Nudging

Introduction

A nudge is defined as

"...any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people's behaviour in a predictable way without forbidding any option or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates..."

Wikipedia, 2021

"...A nudge makes it more likely that an individual will make a particular choice, or behave in a particular way, by altering the environment so that the automatic cognitive processes triggered to favour the desired outcome..."

Wikipedia, 2021

For example, placing a product at 'eye height' in a shop is nudging.

Understanding how people really act is the key to problem-solving and change management.

All sorts of assumptions are made about how people make decisions, ie

"...that people are rational, way up the evidence and know what is in their best interests..."

Tom Burton et al, 2020

However, the world is too complex are rational thinking to dominate.

"...Nudge techniques design choices based on how people think and decide, often instinctively and rather irrationally..."

Tom Burton et al, 2020

Our decisions can be determined by such things

i) how the information is presented

"...subtle changes to the way decisions are framed and convey can have big impacts on behaviour, and often lead to quite different results that would have been predicted if applying traditional rational decision-making models..."

Rory Gallagher as quoted by Tom Burton et al, 2020

ii) what others are doing

NB People are making decisions that are not necessary in our best interest.

"...our customers and citizens think, feel and act determines how they will respond to new products and services, and to every manner of pitch and promise from politicians and policy makers..."

Rory Gallagher as quoted by Tom Burton et al, 2020

"...An individual's behaviour is not always in alignment with their intentions (terms a value-action gap). It is common knowledge that humans are not fully rational beings; that is, people will often do something that is not in their own self-interest, even when they are aware that their actions are not in their best interests..."

Wikipedia, 2021

Some examples

- a hungry person, who is dieting, can temporarily put their intentions to eat healthy food on hold until their hunger is satisfied.

- the Covid-19 pandemic, starting in 2020, has stressed the need for good personal hygiene practices like regularly and thoroughly washing hands, wearing a face mask, keeping physical distance from others, working remotely, getting tested and isolating if we have any symptoms, getting vaccinated, etc. Initially the pandemic had most impact on the elderly. This caused complacency among younger people and needed the message to be modified appropriately.

It has been suggested (Daniel Kahneman, 2012) that there are 2 distinct systems processing information as to why people sometimes act against their own self-interest:

i) system 1 - fast, automatic and highly susceptible to environmental influences; it relies on various judgemental heuristics to make decisions that result in faster decisions but not necessarily the best decision. It can override an individual's explicit values and goals; this habitual behaviour can be resistant to change unless there is a disruption to the environmental cues that trigger that behaviour

ii) system 2 - slow, reflective and takes into account explicit goals and intentions

(for more details see other parts of the Knowledge Base)

In situations that are too complex, or overwhelm your cognitive capacity, such as time restraints, system 1 dominates.

Nudging aims to take advantage of system 1, ie it will alter the environment so that the resulting choice will be a more desirable outcome. An example is having healthy food near the cash register in a store and junk food located elsewhere.

Nudging involves small changes in environment. Some techniques include

- defaults (it is the option that you automatically receive if you do nothing)

- social proof heuristics (this refers to the tendency for you to look at what other people are doing to help guide your own behaviour)

- increasing the salience of the desired option (drawing your attention to a particular option so that it becomes more salient, or obvious, and thus more likely to be chosen)

Nudging is of maximum benefit if it secures lasting behavioural change.

However, nudging has been described as manipulative, eg partisan nudge bias (behaviourial policies are more desirable when they are aligned with their own political leanings).

Changing people's behaviour requires more than relying on regulations and rules, with enforcement and coercion. There is a need for positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions.

New combinations of technologies around data science, artificial intelligence and machine learning are helping us to understand human behavioural patterns.

 

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