I am reading this pretty cool book right now. It's called Nudge, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, two behavioral economists. Their basic thesis is that one can (and should) "nudge" people into doing the right thing for themselves, by exploiting common, often somewhat irrational, behavior, for example by placing healthy fruit at eye level before the sugary desserts in the cafeteria. I am only about 50 pages into the story but I already had a major revelation, although not exactly the way the authors had intended.
One of the first examples in the book tells a story about Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
As we shall see, small and apparently insignificant details can have major impacts on people's behavior. A good rule of thumb is to assume that "everything matters." In many cases, the power of these small details comes from focusing the attention of users in a particular direction. A wonderful example of this principle comes from, of all places, the men's rooms at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. There the authorities have etched the image of a black housefly into each urinal. It seems that men usually do not pay much attention to where they aim, which can create a bit of a mess, but if they see a target, attention and therefore accuracy, are much increased. According to the man who came up with this idea, it works wonders. "It improves the aim," says Aad Kieboom. "If a man sees a fly, he aims at it. " Kieboom, an economist, directs Schiphol's building expansion. His staff conducted fly-in-urinal trials and found that etchings reduce spillage by 80 percent. [R. Thaler and C Sunstein, Nudge - Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Penguin Books, p.4-5]
I thought this was an incredible story so I immediately read it to Bernd. Much to my surprise he just shrugged, though. When I pressed on he mumbled something about the fly often being misplaced. Huh??? As I kept poking he finally told me that artificial flies in urinal have been pretty common for several years now, although personally he things that some of the knock-off models could do with another round of empirical testing.
In the end I of course couldn't care less about flies in urinals but I now wonder what other scientific developments I have missed by using the lady's room all those years?