Can we nudge ourselves?

Is it possible to protect ourselves against shopping that runs counter to our original intentions? A group of researchers from Aarhus BSS has examined this in detail. Get the answer here.

Can we influence our decisions so that they live up to our own standards for how we have decided to live our lives? Illustration: Simon Nørredam Andersen

Nudging. A small word which, when used in marketing or communication, is often defined as “a friendly push in the right direction.” As a phenomenon, nudging has been studied and tested on a large scale.

Often as an outside influence. From sender to receiver. In many cases, it works, and sometimes it is actually quite effective.

But can we also nudge ourselves? Can we influence our decisions so that they live up to e.g. our own standards for how we have decided to live our lives? And can we push ourselves in the right direction without worrying about exposing ourselves to dilemmas that might interfere with our choices?

According to researchers from the Department of Management at Aarhus BSS, there are indications that this might be possible. The researchers have studied the phenomenon closely among a small group of subscribers to organic ‘meal boxes’ from the Danish company Aarstiderne.

“We found that these consumers to a large extent use their subscription for organic meal boxes to ensure that they buy and eat organic foods. This is often motivated by intentions to live and consume goods in a more environmentally friendly manner,” says Gabriele Torma, PhD student at the Department of Management at Aarhus BSS.

She and her colleagues Associate Professor Jessica Aschemann-Witzel and Professor John Thøgersen are behind the study, which is published in the scientific journal International Journal of Consumer Studies.

The difficult dilemma

Many of us are probably familiar with the situation. We are in the supermarket shopping for dinner for our family. Tonight, we have decided on chicken. We look in the cold counter. Organic. Yes, of course. The choice seems simple and easy. Until we discover that the conventional chicken next to the organic one is cheaper. Significantly cheaper.

Now the dilemma arises. Do we stick to our principle of buying organic foods? Or do we compromise to stretch our household budget a little longer?

“There may be several reasons to opt for a meal box subscription. A significant reason is the convenience associated with getting your groceries delivered to your doorstep. But we also found that the subscribers we interviewed very much protect themselves from situations where they have to choose between the expensive organic chicken and the much cheaper but conventional one. In this way, they use their subscription for organic meal boxes to uphold their overall decision to purchase and eat organic foods,” explains Gabriele Torma.

A growing market

The Danish market for meal boxes is growing. According to the newspaper Dagbladet Børsen, the turnover in the market is expected to reach one billion Danish kroner this year. The largest provider is, which prepares almost nine million meals per year for roughly 70,000 customers. Last year, the company made a record profit of almost DKK 50 million before tax.

The grocery giants Dansk Supermarked and Coop have also created their own meal box concepts - either handled by the companies themselves or by subsidiaries. And the market continues to see new players.

But according to Gabriele Torma, there may be a separate market for niche concepts that exploit the consumers’ self-nudging tendencies.

Organic products may be one path that the consumers want to follow, but there might be several paths. These might be special dietary needs, health in a broader sense, vegetarian meals or something else entirely. But if you are able to get consumers to nudge themselves into maintaining a specific choice, you could probably create a market,” says Gabriele Torma.

Further information:

“I nudge myself: Exploring ‘self-nudging’ strategies to drive sustainable consumption behaviour” is published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies.

PhD-student Gabriele Torma

Department of Management

Aarhus BSS