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Target practice in a toilet bowl. It might not seem logical but – according to published studies – a fly painted on the inside of a urinal bowl helps to focus attention and improve aim. This is an example of nudge theory and it pinpoints seemingly irrational human responses to influence common behavior.

The ICRC is exploring behavioral science in a handful of different areas from healthcare to energy consumption considering how its findings can be applied with an ICRC focus.

We are studying how to improve International Humanitarian Law (IHL) dissemination that ensures combatants consistently comply with the norms of IHL or how to persuade prison authorities to provide dignified treatment of detainees. One project in Pakistan seeks to reduce negative interactions between hospital staff and patients’ family members or other caregivers using individual and cultural nudges. Subtle cues – like a well-placed mirror that reflects a face contorted by anger, or a message painted on an ambulance reminding motorists of the life-or-death stakes – may persuade people towards a less heated, more considerate response.

In this short video Fiona Terry, the ICRC’s Head of Centre for Operational Research & Experience, explains this approach. 

“Influencing the behavior of people is fundamental to the ICRC’s work safeguarding the dignity and upholding the humanity of people all around the world,” she says.

“Behavioral science has a lot to offer us in terms of insight into how we could do this better.”