Who Will Climb the Piano Stairs?

It feels as if the whole world is suddenly enthralled with the potential of nudge-y incentives: using “choice architecture,” as the nudge-masters Thaler and Sunstein put it, to encourage behavior that is good for both individuals and societies. A great many of these initiatives will fail, for behavior is harder to change than most smart people assume. But there already have been, and will continue to be, successes as well.

Here’s the latest example: in Stockholm’s Odenplan subway station, the staircase has been retrofitted to resemble giant piano keys, which produce real sound, to encourage commuters to climb the stairs rather than ride the escalator. According to this video — which seems to be part of a Volkswagen marketing initiative, though it’s unclear — it’s been a raging success.

Stockholm has seen rising obesity rates, especially among young girls, and has tried some other anti-obesity nudges as well. How will the musical stairs perform?

It’s a clever idea, to be sure, but the skeptic in me wonders:

  • Once the cameras have gone away and the novelty wears off, will people still climb the stairs — especially since it’s probably more musically fun (and a lot easier) to descend than to ascend?
  • Just as people who already count calories may be the only people who pay attention to calorie counts, will only fit people take the piano stairs?
  • What happens after the first lawsuit, when some commuter takes a nasty tumble while playing “Chopsticks” or trying to land a resounding fifth?

(Hat tip: Gabe Audick)

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  1. Barrett says:

    If a lot of people use the stairs won’t it just sound like someone banging on a piano? That hardly seems encouraging.

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  2. Paul says:

    At least they are on the right track. I like the idea. Even though I feel the sound is not as pleasing as it could be. Maybe change the notes around, so you actually play a song when ascdending/descending the stairs.

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  3. kevin says:

    A few additional points:

    1) Isn’t the decision as much about time as anything else? If the stairs are moderately full after a train arrives, I’m going to take the escalator, or vice versa. It is for me in the ATL airport, which I’m in almost weekly.

    2) Aren’t people taking the subway already using more calories than people riding in a car (assuming that the distance from/to subway station is much greater than distance from/ to the car).

    3) This is just publicity for the artists.

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  4. ray bans on my face says:

    I think those piano stairs are an awesome idea. I can picture some guy slowing up a lot of people just because he wanted to play salt-peanuts though. Nevertheless, I think ideas like that are a step in the right direction to reduce obesity.

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  5. Tim says:

    If they had it play songs as you walked, and changed the songs a few times a week, I’d take it every day just to see what song it would be. Of course, I already take the stairs anyway. But with these stairs, I’d go out of my way to go up/down them.

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  6. Kent Fischer says:

    Or … they could’ve just turned OFF the escalator? That would have bumped up the stair climbing to 100%.

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  7. Keens says:

    I think that this could get annoying very quickly, particularly for daily commuters and nearby residents and businesses. After the novelty wears off I can see it actually being a deterrent. Interactive lighting would probably work just as well in motivating people to take the stairs and would probably be less annoying. They might actually have crime deterrent capabilities too (would you still snatch a purse if you and the victim were lit up?).

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  8. CdrJameson says:

    Way to go Volkswagen – Oh, hang on, Nintendo have known this one for years.

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