Tag Archives: nudging

Character: The Nudge

According to New Scientist, in 1999 the authorities at Schliphol Airport in Amsterdam had a problem. One of the most expensive jobs was keeping the floor of the men’s toilets clean. Instead of posting polite signs reminding the users to pee straight, they etched a picture of a fly into each urinal. The cleaning bill fell by 80%.
It is what is known as a ‘nudge’ after Carl Sunstein’s book Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. A nudge is something that influences our behaviour or thinking without our being aware of it. Men pee straighter when they have something to aim at.
Writers often use nudges to suggest to the reader that they should feel one way or another about a character. Bertie Wooster, for example, is an over-privileged waster. Someone who, if he appeared on Made in Chelsea, would be the butt of the joke of even that bunch of top-draw bananas. So why do I like him? For a start he’s funny, but even more it’s because Jeeves likes him. Jeeves is from below stairs, he is wise, and has good judgement. If Jeeves likes him, so do I.
TV and film producers cast people with particular facial characteristics to influence our judgement. Writers use other tricks.

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