Yale School of Management

Center for Customer Insights

Advancing the frontiers of consumer understanding

Better Eating with the 4Ps Framework

With the 4Ps framework, nudges can be tested and implemented simultaneously - with each nudge having a purpose in the grand scheme of behavior change.

January 23, 2015

Every second in the United States, McDonald’s sells 17 Big Macs and KFC sells 25 pieces of Original Recipe chicken. Americans consume a vast amount of fast, unhealthy food. And then they spend about $50 billion every year on weight loss attempts, including more than 200,000 bariatric surgeries. “Individuals act as if their eating patterns represent mistakes rather than planned behavior,” Christopher Ruhm, a professor of public policy at the University of Virginia, has written. Is that true for you?

Consumer choice researchers are curious: Why do people eat too much and then pay to rectify it? Academics have long assumed that people choose the alternatives they most prefer; that choices reveal underlying preferences. If a moviegoer buys and consumes a 130-ounce bucket of popcorn, she would be assumed to prefer eating lots of popcorn, with any risks it might entail, over every other possible alternative.

In fact, decision-making is far more nuanced. We frequently make choices out of habit rather than careful consideration. We do not analyze every alternative. And conflicting preferences—salt and butter now versus fitness later—are weighed unevenly, with the long-term effects of our choices often discounted or entirely overlooked. In short, within the context of food, eating healthily is difficult.

The paradox of conflicting choices and preferences has inspired research testing how small contextual changes, or “nudges,” can alter consumer decisions. Until now, these nudges have been only loosely related and sometimes difficult to put into practice, but a team of behavioral economists at the Yale School of Management, Zoë Chance, Margarita Gorlin, and Ravi Dhar, have organized them into a new framework called the 4Ps Framework for Behavior Change. For the first time, nudges can be tested and implemented simultaneously, with each nudge having a purpose in the grand scheme of behavior change.

The 4Ps refer to which choices are offered (Possibilities), how choices are made (Process), how choices are communicated (Persuasion), and how intentions are reinforced (Person). Chance and her colleagues hope that their streamlined framework might help both researchers and policymakers tackle the challenge of healthy eating; the framework is already being implemented in a large technology company. “We believe our field has great, untapped potential for benefiting health and changing behaviors outside the lab,” they write.

The following table details some of the many ways in which the 4Ps framework can be used to sway consumers or employees toward healthier decisions. [For a print friendly version of the framework, click HERE]