Habituated: can Proctor & Gamble make us better people?

Can habits be manufactured? In the "Warning - Habits May be Good for You," one social scientist, now Director of the Hygiene Center at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, turns to private industry to learn marketing techniques that will save lives.

'There are fundamental public health problems, like hand washingwith soap, that remain killers only because we can’t figure out how to change people’s habits,' Dr. Curtis said. 'We wanted to learn from private industry how to create new behaviors that happen automatically.'

The companies that Dr. Curtis turned to — Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Unilever — had invested hundreds of millions of dollars finding the subtle cues in consumers’ lives that corporations could use to introduce new routines.

If you look hard enough, you’ll find that many of the products we use every day — chewing gums, skin moisturizers, disinfecting wipes, air fresheners, water purifiers, health snacks, antiperspirants, colognes, teeth whiteners, fabric softeners, vitamins — are results of manufactured habits. A century ago, few people regularly brushed their teeth multiple times a day. Today, because of canny advertising and public health campaigns, many Americans habitually give their pearly whites a cavity-preventing scrub twice a day, often with Colgate, Crest or one of the other brands advertising that no morning is complete without a minty-fresh mouth.

Seeing this article reminded me that some choice, while never perfectly free, can be made better.