Tag Archives: nudge theory

A rubbish idea?

Driving down the M1 recently I saw the following message on one of those giant dot matrix signs:


Having precious little else to do, I thought about that for a while. The wording of it. (Not, for once, the punctuation or clumsiness of the language.) Normally, an anti-littering message will be along the lines of PLEASE TAKE YOUR LITTER HOME WITH YOU or simply NO LITTERING. This particular sign appeared to be using basic psychology to persuade people not to chuck litter out of their windows. Perhaps it was an example of the nudge theory we’ve been hearing about.

Will it work, though? Would the thought that you’re in a shameful minority encourage you not to litter? On the one hand, we like to belong and to conform to certain behaviours. On the other, some of us are utter twats and will remain that way no matter what we read on road signs.

Blogger Pete Faint is strongly of the opinion that the signs won’t work. But I’m hoping they have a positive effect, because the motorway and A-road verges that I’ve looked at during traffic delays are in a terrible state. It’s not all the fault of drivers. Lots of ripped plastic sheeting seems to have ended up on roadsides from nearby farms. Crop farmers use huge quantities of the stuff to wrap their bales of hay or corn or whatever, and some of it gets blown away to festoon trees and hedgerows for miles around. But mostly it’s fast food packaging, magazines, sweet wrappers and drinks bottles, right up to bigger stuff like furniture and pallets. Plus puppies in sacks.

In any case, how would anyone know if it’s worked or not? We’d only know if they did a split test. Signs would go up along one motorway that’s just been cleared of all litter and along another one that hasn’t. After a year, you look at the results. Instinct tells me that the Highways Agency doesn’t think like that, though. I could be wrong. Incidentally, this guy had a novel approach.

The ‘litter creates jobs’ argument

I was coming home on the Tube with a colleague once when I noticed him drop his copy of Metro on the floor of the carriage. I pointed out that he’d dropped it, and he responded that it was OK, he’d finished reading it. I tried to convince him that he was littering, but his opinion was that dropping Metros was acceptable because “they have people at the end of the line who are paid to pick them up.” He must have thought I’d find this difficult to believe because he added  “I know because I’ve seen them.”

It almost sounded like he’d made some sort of point. Without all those Metros to pick up (along with all the paid-for newspapers that are now being left behind on public transport, since the coming of Metro has conferred legitimacy on the dropping of just about anything), the newspaper picker-uppers wouldn’t have a job to do. Well, not THAT job. But using that argument, it would surely be better from an employment perspective if we were all to commit more crimes (extra police and judiciary) and cause more collisions (extra jobs in manufacturing, insurance and auto repair).

The other point to bear in mind, and I think it’s a valid one, is that I hate Metro. Especially its laughable claim to be ‘apolitical’.

Anyway, what do you think? About the motorway signs? Think they might stand a chance? I’m itching to hear your opinion.


Filed under Modern life is rubbish, Stuff