Choice Architecture in the Cafeteria: An Experiment for Colleges and Universities
By Art Carden
Last summer, during one of my first meals at Samford University, I thought I had stumbled upon clever choice architecture at one of the drink dispensers. You can get water by pushing your cup against a lever, but getting soda requires holding your cup under a dispenser and then pushing a button with your other hand (unless you are unusually dexterous). It turns out this was just an idiosyncrasy of one machine: at the others, Coke and Pepsi were just as easy to get as water.
This makes me think, though, that there is a lot of potential for an experiment–and possibly a research paper–that would meet the approval of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein as well as (say) Glen Whitman and Mario Rizzo, though I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouths. I’ve seen in a few places claims that the “Freshman Fifteen” has become the “Freshman Forty,” and my understanding is that soft drinks are one of the leading sources of empty calories. I wonder if rigging the drink machines at the cafeteria to make it much easier to get water than soda would make much of a difference.
Samford’s Nutrition majors have to take Principles of Macroeconomics, which is our introductory economics course. Indeed, some of them are probably enrolled in my online Principles of Macro course right now. In it, they learn (or should learn) the basics of the economic way of thinking. If there is a Samford nutrition major looking for a project and reading this right now, hop to it! I look forward to seeing what you find out.