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How some grocery store mirrors nudge you toward healthier choices

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This is an encore episode that aired originally on April 26, 2014.


The field of behavioural economics is a relatively new area of study.

While influencing behaviour has been intensely studied by the advertising industry for decades, the subtle motivation now being employed has taken a big leap forward.

The classic definition of behavioural economics is to gently steer people toward decisions that improve their lives – while still leaving them free to choose. To get them to take a little step in order to undertake a bigger one.

That gentle ushering is based on both the social and emotional factors behind decision-making.

In other words, the concept resides at the intersection of economics and psychology.

Colours gently influence purchasing decisions. Slowing the buying process down by adding additional steps can be influential.

But using a nudge is different.

Consumers are not always rational in their decisions, and will many times make a poor decision even when provided good options. And in many instances, the way a question is framed can influence a decision for the better.

That’s why behavioural economics has also been referred to as “choice architecture.”

It is the deliberate designing of choices in order to steer someone to a positive outcome.

The term “nudge” was first put forth in a fascinating book of the same name by behavioural science professors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein.

The stories they told not only influenced marketers, schools and shoppers, but governments as well.


In Britain, the government tried to encourage homeowners to insulate their attics to save energy costs and prevent heat loss.

As part of that campaign, the government put forth compelling economic arguments to persuade the public to insulate.

On top of that, generous monetary incentives and subsidies were offered.

An attic-cleaning service turned into a money-saving service. (Credit: The Family Handyman) Yet, nothing seemed to work. The public appeared to have no interest in insulating their attics and saving money in heating costs—which puzzled the government.

But when they dug further, they stumbled upon the reason for the resistance.

Apparently, UK homeowners simply didn’t want to clear the junk out of their attics.

In the UK, attics are storage spaces. And just the thought of having to clear out their attics was enough for people to forgo the energy savings of insulating.

Once the government had isolated that reason, they got to work on an interesting solution. They teamed up with a local home improvement company and offered an attic-cleaning service.

With that, the amount of people who insulated soared.

The attic cleaning offer was the “nudge” to get people to do the bigger thing: to insulate.


A supermarket in El Paso, Texas, tried their own nudge experiment to see if they could steer people toward healthier foods.

A man ponders his self-image in a supermarket in El Paso, Texas. (NYT) It placed a mirror on the inside front of grocery carts, allowing people to see themselves as they shopped. So when people reached for junk food and turned back toward their cart, they saw an image of their double chins in the mirror.

The store saw a dramatic increase in the purchase of fruits and vegetables as a result.

The mirror was the nudge.

In a Virginia store, each shopping cart had a line of yellow tape that divided the cart in half. A sign in the cart asked shoppers to put fruit and veggies in the front half of the cart, and everything else in the back half.

When shoppers saw how few fruits and vegetables were in the front half compared to the less healthy items in the back of their carts, they were influenced to change the way they shopped.

Produce sales shot up by 102 per cent.

The visual of the dividing line was the nudge.


Recently, several retailers and some New York City cabs have added a digital tipping feature to their tablet and mobile apps.

Calculating a tip is frustrating for many people. And research has shown that if you can lessen the amount of mental effort required to work out a tip – the greater the chance of leaving one.

Tipping has never been so easy. (John Lesavage/CBC News) So many companies are giving customers three digital options:

The first is called “Basic” and leaves 15 per cent.

The second is called “Better” and leaves an automatic 18 per cent.

The third is called “Best” and leaves a nice, fat 20 per cent tip.

The presence of those three nudges has not only resulted in more people leaving tips – but the resulting amounts have been greater.


For these stories and more from Under The Influence, click or tap on the “Listen” tab to hear the full episode.

You can also find us on the CBC Radio app or subscribe to our Podcast.


Under The Influence is recorded in the Terstream Mobile Recording studio – a 1969 Airstream trailer that’s been restored and transformed into a studio on wheels. So host Terry O’Reilly can record the show wherever he goes.

