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Academic project: Can simple nudges reduce meat consumption? | Status: Completed | Date: March 2016

Person: Georgia Stewart (plus Riya Patel and Gail Sucharitakul) | Subject: Natural Sciences Part IB | Supervisor: Professor Andrew Balmford

Project summary: A field experiment encouraging vegetarianism at Cambridge College ‘formal halls’, in order to investigate how to steer large groups of people towards choosing more environmentally sustainable diets.

Formal hall online booking forms were altered in three independent experiments to see how different ‘nudges’ impacted on the choice made between a meat and a vegetarian meal (e.g.  alternating (in successive weeks) the label of the meat meal between “meat” and “normal”/”standard”, and alternating the order in which meat and vegetarian options appeared on the booking form.

Key findings: The nudges used in two of the experiments did not work. At first it appeared that one of the nudges did encourage more vegetarian bookings. However, further investigation has indicated that it may not have worked in the way intended because people made mistakes when booking. The results of the experiments suggest that students have strong, pre- conceived intentions about meal choice, which a default setting cannot overcome at time of booking. More investigation is needed, trialling different labels and ways of nudging.

Read the full summary here.

How has it been used? The findings have been shared with a PhD student who is undertaking research on how nudges can help influence changes in diet, in order to build upon these results.