OPINION22 September 2015

Bias in the spotlight: commitment bias


Commitment bias is the desire and tendency to be consistent with what we have already done or said before.


Robert Cialdini, professor emeritus of psychology at Arizona State University, says: “People want to be congruent with what they have committed to in the past, especially if that commitment is public…Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.”

One area in which commitment bias can be applied is in encouraging everyday environmentally-friendly behaviour. For instance, to prompt hotel guests into being more environmentally-friendly – by reusing towels, turning off the lights and not wasting water.

As well as the valuable environmental benefits, towel reuse and turning off lights also reduces hotel running costs. Estimates suggest that reusing towels and linens saves a hotel $6.50 per room per night, amounting to annual savings of around $460,000 for an average size hotel.  Among the guests it’s largely lack of routine, forgetfulness and the low salience of hotel requests that get in the way of more environmentally-considerate behaviour.

In 2010, Disney Research wanted to see if it could nudge guests into changing their ways in the Disneyland hotel, Anaheim, California.

It tested the impact of leveraging commitment bias on hotel guests. Specifically, it asked guests to pledge and commit to reusing their towels each day during their stay. Guests were also given a Friends of the Earth pin to wear after pledging.

It tested its intervention over the course of a few weeks during which time more than 2000 guests took part.

The impact? Guests were 25% more likely to reuse their towels when they had pledged to do so and had received a Friends of the Earth pin, they also hung up over 40% more used towels compared with a control group.

The researchers estimated that the impact of the pledge and pin combined would save the hotel washing 147,000 towels a year (that’s 2,500 loads of laundry), saving 700,000 gallons of water and $51,000 per year.

The researchers also measured if there were any spill over effects from guests committing to reuse their towels, such as being more likely to turn off the lights. It did indeed have an effect – pledging to reuse towels and wearing a pin meant that there was a 70% chance (give or take) that guests would turn off the lights, compared with only a 50% chance among guests in the control group.

It’s incredible how big an impact can come from such seemingly tiny interventions. And these techniques can be applied in many areas, from healthcare to money management to charitable donations.

By Crawford Hollingworth at The Behavioural Architects



9 years ago

Good case study on the impact on behavioral metrics, but without business metrics data like customer satisfaction, repeat customer rate, etc. it seems only an academic exercise (which I'm sure it wasn't). Just asking to pledge and even upholding the pledge might have negatively impacted customer satisfaction and impacted rate of repeat visits. I would be interested to know which business metrics were targeted with this. Also, this prompted me to reemphasize through a post that any behavioral intervention should start with a clear statement of which business metrics should be targeted: https://marktisans.com/behavioral/decide-on-final-business-metrics-before-project-launch/

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9 years ago

Amazing article! I really enjoyed reading!

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