Nudging people to drink healthily at work by making small changes could have a big effect on health, it seems.
In a blog post by Laszlo Bock about his book Work
Could the same thinking help UK workers increase the amount of water they drink?
It seems likely, according to the trade body British Water Cooler Association (BWCA), which advocates making the water coolers the centre of office life, and by making them more visible they will act as a cue to drinking healthily and often.
Research has found that the physical space around us shapes our behaviour, and many of our decisions are made unconsciously and the researchers were able to show just how small nudges can have large impacts.
Laszlo Block states: "Even if you don't have cafés in your office, you may have a break room, a vending machine, or a mini-fridge. We decided to test three types of intervention: providing information so that people could make better food choices; limiting options to healthy choices and nudging.
"Of the three, nudges were the most effective. Nudging involves subtly changing the structure of the environment without limiting choice".
The idea was sparked by David Laibson, a professor of economics at Harvard University. In his paper A Cue-Theory of Consumption 2 he demonstrated mathematically that cues in our environment contribute to consumption patterns.
We eat not just because we are hungry, but also just because the clock tells us it's lunchtime or because people around us are eating.
The researchers tried removing some of these cues that trigger eating and found that, for example, by hiding sweets and making fruit more visible, workers were nudged into snacking more healthily.
This set the hydration experts at the BWCA thinking. Its general manager Phillipa
"Rather than having the cooler tucked out of site in or near the kitchen or behind a pillar or storage units, make the cooler the hub of the office.
Previous research has shown that if water is visible people drink more of it and the cue-theory backs that up.
"Visibility could be just the trigger that is needed to ensure people stay away from sweetened drinks or caffeinated beverages and reach for the calorie free, tooth-kind water option instead."
As with food, banning other forms of hydration isn't nudging; and it could even be counter-productive. However, suggesting the idea of water just by making it visible can nudge people into taking that easy, healthy and time-saving option.
"Making the water not only visible but taste good too, clearly is likely to help nudge people towards that option even more," added Phillipa Atkinson-Clow.