Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Another way to Nudge for good health

Two connected papers were published in Judgment and Decision Making last quarter that have great illustrations of the "Nudge" effect I have blogged about many times in the past.

The first study looked at how people take food from salad bars.  The salad bar had three rows of 24-oz containers of food.  So as you walked down the bar, half of the items were in the front row and half of the items were in the middle row, and then in the way back was a repetition of whatever was in the front row (for people walking down the other side). They moved the items around to see what effect location had.  It turned out that just the slight inconvenience of having to reach to the middle row decreased how much of those items were taken.  They also looked at whether items were at the beginning of the bar, middle or end.  Some things were taken more at each location, so this basically canceled itself out.  Finally, they found that customers took less of items that had tongs than items that had spoons.  Just the small inconvenience of having to use tongs reduced the amount that people took.

The second study looked at the location of items on a printed menu. They moved the items around the menu to see what effect the location would have.  They only looked at one thing, but it was significant.  Items at the beginning and end of the menu were ordered more than items in the middle of the menu.

So what does this matter?  You could take two approaches:

Maximize profits:  put the items with the highest profit margin in the front row of a salad bar and the beginning or end of a printed menu.

Maximizing health:  put the healthiest items in the front row of a salad bar and the beginning or end of a printed menu.

Why we dream

Some new research on dreaming used fMRI to see what brain areas are active during dreaming and compared it to what these same areas do during conscious thought.  The idea was to predict what benefits dreams provide and perhaps why we evolved to have dreams.  This Scientific American article summarizes several recent studies in this area.

One of them found increasing frontal theta activity.  This is where we create memories of our personal experiences.  This is probably why dreams seem like they really are happening to you, even when the dream has events that never really happened.

A second found that in the dreams we remember, there is more activity in the amygdala and hippocampus.  The amygdala is used to process emotion and the hippocampus converts short term memory to long term.  So dreams perhaps are used to help us remember the important events of our day, since important events usually have stronger emotions than unimportant events.  It might be more important to remember the emotion associated with an event then it is to remember the details.  Remembering that an experience was pleasurable, painful, frustrating, saddening, fun, or whatever is probably more important than remembering that it happened at 3:12pm or that you were wearing a yellow shirt when it happened. 

A third study supported the link to emotion by finding that when people don’t get REM sleep, they have trouble processing emotions the next day.  That area doesn't get its rest.

Interesting, huh?