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Why people resist behaviour change

Most problems, both within companies and in society at large, demand that people change their behaviour. The environmental crisis is no exception. Humans seem to be slow at adapting, for many reasons. This article is about one of these reasons, namely our limited attention, and why it is crucial to understand its role in littering and other anti-social behaviour


It is often assumed that anti-social behaviour such as littering, over-consumption or hazardous driving is caused by wrong attitudes, ignorance or plain laziness. Research on littering done by Mindshift suggests that lack of attention plays a much bigger role than you might think. 


A world of interruptions

Notifications, instant messages and a constant flow of new devices put a large strain on our attention, no doubt about it. In sum, these innovations have probably led to an increase in mis-happenings caused by inattention. For example, studies suggest that cell-phone use is associated with a four-fold increase in the odds of getting into an car accident.

Why it is not sufficient to change attitudes

Looking at many anti-littering measures, it seems they are based on the assumption that wrong attitudes or a lack of knowledge are the root causes.


A challenge with these are their effectiveness at the crucial moment -  when people are about to litter. When you are out in the streets, your mind operate on “autopilot” most of the time, being less perceptive to pro-environmental messages.

Our experiments

Mindshift conducted a series of experiments to examine reduction of littering in a busy urban area. Could we reduce littering of cigarette butts by grabbing the attention of the smokers? 

Cigarette butt littering is not only a huge environmental problem worldwide, it is also a suitable behaviour for exploration, as it is repetitive, habit-based and easily to observe. 

In the first experiment, simple nudging in the form of painted footsteps, stickers and posters, resulted in an increase in use of the bin by 145%.

In the second experiment, measures that drew additional attention towards the bin (light and sound) were added. This resulted in a 26% increase in usage compared to Experiment 1 and a 208% improvement compared to the baseline. 

Extrapolating the results from Experiment 2 to the whole of Oslo, this would imply an estimated reduction of 1.23 million cigarette butts a year*, if the measures had been implemented throughout the city. 

These experiments show that quite simple modifications of the environment can have remarkable effect, as long as you get the attention from people at the right moment.


The quickest route to insights

/ State-of-the art tools for unlocking insights through behaviour psychology and smart use of data.

Let's Talk!

Ambitious business manager with a complex issues to solve? Potential colleague who enjoy challenging old habits? Let's talk!

Anne Stokke

Anne Stokke



Andre Ruud

Andre Ruud



Bjørn Hallan

Bjørn Hallan


+47 917 59 222