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
The study on littering and attention will be presented at the Fifth Conference on Environmental Psychology at Lillehammer Norway, 18th of November.
Saying «pay attention!» does not work
Most people doesn´t necessarily litter because they are lazy or bad, but because they work on autopilot
Simple attentional measures saw an 208% increase in pro-environmental behaviour You can also read the full report here:
You can also read the full report from 2020 (How to reduce littering of cigarette butts) here:
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.
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.
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.
Ambitious business manager with a complex issues to solve? Potential colleague who enjoy challenging old habits? Let's talk!