The Girdle Effect


I don’t know who is more relieved, me or my coffee cup. Me, that my coffee cup knows that I’m smart or my coffee cup, that I am smart enough to know the coffee it contains is hot.

The statement cracks me up. It is a great example of a company wanting to protect itself against a possible lawsuit should someone get burned by hot coffee. Thus it prints a warning on every coffee cup it sells. On the other hand, the warning must not offend a person’s intelligence; that could instigate another lawsuit.

In a subtle way, a warning like this relieves people of having to think. It’s the “Girdle Effect” that my father used to talk about.

When I was in junior high, my father would not allow me to wear a “junior” girdle.  He said that if I allowed a girdle to hold in my stomach, then eventually my stomach muscles would grow weak from underuse.  “Use it or lose it,” he used to say.

Last year, I read in a news article that a city in Germany imbedded red lights in the sidewalk to warn people who were WUIP  (Walking Under the Influence of Phone). The purpose of the red lights was to relieve people of the tiresome chore of watching where they were going.

The Girdle Effect is an example of “choice architecture” described by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein in their book Nudge.  In it, they advocate organizing the context in which people make decisions so that their eventual choices will secure greater health, wealth, and happiness.  But it begs the question of what is good and who decides it.

If social engineers relieve people of their decision-making, then how will they learn to make decisions that require reflective, critical thinking?  If mistakes are to be avoided at all costs, then we eliminate the learning that only comes from mistakes.  It’s the Girdle Effect.

Thomas Edison said, “I haven’t failed.  I’ve just found ten thousand ways that don’t work.” As appreciative as I am that my coffee cup wants to warn me about hot coffee, I would rather learn that lesson myself, even if I get burned.

Daily Prompt: Relieved


4 thoughts on “The Girdle Effect

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