The (bitter) sweet taste of nudge effectiveness: The role of habits in a portion size nudge, a proof of concept study

Tina Venema, Floor Kroese, Bas Verplanken, Denise de Ridder

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Seemingly insignificant daily practices, such as sugar usage in tea, can have a great accumulated impact on societal issues, such as obesity. That is why these behaviours are often the target of nudge interventions. However, when these behaviours are performed frequently they may turn into habits that are difficult to change. The aim of the current study was to investigate whether a portion size nudge has the potential to work in accordance with (instead of against) existing habits. Specifically, it was tested whether a portion size nudge would be more effective in reducing the amount of sugar added to tea, when people have a strong habit of adding a fixed amount of teaspoons of sugar to a cup of tea. The study (N= 123) had a mixed factorial design with teaspoon size (reduced size vs. control) as a within-subject factor, and habit disruption context condition (hot tea vs. cold tea) as a between-subjects factor. A paired t-test indicated that this nudge reduced sugar intake on average by 27% within subjects. When the context allowed for automatic enactment of the habit, the effectiveness of this nudge was moderated by habit strength. Surprisingly, the nudge effect was actually less pronounced when people had a strong habit. Implications for effective nudge interventions are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104699
Early online date8 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020


  • nudge, sugar intake, habits, portion size, unit bias


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