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When to consider boosting: some rules for policy-makers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 October 2017

Center for Adaptive Rationality, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany
*Correspondence to: Ralph Hertwig, Center for Adaptive Rationality, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany. Email:


In recent years, public officials have shown a growing interest in using evidence from the behavioural sciences to promote policy goals. Much of the discussion of behaviourally informed approaches has focused on ‘nudges’; that is, non-fiscal and non-regulatory interventions that steer (nudge) people in a specific direction while preserving choice. Less attention has been paid to boosts, an alternative evidence-based class of non-fiscal and non-regulatory intervention. The goal of boosts is to make it easier for people to exercise their own agency in making choices. For instance, when people are at risk of making poor health, medical or financial choices, the policy-maker – rather than steering behaviour through nudging – can take action to foster or boost individuals’ own decision-making competences. Boosts range from interventions that require little time and cognitive effort on the individual's part to ones that require substantial amounts of training, effort and motivation. This article outlines six rules that policy-makers can apply in order to determine under which conditions boosts, relative to nudges, are the preferable form of non-fiscal and non-regulatory intervention. The objective is not to argue that boosts are better than nudges or vice versa, but to begin to spell out the two approaches’ respective conditions for success.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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