Using Behavioral Insights to Increase Parental Engagement

WDR 2015 IpadIt’s cute the way interventions in policy to influence people’s behaviour is called “using behavioural insights”. You could also call it commonsensically influencing people’s behaviour based on the idea that they are not instantly, omnisciently optimising robots. Anyway, there you go. Whodda thunk? Sending parents text reminders, setting goals and providing social rewards influences their behaviour. Nice to see the impact is large though.


Parent engagement with their children plays an important role in children’s eventual economic success and numerous studies have documented large gaps in parent engagement between low- and higher-income families. While we know remarkably little about what motivates parents to engage in their children’s development, recent research suggests that ignoring or discounting the future may inhibit parental investment, while certain behavioral tools may help offset this tendency. This paper reports results from a randomized field experiment designed to increase the time that parents of children in subsidized preschool programs spend reading to their children using an electronic reading application that audio and video records parents as they read. The treatment included three behavioral tools (text reminders, goal-setting, and social rewards) as well as information about the importance of reading to children. The treatment increased usage of the reading application by one standard deviation after the six-week intervention. Our evidence suggests that the large effect size is not accounted for by the information component of the intervention and that the treatment impact was much greater for parents who are more present-oriented than for parents who are less present-oriented.

By Susan E. Mayer, Ariel Kalil, Philip Oreopoulos, Sebastian Gallegos
Click here for NBER Working Paper No. 21602

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I am and will always be Not Trampis
I am and will always be Not Trampis
8 years ago

really interesting nick.

8 years ago

Now, Nicholas, was ‘Not Trampis’ response (above) sensible ?

I was going to make a reply, but I was bogged down in the question of what is, and what is not, sensible.

I look at your post and I just begin to wonder what may be in the interest of the young. Is that kind of nudgee-nudgee response of any value to the young ? Is quantity still considered greater that quality ? If parents aren’t “future oriented” than is more involvement by them in their children’s live positive or negative /

I await your wise definition of what is “sensible” in this situation.

8 years ago
Reply to  GrueBleen

Can’t leave well enough alone, can I.

But I just can’t get over this wonderful post on The Conversation (probably the American bit):

That post contains this paragraph:
“For this study, researchers entered the homes of 42 families over a span of four years to assess daily language exchanges between parents and their young children. The researchers found that, by age three, children with high-income families were exposed to 30 million more words than children with families on welfare.”

30 million words in 3 years (or less). If we use the round number (3 years) then we get 27,378.6 more words every single day for 3 years. Now that’d take just a bit more than “three behavioral tools (text reminders, goal-setting, and social rewards)” to achieve, don’t you reckon ?

I’m just astounded.