Published: June 21, 2018

"Our research suggests that the decoy effect can be used as a powerful intervention to guide behavior, and that we should add it to the 'nudge' tool kit and test it in other field settings," says Assistant Professor Department of Health and Behavioral Sciences Meng Li, first author of a recent study (which found that introducing a less convenient option for hand sanitizing may actually boost workers' use of hand sanitizer and increase sanitary conditions in the workplace). Published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the findings revealed that employees in a food factory used more of their regular sanitizer and had cleaner hands and workspaces after a "decoy" sanitizer option was offered to them. Previous research has provided evidence that the "decoy effect" – when the introduction of an inferior option makes a preexisting option more favorable – can influence individuals' decision making, at least with regard to hypothetical choices. Li and coauthors Yan Sun and Hui Chen of the Chinese Academy of Sciences wanted to know whether the effect would emerge in a meaningful, real-world setting. "The work started because of an opportunity to conduct field experiments to improve hand hygiene practice in a food factory in China," says Li. "We wanted to test the decoy effect in this setting because it seemed like a very clever and low-cost intervention to implement."