Follow the journey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and search for the hashtag: #Terstream.

(Image Credit: Sidney O’Reilly)

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Tiger-Cats claim victory against the Argos to maintain home record on Labour Day

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The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were at their devastating best against the Toronto Argonauts when the two locked horns on Labour Day at the Tim Hortons Field.

Just like with previous Labour Day fixtures, the Ticats produced a stellar performance with Dane Evans throwing two touchdown passes while Frankie Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as they claimed a 32-19 victory on Monday. With this vital win, the Ticats extended their Labour Day home record to 7-0.

For players and fans of the Tiger-Cats, games on Labour Day are a lot more special and losing is something the Ticats aren’t used to.

“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny; we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words,” said Evans.

After the COVID-19 induced hiatus, the CFL is back in full action and fans can now bet on their favourite teams and just like with online slots Canada, real money can be won. Hamilton (2-2) recorded its second straight win to move into a tie atop the CFL East Division standings with Montreal Alouettes (2-2). Also, the Ticats lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.

In the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000—the maximum allowed under Ontario government COVID-19 protocols—the fans loved every minute of this feisty game. After all, this was the Ticats first home game in 659 days, since their 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton in November 2019.

The contest between the Ticats and Argos was certainly not bereft of emotions, typical of a Labour Day fixture, as it ended with an on-field melee. But the Argos often found themselves on the wrong end of the decisions with several penalty calls and most of the game’s explosive plays.

Hamilton quarterback Evans completed 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two touchdowns while Toronto’s make-shift quarterback Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards. Arbuckle also made a touchdown and two interceptions before eventually being substituted by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson made an eight-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Rogers late in the final quarter of the game.

“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block, or pass protect well,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, rookie head coach of the Argos in a post-match interview. “They just kicked our butts; we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.”

The Labour Day contest was the first of four fixtures this year between Toronto and Hamilton. The two teams would face off again on Friday at BMO Field. Afterwards, the Tim Hortons Field will play host to the Argonauts again on Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale scheduled for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

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Roughriders looking to bounce back after Labor Day defeat

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In what an unusual feeling for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they would now need to dust themselves up after a 23-8 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what was a Labor Day Classic showdown in front of a full capacity crowd at Mosaic stadium.

Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, witnessed his team with an unbeaten record get utterly dominated by a more superior team from Winnipeg. Now, he has got a lot of work on his hands getting his team back to winning ways as they visit the Banjo Bowl next.

“We’re going to see what we’re made of now…the jury’s out,” said Dickenson.

Dan Clark, who played centre for the Riders expressed his disappointment in losing what was “the biggest game of the year”.

 “If you lose every other game, you don’t want to lose that one. We’ve just got to take the next step,” said Clark in a report. “There are 12 steps to the Grey Cup left and it’s just about taking that next step and focusing on what Saturday will bring.”

With their first defeat to Winnipeg, the Riders (3-1) now rank second place in the CFL’s West Division, trailing the Bombers by one victory (4-1). However, the Riders will have the chance to even the season series during their trip to Winnipeg this Saturday. With the CFL heating up, fans can now enjoy online sports betting Canada as they look forward to their team’s victory.

The Rider’s offensive line will once again have a busy time dealing with the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played one of the best games of his career two weeks earlier, had quite a stinker against the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic—which is the most anticipated game for Rider fans.

Fajardo had a 59 per cent completion percentage which wasn’t quite indicative of what the actual figure was considering he was at 50 per cent before going on a late drive in the final quarter with the Bombers already becoming laid back just to protect the win.

Fajardo also registered a personal worst when he threw three interceptions, but in all fairness, he was always swarmed by the Bomber’s defence.

While Fajardo has claimed responsibility for the loss and letting his teammates down, many would be curious to see how the team fares in their next game and with less than a week of preparation.

Dickenson is confident that his team would improve during their rematch in the 17th edition of the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. The only challenge now would be the loss of home advantage and dealing with the noisy home crowd, he added.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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