Men’s Urinal and the Economics Noble Prize


Men’s room urinals at the Amsterdam airport have achieved academic stardom, thanks to the human behavioural experiment conducted by Prof Thaler, the 2017 economics noble prize laureate. Images of flies were imprinted on the porcelain near the outlet drain of individual urinal pots.

The appearance of the fly had very surprising results, the spillage of urine on the men’s room floor fell by almost 80%. Apparently, men like to ‘aim at targets’ when emptying their bladder and the fly on the urinal pot was a perfect bait

This is a classic example of Prof Richar Thaler’s Nudge theory. In this case, fly in the pot was the nudge and non-spillage or urine was the improvement in behaviour, a very simple and effective way of keeping toilets hygienic saving thousands of euros in toilet sanitation.

Prof Richard Thaler

Nudge theory has huge implications much beyond the walls of the Urinals at Amsterdam airport. The nudge theory has helped alter behaviour to save more, eat better, weigh less, invest more sensibly, pay down debt, avoid hazardous mortgages, drive safely and wear bike helmets — a list that expands as new ideas and new problems conducive to nudging emerge.

In an interesting experiment, the hand washing after toilet use at schools in Bangladesh doubled after clearly delineated paved paths were made from the toilet to the hand washing stations. In this case, the paved path was the nudge.

At Massachusetts General Hospital canteen for staff there is a 3 colour labeling is in place- red, yellow and green, with labeling unhealthy options such as Pizza and soft drinks with the red lights, and salads or vegetables with green lights.Further, the gree food is kept at the eye level while the red labeled foods are on lower shelves. 2 years after implementing these changes, red beverage purchases were down by an encouraging total of 39%!

Prof. Richard Thaler, a pioneer in behavioral economics and the chief architect of the nudge theory has helped extend the simple concept of Nudges into public policy. The 2017 Noble Prize was awarded to Prof Thaler.

In India, we have used nudges for a long time. With Indian male having a penchant for relieving against a wall, you find many walls in an Indian city with pictures of Gods painted as a nudge to deter a man with a full bladder.

We at Branolia Chemicals Works, an Ayurveda formulation company look at Prof Thaler’s Nudge theory as having a huge potential for inducing healthy behavior.

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