Nudge, Hug, Smack or Shove: Testing Approaches to Enabling Consumer Energy Use Behaviour Change  

Project dates: 01/02/2017 - 30/11/2017

The aim of the research was to evaluate which social exchange approach (hug, nudge, smack or shove) was most effective, both in terms of appeal to consumers and in changing their patterns of electricity usage. 

Why is this important?

This research project, funded by Energy Consumers Australia, focused on delivering ways to help energy consumers to make more effective energy choices and reduce their power bills and CO2 emissions along the way. The findings from this research project have the potential to deliver significant benefits to the community, industry and energy consumers.

What did we do?

The project tested four approaches to encourage consumers to manage their electricity use: a nudge (rewards + passive effort), hug (rewards + active effort), smack (punishment + active effort) and shove (punishment + passive effort) through a series of experiments.

This project combined tools from behavioural economics and social marketing that can change the way government and industry encourage people to make better decisions for themselves. Where standard approaches rely on fictitious characters displaying reasonable or rational behaviour, this project relied on behavioural data to inform how to best achieve the most effective outcomes for consumers to minimise their power bills, as well as reduce future network cost pressures and emissions at the same time. This research shows how these two fields can complement business research to achieve better policy outcomes and help drive improvements in living conditions of Australians – Transdisciplinary Behavioural Business research for real world Australians.

What did we find out?

  • When there is a crisis, people will respond positively to help the community and do not need a Hug, Nudge, Shove or Smack. Effective communication will work.
  • When the situation is normal, people respond best to a moderate Shove or Hug.
  • A minor Shove is initially successful, but both the Shove and the Smack lead to less pro-social behaviour when applied over time.
  • Notable significant differences were found that altered the response to a Smack, Shove, Hug or Nudge:
    • Participatory citizenship: Participants with higher levels of participatory citizenship contribute larger amounts to the public good.
    • Age: As participant age increases, so does the contribution amount.
    • Education: As education levels increase, contribution to the public good will also increase.

Funding / Grants

  • Energy Consumers Australia Limited (2017)

Chief Investigators

Other Team Members

  • Ms Natalie Sketcher (Visual Designer)



Participant Summary

  • “Hug, Nudge, Shove or Smack? Testing approaches to reducing peak energy consumption by consumers”. Brief Participant Summary

Theory at a Glance


  • “A nudge, hug, smack or shove: which one works better to deliver energy savings?” [QUT News]
  • “A nudge, hug, smack or shove: which approach works for energy consumers?” [QUT News]