Asking a behavioral scientist to choose his favorite nudge is like asking a parent to name his favorite child – I love them differently! I’ll hedge my response by nominating something of a catch-all: Japanese train stations.
Before arriving at ideas42, my old job as an international economist used to bring me to Tokyo several times a year. Train stations in Japan are notorious for some of the highest commuter volumes in the world, but my experience of the Tokyo subway system was always one of clockwork orderliness. At first I attributed this to the general disposition of the Japanese people, but closer examination revealed all kinds of behavioral easter eggs subtly nudging commuters throughout the station (many of which are chronicled here by citylab writer Allan Richarz). For example:
- Cartoon feet painted on floors and escalators enforce the direction of pedestrian traffic flow (the norms around this differ from one half of the country to the other – to the exasperation of many foreigners).
- Sounds and jingles are used to communicate transit information, calm frazzled travelers, and scramble loitering teenagers.
- Even the lighting serves a joint purpose – first installed in stations along one of Tokyo’s busiest subway loops in 2009, LED light panels that have been shown to deter suicide (a significant public health challenge in the country) line platforms inconspicuously throughout the city.
All in all, the stations demonstrate a masterful appreciation for the power of choice architecture in the built environment – and offer a real treat for any student of behavioral science.