Nudging and Habit Change for Open Defecation: New Tactics from Behavioral Science

March 2016

Open defecation (OD) remains a critical global health challenge, affecting almost 1 billion people around the world and contributing significantly to the estimated 842,000 people who die each year because of poor sanitation, hygiene practices, and unsafe water supplies (WHO, 2014).

To date, most behavior change frameworks for addressing OD have focused on relatively conscious, ‘reflective’ drivers of behavior, including people’s emotions (e.g. pride, shame), rational knowledge (e.g. of germ theory), social norms, and explicit action plans (e.g. commitments to change; see Sigler, 2014). Using the framework popularized by Kahneman (2011), these factors can be described as ‘System 2’ drivers of behavior (i.e. relatively conscious and motivational factors).

It is now well established, however, that human behavior can also be heavily influenced by ‘System 1’ drivers (i.e. relatively automatic, cue-driven drivers; Marteau et al., 2012; Wood and Neal, 2015). System 1 factors of particular relevance to OD include people’s hygiene habits (e.g. mindlessly repeated behaviors cued by context) and ‘nudges’ (i.e. small changes to the environment that can channel decision making and behavior in new ways; Thaler and Sunstein, 2008). In this working paper, we draw on basic scientific findings from psychology, cognitive science, and behavioral economics to propose a framework of eight System 1 principles to support the initiation and maintenance of OD behavior change.

Additional details

PublisherWorld Bank
ThemesBehaviour change, Design, nudges and cues

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