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Behavioural economics or why is there a fly in my urinal?

Posted by Kim Whitmore | 07-Jul-2016 14:07:01
Schiphool airport fly engraving

Why did Schiphol airport engrave images of a fly in their urinals?

Because it reduced the ‘spillage’ around the urinals by 80% -- which made the environment a lot more pleasant and reduced the airport’s cleaning costs.

Why? Because it turns out that males have a strong instinct to aim at targets and having a fly to aim at nudges them to be more accurate.

In fact, this is one of the most famous example of ‘nudging’

Nudging is about making small changes that create a big difference in people’s choices. In other words, designing choices to help people make better decisions. It comes from a field called behavioural economics which analyses scientifically why people make the decisions they do.


We were introduced to the art of nudging during a custom project and now, of course, see examples of it everywhere – particularly in marketing. Do you feel something is more valuable if there is ‘only one left’ or if ’35 other people are looking at this hotel’? How often do you buy the second most expensive or second least expensive bottle on a wine menu? Would you buy meat that was 90% lean or 10% fat?

multiple choice elearning question exampleAs our project progressed, we realised that we use behavioural economics to design the questions in our courses – but in reverse. We generally want to avoid nudging learners, so we have to be careful to:

  • Frame questions without bias
  • Use a limited number of options to avoid decision paralysis
  • Order the options to avoid making the correct option the one most likely chosen
  • Mix up default states (like agree/disagree toggles) so just leaving them isn’t the best choice.

If you want more information, we’ve included some links and useful books. Even if you don’t need to use behavioural economics at work, understanding how you make decisions could help you make more rational and better choices in the future.

Useful links:

Behavioural insight team

The hidden psychology of menu design

Useful books:

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions by Dan Ariely

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Cass R Sunstein and Richard H Thaler


If you'd like to find out more about any custom elearning projects we could provide your business, then feel free to get in touch so that we can discuss your requirements.

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