Wednesday 15 June 2011

Target practice and nudge theory

This is one of my other musings entries, and for the ladies out there, hopefully an intimate look into the male psyche (shouldn't take too long). If you are easily offended, please look away now; if not maybe have a giggle and think about the important message.

There is no other way to say this than being direct and upfront: when men pee at a urinal, we tend to 'aim' at various things. If there is a fly or remnants of another creature in the urinal, as often there are in public toilets, most men will immediately revert to 'target practice' - take aim and shoot at said object or creature. I don't quite know why we do it; perhaps the process of going for a pee is such a boring thing to do, that we have to find something to keep us focused. Perhaps the sub-conscious fighter pilot comes into play. I dunno.

This not-often talked about phenomenon has been quite brilliantly manipulated by some clever boffins who in one experiment in particular sought to determine whether such 'target practice' could reduce spills and accidents and improve cleanliness. The experiment was conducted at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, whereby a motif made to look like a fly or small insect was embossed on the bowl of the men's urinals. The results suggested an 80% reduction in spills and overall greater cleanliness in the toilets, which for one of the world's largest airports might have some positive knock-on effects (tip: don't take your shoes off when flying or if you do, throw your socks away once home).

The urinal experiment is one example of nudge theory in action. Nudge theory is an interesting psychological concept which suggests that rather than trying to overtly 'change' peoples behaviour, views or opinions, you instead try and subtly direct people down a particular path by altering their environment for example. Basically being encouraged to change rather than compelled to change. We see it in action nearly every day and for some good causes. Pictures drawn by school children put outside schools to slow motorists down, putting graphic pictures on tobacco packs rather than banning their sale; all subtle ways of positively engineering the environment to make us head to a particular view or opinion, which for something like Politics is a great concept to use.

I don't like to think of us humans as passive animals in our thoughts and decisions. What nudge theory suggests however is that we are perhaps all 'vulnerable' to the various trappings and subtleties of the environment around us, positive and negative.

Don't push me... nudge me.


  1. I was aware of this target practice, that's why cheerios are great for potty training little boys. (The only bowl in our house that gets cheerios is the toilet)

  2. Thanks for the comment. That is perhaps the most ingenious method for potty training I have ever heard of!


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