Q. Why did researchers etch flies into airport urinals around the world?
A. Because men like to aim.
Spillage around urinals has always been a problem for restroom maintenance people.
Aad Kieboom, Manager of Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, says installation of flies has reduced spillage by 80%, which saves big money in cleanup costs. The original fly idea was proposed 20 years ago by Jos Van Bedoff, a Dutch soldier who noticed someone had put small red dots in the barracks urinals, which dramatically reduced “misdirected flow.”
The dots were changed to flies when Van Bedoff decided that guys want to directly aim at an animal they can immobilize.
The ability to use one’s natural gifts and achieve victory over the foe while standing is the key, he explained. Flies are also unsanitary, which is why nobody feels guilty aiming at them. Entomologist May Berenbaum says males have “a deep-seated instinct to aim at targets.” Having a fly to aim at focuses their attention and reduces what she politely calls “human spillage.” Seeing an opportunity, UrinalFly.com entered the market, manufacturing waterproof, adhesive toilet stickers for home and business. In an interview with NPR, Urinalfly executive Doug Kempel said “men hate to turn on the light at night because it blinds them.” So his company launched a new line of glow-in-the-dark fly decals. University of Chicago professor Richard Thaler, who studies the psychology of decision-making, calls the urinal fly his favorite illustration of a nudge.
What’s a nudge?
In behavioral economics, a nudge is a choice “that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their incentives.” Nudges make it easier to do the right thing. Just don’t nudge me while I’m aiming.