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Using text messaging to prompt behaviour

2 min read: For any one reading studies coming out of the field of behavioural science you’ll notice there’s a lot of chat about using text messaging to prompt behaviour. Here are some examples of studies where text messaging has been used successfully to make behaviour more likely to occur:

Making it more likely people turn up for appointments: The UK behavioural Insights team experimented with using different messages to remind patients to turn up for their NHS appointments. They used differing principles from behavioural science to see what would be most effective including fairness to others, social norms, and reducing friction costs. The most effective message was to include the cost of the missed appointment to the NHS, resulting in a 25% reduction in missed appointments.

Making it more likely people make loan repayments: One experiment compared a cash reward, 25% interest rate reduction and a monthly text message reminder as ways of making it more likely people would make their loan repayments. Results showed that a text message reminder was as effective as a 25% interest rate reduction (Cadena & Schoar 2011).

Making it more likely study supporters follow up with students: A trial was run inviting students to nominate a study supporter such as a parent or friend to receive regular text messages intended to prompt the supporters to start regular conversations with the student about their studies. The students whose supporter received a text message to prompt the conversations showed a 27% increase in attainment compared to those whose supporters did not receive texts. (UK BIT team)

Making it more likely people pay their court fines: Whilst significant improvements have been made in improving repayment rates for fines imposed by the courts through making payment much easier, a significant amount of resource is still spent chasing payment. A trial was set up to test the impact of sending text messages to prompt the behaviour. Results showed an increase in repayment rate of at least 18% when text messages were sent out to those that had failed to pay their fine, giving them one last chance to pay before issuing a distress warrant for the bailiffs to recover goods up to the value of the fine. (UK BIT Team)

So why is text messaging showing up in so many interventions? Well most of the population have a mobile phone, we tend to read text messages on a regular basis throughout the day so its a good way to attract attention, it’s a low cost intervention and you can get right into the persons environment at the time you want to be prompting behaviour. There are many behaviours that don't occur not because we are not motivated to do them, but because we're mindlessly doing something else. For some behaviours a simple prompt in the environment that attracts attention, whether it’s a text or something else, at the time you want the behaviour to occur, can make behaviour more likely to occur.

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