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Nudge and the Manipulation of Choice: A Framework for the Responsible Use of the Nudge Approach to Behaviour Change in Public Policy

  • Pelle Guldborg Hansen (a1) and Andreas Maaløe Jespersen (a2)
Abstract

In Nudge (2008) Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein suggested that public policy–makers arrange decision–making contexts in ways to promote behaviour change in the interest of individual citizens as well as that of society. However, in the public sphere and Academia alike widespread discussions have appeared concerning the public acceptability of nudgebased behavioural policy. Thaler and Sunstein's own position is that the anti–nudge position is a literal non–starter, because citizens are always influenced by the decision making context anyway, and nudging is liberty preserving and acceptable if guided by Libertarian Paternalism and Rawls’ publicity principle. A persistent and central tenet in the criticism disputing the acceptability of the approach is that nudging works by manipulating citizens’ choices. In this paper, we argue that both lines of argumentation are seriously flawed. We show how the anti–nudge position is not a literal non–starter due to the responsibilities that accrue on policy–makers by the intentional intervention in citizens’ life, how nudging is not essentially liberty preserving and why the approach is not necessarily acceptable even if satisfying Rawls’ publicity principle. We then use the psychological dual process theory underlying the approach as well as an epistemic transparency criterion identified by Thaler and Sunstein themselves to show that nudging is not necessarily about “manipulation”, nor necessarily about influencing “choice”. The result is a framework identifying four types of nudges that may be used to provide a central component for more nuanced normative considerations as well as a basis for policy recommendations.

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Copyright
© Pelle Guldborg Hansen and Andreas Maaløe Jespersen 2013 This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
References
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1. Thaler, Richard and Sunstein, Cass, Nudg – Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press 2008)

2 Thaler, Richard H. and Sunstein, Cass R., “Libertarian Paternalism is not an oxymoron”, 70 The University of Chicago Law Review (2003), pp. 11591202.

3 Paul Dolan, Michael Hallsworth, David Halpern et al., “MINDSPACE– Influencing behaviour through public policy. Institute for Government”, 2010, available on the Internet at: <http://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/publications/mindspace> (last accessed on 09 January 2013)

4 Cabinet Office Behvioural Insights Team. Behavioural Insights Team Annual Update 2010–2011, 2011, available on the Internet at: <http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/resource-library/behaviouralinsight-team-annual-update> (last accessed on 09 January 2013).

5 Oliver Oullier and Sarah Sauneron, “‘Green Nudges’ new incentives for ecological behaviour”, 2011, available on the Internet at: <http://www.strategie.gouv.fr/en/content/policy-brief-216-nudgesgreen-new-incentives-green-Behaviour-march-2011> (last accessed on 09 January 2013).

6 Brigitte Piniewski, Cristiano Codagnone and David Osimo, “Nudging lifestyles for better healtlh outcomes: Crowdsourced data and persuasive technologies for behavioural change”, 2011, available on the Internet at: <http://ipts.jrc.ec.europa.eu/publications/pub.cfm?id=4219> (last accessed on 09 January 2013)

7 Edmund L. Andrews, “Obama Outlines Retirement Initiatives 2009”, available on the Internet at: <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/06/us/politics/06address.html?_r=1> (last accessed on 09 January 2013).

8 James Surowiecki, “A Smarter Stimulus”, 2009, available on the Internet at: <http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2009/01/26/090126ta_talk_surowiecki> (last accessed on 09 January 2013).

9 Michael M. Grynbaum, “New York Plans to Ban Sale of Big Sizes of Sugary Drinks”, 2012, available on the Internet at: <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/31/nyregion/bloomberg-plans-a-banon-large-sugared-drinks.html?pagewanted=all> (last accessed on 09 January 2013).

10 Cabinet Office – Behavioural Insights Team, “Applying behavioural insights to reduce fraud, error and debt”, 2011 available on the Internet at: <http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/resource-library/behavioural-insights-team-paper-fraud-error-and-debt> (last accessed 09 January 2013).

11 Cabinet Office – Behavioural Insights Team, “Applying behavioural insights to health”, 2011, available on the Internet at “http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/resource–library/applying–behavioural–insighthealth” (last accessed 09 January 2013).

12 Nudge theory trials ‘are working’ say officials, 2012, available on the Internet at: <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-16943729> (last accessed on 09 January 2013).

13 Brendan O´Neill, “A message to the illiberal Nudge Industry: Push off”, 2010, available at: <http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/9840/> (last accessed on 09 January 2013).

