie was very easy. Just being offered the apple first made a difference. They suspected that it was the added social pressure to select the healthy choice when it was the default.

So they ran two more studies, one with a robot and one with a web site interface for picking the snacks. There wouldn’t be any social pressure, instead the default was just convenience. When the robot offered apples and cookies together, more people selected the cookies then when the cookies were on a lower shelf. Even just that much effort elicited the laziness bias.

With the web site, the apples and cookies were either both on the first page, or the apples were on the first page and they had to click <Next page> to get to the cookies. Again, even just one extra click elicited the laziness bias (although they speculate that maybe some people didn’t notice the <Next page> button).

Another interesting finding is that the effect was greater for people with less healthy eating habits (they had a snacking profile questionnaire after the snack choice).

A third interesting finding is that when they listed the number of calories, healthier snackers were more likely to pick the cookies. This is either an example of the vicarious goal fulfillment I have blogged about in the past or the healthier snackers discovered that the cookies weren’t as bad as they thought.