How to change behavior? A group within the British government puts the notions of Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein’s book into practice.
Manipulating behavior is old hat in the private sector, where advertisers and companies have been nudging consumers for decades. Just think of strategically placed chocolate bars at the checkout counter. But in public policy, nudge proponents study human behavior to try to figure out why people sometimes make choices that they themselves would consider poor. Then they test small changes in how those choices are presented, to see whether people can be steered toward better decisions — like putting apples, not chocolate bars, at eye level in school cafeterias. It is tricky to run perfectly controlled experiments in real-life situations, but proving the worth of nudges is a central principle of the program, Mr. Halpern said.
The benefits of refocusing the government enterprise could be significant, much in the way they are being put into place in the marketplace. (Check out the tag “urinals” for that essential behavioral innovation, the “urinal fly.”)
“If you combine this very simple, very conservative thought — go with the grain of human nature — with all the advances in behavioral economics,” he said, “I think we can achieve a real increase in well-being, in happiness, in a stronger society without necessarily having to spend a whole lot more money.”
According to Britain’s Conservative David Cameron, this could be “a new era–where governments themselves have less power (and less money)” resulting in the need for smart policy like this.
And finally, here are a few of the Nudge Units’ findings on organ donations, court fines, charitable giving,