14 Luc Bovens, “The Ethics of Nudge”, in Grüne–Yanoff, Till and Hansson, Sven O. (eds) Preference Change: Approaches from Philosophy, Economics and Psychology (Berlin and New York: Springer, Theory and Decision Library A, 2008).

15 Vallgårda, Signild, “Nudge a new and better way to improve health?”, 104(2) Health Policy (2012), pp. 200 et sqq.

16 Mitchell, Gregory, “Libertarian Paternalism is an oxymoron”, 99 (3) Northwestern University Law Review (2004).

17 Rebonato, Riccardo, Taking Liberties – A Critical Examination of Libertarian Paternalism(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

18 Adam Burgess, , “‘Nudging’ Healthy Lifestyles: The UK Experiments with the Behavioural Alternative to Regulation and the Market”, 3 (1) European Journal of Risk Regulation (2012), pp. 316.

19 Bovens, The Ethics of nudge, supranote 14, at p. 4.

20 Ibid

21 Farrell, Henry and Shalizi, Cosma, “‘Nudge’ policies are another name for coercion”, New Scientist, Issue 2837. (2011).

22 Rebonato, Taking Liberties,supra note 17, at p. 4.

23 Frank Furedi, “Defending moral autonomy against an army of nudgers”, 2011, available on the Internet at: <http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/10102/> (last accessed on 09 January 2013).

24 Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge, supra note 1, at p. 82 and p. 239.

25 Ibid, pp. 10–11.

26 Ibid, pp. 244–245.

27 Ibid, pp. 17–101

28 Kahneman, Daniel and Tversky, Amos, “The framing of decisions and the psychology of choice”, 211 Science(1981) pp. 453458.

29 Stanovich, Keith, Rationality and the Reflective Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

30 Thaler, Richard H., “Mental accounting and consumer choice”, 4 Marketing Science (1985), pp. 199214.

31 Thaler, Richard H., “Mental accounting matters”, 12(3) Journal of Behavioural Decision Making (1999), pp. 183–206.

32 Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge, supra note 1, at p. 13–14, p. 243.

33 Piniewski, Codagnone, and Osimo, “Nudging lifestyles for better healtlh outcomes”, supra note 6, at p. 3.

34 Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge, supra note 1, at p. 17.

35 Ibid, pp. 6–17

36 Ibid, at. p. 7.

37 Ibid, at p. 6.

38 Hausmann, Daniel and Welch, Brynn, “Debate: To Nudge or Not to Nudge”, 18 Journal of Political Philosophy (2010), pp. 123136.

39 Ibid, at p. 126.

40 Ibid, at p. 126.

41 Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge, supra note 1, at p. 2.

42 Ibid, at p. 3.

43 Ibid, at p. 3.

44 Ibid, at p. 3.

45 Ibid, at p. 4.

46 Ibid, at p. 3.

47 Ibid, at p. 10–11.

48 Ibid, at p. 10.

49 Ibid, at p. 11.

50 Ibid, at p. 10.

51 Dolan, Hallsworth,Halpern et al., “MINDSPACE”, supra note 3, at p. 3.

52 Luc Bovens, “The Ethics of Nudge”, supra note 14, at p. 4

53 Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge, supra note 1, at p. 2 et sqq., p. 82 and p. 239.

54 Mitchell, “Libertarian Paternalism is an oxymoron”, supra note 16, at p. 4.

55 Vallgårda, “Nudge a new and better way to improve health?”, supra note 15, at p. 4

56 Burgess, “‘Nudging’ Healthy Lifestyles”, supra note 18

57 Furedi, “Defending moral autonomy against an army of nudgers”, supra note 23, at p. 4

58 Rebonato, Taking Liberties, supra note 17, at p. 4.

59 Burgess, “‘Nudging’ Healthy Lifestyles”, supra note 18.

60 Bovens, “The Ethics of Nudge”, supra note 14, at p. 4.

61 Burgess, “‘Nudging’ Healthy Lifestyles”, supra note 18.

62 Evan Selinger and Kyle P. Whyte, “Competence and trust in choice architecture”, 23(3–4) Knowledge, Technology & policy (2010), pp. 461–482.

63 Farrell and Shalizi, “‘Nudge policies’ are another name for coercion”, supra note 21, at p. 4.

64 Rebonato, Taking Liberties, supra note 17 at p. 4.

65 Furedi, “Defending moral autonomy against an army of nudgers”, supra note 23, at p. 4.

66 Bovens, “The Ethics of Nudge”, supra note 14, at p. 4.

68 Mitchell, “Libertarian Paternalism is an oxymoron”, supra note 16, at p. 4.

69 Farrell and Shalizi, “‘Nudge’ policies are another name for coercion”, supra note 21, at p. 4.

70 Vallgårda, “Nudge a new and better way to improve health?”, supra note 15, at p. 4,

71 Rebonato, Taking Liberties, supra note 17, at p. 4.

72 O´Neill, “A message to the illiberal Nudge Industry: Push off”, supra note 13, at p. 3.

73 Rebonato, Taking Liberties, supra note 17, at p. 4.

74 Farrell and Shalizi, “‘Nudge’ policies are another name for coercion”, supra note 21, at p. 4.

75 Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge, supra note 1, at pp. 4–5.

