Individuals make thousands of decisions each day and are faced with hundreds of food choices. If we had to stop and analyze every decision completely we would never get anything done. That is why we often look for shortcuts or clues to help us out. And students are no different.
Robert Cialdini has systematically studied over 60 years of research on the psychology of behavior change. He has identified Six Persuasion Principles, or “decision triggers” that prompt us to say “yes” to a request or specific behavior: Liking, Reciprocity, Scarcity, Consistency, Consensus, and Authority. Although these principles have yet to be specifically tested in the school environment, they are based on sound scientific research and are considered by the USDA to be a key theory for achieving behavior change.
The Six Persuasion Principles offer an alternative to restriction and elimination of choices that tend to lead to rebellion and allow youth to take ownership of their food choices. At any given time at least one of these principles are available to influence students’ dietary behaviors without force or coercion while helping them get into the lifelong habit of making healthier choices when faced with an array of real world food options.
We have an inner desire to respond to requests to those we like. Likability is a huge factor in political campaigns and is considered the most important factor when predicting the success of an advertising campaign. We like people who are similar to us and offer praise and cooperation.
We want to give back to those who have given to us first. This is the principle of reciprocity. Incentives have their place, but gifts are a very powerful tool for influencing behaviors. Gifts are most effective when they are personalized, unexpected, and truly have no conditions attached. The good news is gifts do not have to be expensive. Here are some ideas for low or no-cost gifts:
We value and want things more when they are rare, scarce, or exclusive. We especially desire items or opportunities that are both limited in number and available for a limited time. Here are some suggestions for using the principle of scarcity to improve the likelihood healthier foods will be eaten:
We want to be consistent with what we have said AND how we think others view us. We have all have heard the power of goal setting. Goal setting or “making a pledge” is most effective when voluntary, active and involves a public commitment. Once we take a stand we want to be consistent. Creating a pledge activity uses the power of consistency to promote new habits:
Pledge boards support another persuasion purpose: To build social proof that engaging in the behavior is the right thing to do simply because “everyone else is doing it!” The principle of consensus says that we look to “many others” and “similar others” for cues to social acceptable behavior. This is especially true when we are in a new or uncertain situation. Try these tactics for tapping into the superpowers of social proof:
We look to individuals with more knowledge and experience for prompts on how to think or act. We are also more likely to consider an individual or organization more reliable and trustworthy if they admit a weakness in their case. Here are some ways to highlight authority and build credibility with school staff, parents, students and community members:
Just, D., Mancino, L., and Wansink, B. Could Behavioral Economics Help Improve Diet Quality for Nutrition Assistance Programs? USDA Economic Research Service. Economic Research Report Number 43. June 2007.
Just, D. and Wansink, B. Smarter Lunchrooms: Using Behavioral Economics to Improve Meal Selection. Choices. 3rd Quarter 2009. Available at: http://www.choicesmagazine.org/magazine/article.php?article=87
Cialdini, R. (2009). Influence: Science and Practice. Pearson/Allyn & Bacon, Boston.
Key Theories, Applications, and Processes Related to Training WIC Staff. USDA Women, Infant and Children WIC Works Sharing Center. Available at: http://www.nal.usda.gov/wicworks/Sharing_Center/WesternConsortium/keytrainingtheories.pdf
Tapping into the Power of Influence. USDA Women, Infant and Children WIC Works Sharing Center. Available at: http://www.nal.usda.gov/wicworks/Sharing_Center/gallery/powerofinfluence.htm
We Influence Change website. Chickasaw Nation WIC.