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Description: What is a nudge? Might be a slight poke in the arm used to get someone’s attention or to announce your arrival to a friend who had their back turned to you. But more than a tap, nudges more typically are thought of as things that get people moving in a particular direction. As a child a friend might have nudged you to do something by actually pushing you a bit or by daring you (e.g., to ask someone to dance). Psychologists have studied things that could be called nudges for a long time. How can you get people to eat better, get more exercise, wear a mask, or get vaccinated? Well, you could order them (via rules or legislation) or you could encourage them with incentives (e.g., prizes or flat-out payments). But perhaps you could nudge them? What might that look like, and would it work? Think about these last two questions and then read the article linked below to see what a researchers in applied decision-making has to say about what the research into nudges does and does not suggest.

Source: Nudges: four reasons to doubt popular techniques to shape people’s behavior, Magna Osman, The Conversation.

Date: January 10, 2022

Image by JerzyGorecki from Pixabay

Article Link:

So, were you surprised at the lack of substantial consistent data supporting the use of nudges? Did you note that population level (i.e., big numbers) data on the efficacy of nudges suggests that they are about as effective as placebos? I think the lost importantly lacking thing is that there is no general theory of what nudges are, what they involve and how or when and if they work. Before we say more research is needed, perhaps it would be better to say that more thinking or theoretic reflection is needed in this area.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is a nudge?
  2. How would you distinguish a nudge from an incentive or a from a threat?
  3. What sorts of research need to be done to better ground the concept of nudges and what needs to be taken into account to ensure that new research in this area take into account possible ethical issues associated with nudges?

References (Read Further):

Osman, M., McLachlan, S., Fenton, N., Neil, M., Löfstedt, R., & Meder, B. (2020). Learning from behavioural changes that fail. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Link

Grüne-Yanoff, T., & Hertwig, R. (2016). Nudge versus boost: How coherent are policy and theory? Minds and Machines, 26(1), 149-183. Link

Vugts, A., Van Den Hoven, M., De Vet, E., & Verweij, M. (2020). How autonomy is understood in discussions on the ethics of nudging. Behavioural Public Policy, 4(1), 108-123. Link

Mele, C., Spena, T. R., Kaartemo, V., & Marzullo, M. L. (2021). Smart nudging: How cognitive technologies enable choice architectures for value co-creation. Journal of Business Research, 129, 949-960. Link

Boot, W. R., Simons, D. J., Stothart, C., & Stutts, C. (2013). The pervasive problem with placebos in psychology: Why active control groups are not sufficient to rule out placebo effects. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8(4), 445-454. Link

Loewenstein, G., & Chater, N. (2017). Putting nudges in perspective. Behavioural Public Policy, 1(1), 26-53. Link

Hagman, W., Andersson, D., Västfjäll, D., & Tinghög, G. (2015). Public views on policies involving nudges. Review of philosophy and psychology, 6(3), 439-453. Link

Sunstein, C. R. (2017). Nudges that fail. Behavioural public policy, 1(1), 4-25. Link

Schubert, C. (2017). Green nudges: Do they work? Are they ethical?. Ecological Economics, 132, 329-342. Link