76 Ibid, at p. 5.

77 Ibid, at p. 5.

78 Rebonato, Taking Liberties, supra note 17, at p. 4,

79 Vallgårda, “Nudge a new and better way to improve health?”, supra note 15, at p. 4.

80 Plous, Scott, The Psychology of Judgement and Decision Making (New York: McGraw–Hill, 1993).

81 Chris Branson, Bobby Duffy, Chris Perry et. al., “Acceptable Behaviour: Public Opinion on Behaviour Change Policy”, Ipsos MORI. 2012, available on the Internet at: <http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/publications/1454/Acceptable-Behaviour.aspx> (last accessed on 09 January 2013).

82 This issue is also discussed by Riccardo Rebonato in Taking Liberties, supra note 17, at p. 4, under the heading of the ‘reversability’ of libertarian paternalism.

83 Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge, supra note 1, pp. 19–22.

84 Daniel Kahnemann, Thinking Fast and Slow (New York: Farrar,

85 Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge, supra note 1, at p. 19. Straus and Giroux, 2011).

86 Ibid

87 Stanovich, Rationality and the Reflective Mind, supra note 29, at p. 6,

88 Kahnemann, Thinking Fast and Slow, supra note 84, at p. 13.

89 See e.g. Edward Cartwright, Behavioural Economics, (London: Routledge, 2011).

90 Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge, supra note 1, at p. 4.

91 Kahneman, Daniel and Tversky, Amos, “Choices, values, and frames”, 39(4) American Psychologist (1984), pp. 341350.

92 Kahnemann, Thinking Fast and Slow, supra note 84, at p. 13 et sqq., pp. 363–376.

93 Wansink, Brian, “Environmental factors that increase the food intake and consumption volume of unknowing consumers”, 24 Annual Review of Nutrition (2004), pp. 455479.

94 Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge, supra note 1, pp. 239–244.

95 Rawls, John, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971).

96 Ibid, at p. 49.

97 Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge, supra note 1, at p. 245.

98 Ibid, at p. 245.

99 Ibid.

100 Ibid.

101 Ibid.

102 Ibid.

103 Ibid, at p. 246.

104 Ittersum, Koert van and Wansink, Brian, “Shape of Glass and Amount of Alcohol Poured: Comparative Study of Effect of Practice and Concentration”, British Medical Journal (2005), at p. 331.

105 Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge, supra note 1, at p. 41–42.

106 Ibid, at p. 4.

107 Ibid, at p. 3.

108 Ibid, at p. 10–11.

109 Ibid, at p. 246.

110 Bovens, “The Ethics of nudge”, supra note 14, at p. 4, p. 13.

111 Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge, supra note 1, at p 2 et sqq.

112 The Economist, “Nudge nudge, think think”, (2012), available on the Internet at: http://www.economist.com/node/21551032 (last accessed on 09 January 2013).

113 Rutgers, “the Print Green Program”, available on the Internet at <http://www.nbcs.rutgers.edu/ccf/main/print/> (last accessed on 09 January 2013).

114 Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge, supra note 1, at p. 37.

115 Wansink, “Environmental factors that increase the food intake and consumption volume of unknowing consumers”, supra note 93, at p. 22

116 Lisa W. Foderaro, Without Cafeteria Trays, Colleges Finds Savings, 2009, available on the Internet at <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/29/nyregion/29tray.html?_r=0> (last accessed on 09 January 2013).

117 Kahneman and Tversky, “Choices, values, and frames”, supra note 91 at p. 22

118 Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge, supra note 1, pp. 175–182.

119 Braiker, Harriet B., Who's Pulling Your Strings? How To Break The Cycle of Manipulation And Regain Control Of Your Life (New York: McGraw–Hill, 2004).

120 Bovens, “The Ethics of nudge”, supra note 14 at p. 4

121 Ibid, at p. 2

122 Ibid, at p. 13

123 Bovens does in fact briefly comment on this type of nudges, where the preference for consistency between actions and reflected preferences lead to behavioural change. However, since Bovens overemphasizes the cases where one is nudged toward some end that one does not agree to, his point becomes that when behavioural change occur in these instances due to consistency, this may lead to a fragmented self.

