The power of feedback to change behaviour
By Crawford Hollingworth
How do you try to make sure you get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each night? Milk and cookies? Take a bath with lavender oil? What about using insights from behavioural science...?
We often intend to go to bed early, knowing that it will make us more productive, patient, focused, happier, optimistic and energised the next day, and healthier in the long run, but get waylaid by late nights out with friends, whatever box set we are binging on, browsing social media or absorbed in a book - in more general terms we get sidetracked by what is known as present bias or power of now by behavioural scientists and go to bed much later than we planned.
And at the other end of the candle, work and life commitments chip away at our sleeping time – early meetings, visits to the gym, business travel, the demands of small children…
Jawbone, the consumer wearables technology company, decided to tackle our tendency to get too little sleep using insights from behavioural science.
Jawbone has recently moved into the health-tracking business and sells a sensor-rich wristband called the UP that monitors its wearer’s steps and sleep. They wanted to augment the tracking data by applying BE to help to change their users' behaviour.
So they have been recruiting behavioural scientists and psychologists to dig into the BE literature to see how they can apply BE via their Smart Coach feature to change users' behaviour for the better.
For one of their first experiments, Jawbone looked at how they could nudge people to sleep more by leveraging commitment bias through a feature called ‘Today I will”.
During the day, the Jawbone Smart Coach sent messages to 40,000 users, asking them to reply with “I’m in” (see image above), whereby a user committed (in advance) to being in bed by a specific, earlier time. Each message was tailored to a user, calculated using their personal data tracking their typical routines and sleep habits.
Clicking “I’m in” also sent a message to the friends with whom they share their UP data, making the commitment public among their peers and, therefore, stronger.
Later in the evening, about an hour before their planned bedtime, users received a reminder of their commitment (see second image below). As well as serving as a salient reminder of a previously made commitment, it can also help to dial down planning fallacy – when we underestimate how long it may take us to complete a task. The reminder gives the user a decent amount of time to handle ‘sleep admin’ (cleansing, teeth brushing, make up and contact lens removal etc etc), rather than the optimistic 5 minutes we judge it will take.
The changes in sleeping behaviour were impressive:
- One third of the 40,000 users committed to going to bed earlier, clicking ‘I’m in’ when asked.
- This simple commitment has led to Jawbone users getting to bed 23 minutes earlier on average; and
- Users were 72% more likely to get to bed early enough to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
Jawbone are leveraging other insights from behavioural science too. Below is another nudge from Jawbone's Smart Coach - this time drawing on descriptive social norms to let users know how their sleep hours compare to others. Because people generally have an inbuilt desire to do what others do – particularly those similar to us in some way - users receiving a message like this are more likely to devote more time to sleeping to fall in with the majority. Note that Jawbone strengthen their advice by comparing users’ sleep behaviour to others like them – in this case other female Jawbone users.
At The Behavioural Architects we have seen the power of making a simple commitment and behavioural feedback not only in changing behaviour, but also in turning attitudinal desires into reality in areas such as household energy consumption, medication adherence and sports participation.
Read more from Crawford Hollingworth in our Clubhouse.