Experiment of the Month: Nudge your Fridge

As a person with bad habits – and aren’t we all – I’m always looking for ways to improve. Articles on the subject tell me two things:

  • Willpower is overrated: it’s very difficult to change by pure force of will
  • Your environment is powerful and underestimated: your environment can nudge you towards one form of behaviour or another

Which brings me to the fridge, a key bit of home technology.

A recent article entitled “If You’re Not ‘Rotating’ Your Groceries In Your Fridge, You’re Doing It Wrong” tackles what appears to be a very sensible objective: wasting less food by maximizing its shelf life in the fridge.

Good idea? Yes, in theory, but there are some glaring problems. First, it ties up your life-time and your limited attention space rotating the stock in your fridge, which is not how I want to spend my life. But more importantly, this is not what I want my fridge to do; I want my fridge to help me be healthier.

Most fridges are not designed to help you be healthier. They are designed for food storage.

An example of this is the “crisper” at the bottom of each fridge. This is designed for the best scientifically-determined environment for the storage of fruits and vegetables. It puts them in opaque enclosed bins at the bottom of the fridge – out of sight, out of mind.

As any supermarket can tell you that this is the worst way to encourage someone to eat more fruit and vegetables.

Design influences decision-making

The book Nudge opens with a story about school cafeterias. We know from research that people will order more of products displayed at eye-level. If you were managing a school cafeteria, what would you put at eye-level? Products with the highest profit margin like muffins and candy, or those which are healthiest? We can ask the same of our fridge: what’s on that top shelf, and why?

supermarket fruit and produce aisle

I know I should eat five servings of fruit or vegetable every day; in Australia, the average citizen eats TWO.

I’m not going to expect support from the prevailing food system. I’ve tried willpower, but not only is it hard, but I like to reserve it for bigger goals. So as an experiment in our house, we put the fruit on display in an easy-to-grab location, and unhealthy snacks are buried in a bottom drawer.

But the fridge is still a problem: vegies are hidden in a closed drawer at the bottom. To nudge us towards health, the fridge should display them at eye level.

Experiment of the month: Rearrange your fridge

This week, I’m running an experiment: I’m going to treat the top shelf of my fridge like a supermarket display, backed by the best industrial psychology. I’m going to stock it with what I want to sell myself (fruit and vegetables) in a well-lit, tempting display.

I’ll post a photo once it’s done.

Image credits, top to bottom: Flickr users greencolander and deanhochman

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