124 The cause of his mistake seems partially to be found in a conflation between the psychological sense of manipulation and the more comprehensive, neutral and technical sense, i.e. the intentional manipulation of a straightforward cause–and–effect relationship. It should be noted that nudging usually only changes frequencies and thus the effect is probabilistic rather than deterministic. In regard to manipulation, this is both good and bad news. The good news is that a deterministic change would render nudging more intrusive/manipulative, since it would indicate that we have no way to avoid its influence. However, this is not the case. Looking at the above typology, the closest one comes to such a deterministic relationship seems to be type 1 nudges, where the cause–andeffect relationship may be conjectured to be more deterministic than for type 2 nudges, since there is no active decision–making that could interfere with the Behaviour change pursued. Especially, when a type 2 nudge is epistemic transparent does this possibility seem to arise. Hence, in this “technical” sense of manipulation, type 1 nudges in general seem more robust and thus manipulative than type 2 nudges in general. The case for nudging as manipulation in the “technical” sense seems more probable when applied to automatic behaviour than to choice. Yet, the reason why transparency may undermine the efficacy or robustness of a nudge does not seem to hang solely on the distinction between type 1 and type 2 nudges. In the cases for which Bovens claims that transparency undermines effect, it rather seems to be the combination of the transparency of a type 2 nudge with the fact that the aim nudged towards do not square with the reflected preferences of the citizen, that is at fault. For instance, a reader of Spiked may recognize the fly–in–the–urinal and decide to pee on the wall as a response to the intervention. Bovens claim thus seems to result from an over–emphasis on transparent type 2 nudges that seek to promote behavioural changes the end or means of which citizens do not agree with, rather than from nudging as such.

125 Evan Selinger and Kyle Whyte, “Is there a right way to nudge? The Practice and Ethics of Choice Architecture”, 5(10) Sociology Compass (2011), pp. 923–935.

126 Kahneman and Tversky, “Choices, values, and frames”, supra note 91, at p. 22.

127 Chris Branson; Bobby Duffy; Chris Perry et al., “Acceptable Behaviour: Public Opinion on Behaviour Change Policy”, supra note 81, at p. 15.

128 Meyers, A.W, Stunard, A.J, Coll, M., “Food accessibility and food choice. A test of Schachter´s externality hypothesis”, 37(10) Archives of General Psychology (1980), pp. 11331135.

129 Ariely, Dan, Loewenstein, George and Prelec, Drazen, “‘Coherent Arbitrariness’: Stable demand curves without stable preferences”, 118(1) Quarterly Journal of Economics (2003), pp. 73105.

130 Sunstein, Cass, Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

131 Hansen, Pelle Guldborg and Hendricks, Vincent Fella, Oplysningens Blinde Vinkler, (Frederiksberg: Samfundslitteratur, 2011).

132 Wansink, Brian, Mindless Eating. Why we eat more than we think (New York: Bantam, 2010).

133 Brian Wansink, “Environmental factors that increase the food intake and consumption volume of unknowing consumers”, supra note 93, at p. 22.

134 Ibid.

135 Thaler and Sunstein, Nudge, supra note 1, pp. 236–251.

136 Ibid, at p. 244.

137 Ibid, at p. 245.

138 Ibid, at p. 246.

139 Ibid, at p. 246.

140 In fact this road to behavioural change may be evaluated as even less invasive and less manipulative than the provision of information. Information is hard to provide in an objective way, and for instance in the case of prompted choice for organ donation, it is only the act of taking a stand on the issue which is highlighted as important, rather than what public policy–makers deem as the right information about this.

141 Sean D. Hamill, “To Slow Speeders, Philadelphia Tries Make-Believe, 2008, available on the Internet at: <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/12/us/12bump.html> (last accessed on 10 January 2013).

142 Vanderbilt, Tom, Traffic: Why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us) (New York: Vintage Books, 2009).

143 Evan Selinger and Kyle Whyte, “Is there a right way to nudge?”, supra note 125, at p. 29.

144 Luc Bovens, “The Ethics of Nudge”, supra note 14, at p. 4.

145 O´Neill, “A message to the illiberal Nudge Industry: Push off”, supra note 13, at p. 4

146 Bovens, “The Ethics of Nudge”, supra note 14, at p. 4.

The authors would like to thank two anonymous reviewers at EJRR as well as Prof. Robert Sugden (UEA), Prof. Bent Greve (RUC) and John Parkinson (Bangor University) and colleagues from the Institute for Marketing and Management (SDU) who all have provided helpful comments and question.

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