I’ve been nudged (and I liked it)

So last week, I sent off an application for a provisional driver’s license (I know, I know – 33 and still can’t drive). At the bottom of the DVLA application was a box asking if I agreed to donate my organs in the event of an accident. An easy way to feel noble, I thought, and ticked the box.

Now, I discover I’ve been nudged! The Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insight team, run by David Halpern, released its first report last week. The team is advised by behavioural economist Richard Thaler, who wrote the book Nudge, and it tries to find ways to ‘nudge‘ British citizens towards socially desirable behaviour. The unit ‘draws on insights from behavioural economics and shows ways in which health improvements can be made without resorting to legislation or costly programmes.’ So, for example, Thaler found that men could be ‘nudged’ to pee in urinals, rather than on the floor, by putting little toy goalposts in the urinals. Brilliant – although I feel a bit sorry for the poor behavioural economists who had to hold the goalposts in place. I just hope they had lab goggles.

Anyway, the report reveals how the Behavioural Insight unit has been quietly nudging us Brits over the last few weeks. It highlights two new initiatives:

– A smoking cessation pilot beginning in early 2011. This will encourage participants to make commitments to quit smoking (for example, by signing a contract) and will reward those who pass regular smoking tests. The pilot will be run by Boots, with the support of the Behavioural Insights team and the Department of Health.

– A system of ‘prompted choice’ on organ donor registration will be introduced to the DVLA application form for renewing and applying for driving licenses. This will require applicants to state whether or not they wish to become an organ donor. Where this has been introduced in other countries, it has significantly increased the number of organ donors. If the DVLA scheme proves successful, it will be rolled out to other areas.

So! My decision to donate my organs to humanity was not as noble as I thought. I was nudged, m’lud. Good idea though. I’d be interested to see the results, and wouldn’t be surprised to see a big rise in organ donations. If they get enough donations, maybe they can flog some spare organs to other countries, reduce the deficit eh?