Behavioral Engineering: Changing Bad Habits and Health Norms

Statement of the Problem and its Importance

Bad habits and unhealthy behaviors are at the center of many areas that could benefit from transformative consumer research: addictions, unhealthy eating, risky behaviors, and many social interactions. Two common ways of addressing these problems have been fairly top-down: Promoting information campaigns or employing behavioral economics incentives. In contrast, this paper shows that many unhealthy behaviors are developed either by design or through habits. By specifically understanding how these occur enable us to develop or engineer bottom-up behavioral-engineered solutions that target the root of the problems.

Four studies show how behavioral engineering can address both design problems and bad habits in a systematic way.

Goals of the Session

Build on a large scale survey showing that many people with unhealthy behavior habits have skewed behavior norms based on the frequency of their behavior (e.g., heavy drinks think most people drink more than they do; heavy people think they are lighter than average).

Investigate whether changing health norms in a grocery store changes shopping behavior.

Explore whether a half-plate approach to eating fruits and vegetables changes eating behavior in homes.

Consider qualitative reports related to the development and cessation of habits with the goal to show additional illustrations of how changing person norms changes behavior. We will discuss how we can discover critical points of habit formation to prevent such habits from being formed in the first place.

Brian Wansink

Cornell University

S. Sinem Atakan

Özyeğin University

Catalina Velez

Instituto Tecnologico de Monterrey

Huy Quoc Tran

Cornell University