In Tests, Scientists Try to Change Behaviors

Wall Street Journal: “Behavioral scientists look for environmental ‘nudges’ to influence how people act. Pelle Guldborg Hansen, a behavioral scientist, is trying to figure out how to board passengers on a plane with less fuss.
The goal is to make plane-boarding more efficient by coaxing passengers to want to be more orderly, not by telling them they must. It is one of many projects in which Dr. Hansen seeks to encourage people, when faced with options, to make better choices. Among these: prompting people to properly dispose of cigarette butts outside of bars and clubs and inducing hospital workers to use hand sanitizers.
Dr. Hansen, 37 years old, is director of the Initiative for Science, Society & Policy, a collaboration of the University of Southern Denmark and Roskilde University. The concept behind his work is known commonly as a nudge, dubbed such because of the popular 2008 book of the same name by U.S. academics Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein that examined how people make decisions.
At the Copenhagen airport, Dr. Hansen recently deployed a team of three young researchers to mill about a gate in terminal B. The trio was dressed casually in jeans and wore backpacks. They blended in with the passengers, except for the badges they wore displaying airport credentials, and the clipboards and pens they carried to record how the boarding process unfolds.
Thirty-five minutes before a flight departed, the team got into position. Andreas Rathmann Jensen stood in one corner, then moved to another, so he could survey the entire gate area. He mapped where people were sitting and where they placed their bags. This behavior can vary depending, for example, if people are flying alone, with a partner or in a group.
Johannes Schuldt-Jensen circulated among the rows and counted how many bags were blocking seats and how many seats were empty as boarding time approached. He wore headphones, though he wasn’t listening to music, because people seem less suspicious of behavior when a person has headphones on, he says. Another researcher, Kasper Hulgaard, counted how many people were standing versus sitting.
The researchers are mapping out gate-seating patterns for a total of about 500 flights. Some early observations: The more people who are standing, the more chaotic boarding tends to be. Copenhagen airport seating areas are designed for groups, even though most travelers come solo or in pairs. Solo flyers like to sit in a corner and put their bag on an adjacent seat. Pairs of travelers tend to perch anywhere as long as they can sit side-by-side….”