Do people choose what they prefer, or prefer what they choose? According to Behavioral Economics, the context of a choice can drive consumer actions as much as the products or services being offered, influencing behaviors at both the point of purchase and the moment of consumption. For example, a pervasive bias towards the status quo often make any default option more effective – research has shown that this is true for decisions as weighty as organ donation, or just a purchase at the online grocery check-out. The fact that people make decisions spontaneously also make them more susceptible to the way choices are presented. For instance, in a set of three options, the middle item often holds the privileged spot. And when options are ordered by an alignable attribute such as size, people tend to compromise by choosing the middle option because it is easier to rationalize, what is known as “extremeness aversion”. On the other hand, social norms and other contextual influence also have substantial impact on preferences in the moment. People are more likely to conform to a desired behavior if they see (or believe) others are doing it—particularly others who are similar to them.

Knowing how our behaviors are shaped by the interplay of our intentions and the external influence by context, our team of behavioral scientists at the Yale School of Management was inspired to test how small contextual changes (known as “nudges”) can alter consumer decisions. We have organized our findings into a novel, unifying framework known as the 4Ps Framework for Behavior Change. It is an agile strategy for nudging behavior towards desirable outcomes in specific situations, such as making healthy food choices. The intervention domains of the 4Ps framework are: Process – Making it Easy (removing barriers to the desired choice), Possibilities – Making it Available (design the right choice set), Persuasion- Making it Attractive (work with existing beliefs), and Person – Making it Motivating (tap into active goals). Underlined by the principles of behavioral economics, psychology, and marketing, the Yale 4P framework restructures the environment and guides consumers towards their goals by minimizing the effort, time, and willpower needed.

In a session at the Corporate Researchers Conference, October 16-18 in Chicago, I will demonstrate how a diverse set of industries has leveraged this tool, and the underlying behavioral economics principles, to make intuitive choices easier and desirable behavior the path of least resistance. Click to unlock a special discount for CRC!