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What's a Nudge?

The word nudge has come to mean: "An intervention that gently steers individuals towards a desired action."

According to Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, both highly influential figures in the field of Behavioral Economics and authors of the best-selling 2008 book Nudge, a nudge is:

"any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates. Putting the fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not."

Nudges can have a huge range of applications, from organizations to public policy to the lives of individuals. Here are just a few quick examples:

1) Defaults:

Automatic enrollment in programs including education, savings, health has proven to be a highly effective nudge.

2) Social norms:

Emphasizing what most people do (such as: "most people vote" or "most people pay their taxes on time" or "nine out of ten people don't smoke"), in a way that is as local and specific as possible, has shown to reduce harmful or undesired behavior.

3) Ease and convenience:

For example, making low-cost, healthy foods visible and easy to access. Putting gyms in office spaces or keeping exercise equipment next to your bed.

4) Precommitment strategies:

By having people commit to a certain type of action (such as engaging in a productive activity, putting money aside, eating less sugar), they are more likely to act in accordance with their goals. Committing to a specific action at a precise future moment has been shown to be more effective in prompting action and reducing procrastination.

5) Implementation intentions:

By asking, for example, "do you plan to see the doctor next week?" or "do you plan to vote?" or "do you plan to vaccinate your child?", people are more likely to carry out the action they confirmed.

6) Reminders:

Even simple reminders about upcoming appointments or overdue bills, sent by email or phone, can act as nudges and have been shown to have significant impact.

7) Simplification:

complexity of information is a serious problem around the globe as it creates confusion and often deters participation in important programs.

While there are no one size fits all solutions as far as nudges, a growing number of organizations as well as governments have decided that it's worthwhile to have their own behavioral insights teams, or nudge units, dedicated to such interventions.


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