Nudge theory

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See also: Nudge (book)

Nudge theory (or Nudge) is a concept in behavioral science, political theory and economics which argues that positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions to try to achieve non-forced compliance can influence the motives, incentives and decision making of groups and individuals alike, at least as effectively – if not more effectively - than direct instruction, legislation, or enforcement.

The definition of a nudge[edit]

At the heart of nudge theory is the concept of nudge. This was originally defined by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein as follows:

“A nudge, as we will use the term, 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 fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not.”


“Nudge,” as it is often referred, is usually credited to Richard Thaler a prominent professor of Behavioural Science and Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Thaler's role in developing the “Nudge Theory” is usually discussed in parallel with Daniel Kahneman, an American psychologist.

Nudge Theory rose to global prominence in 2008 with the release of the book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Thaler and legal scholar Cass R. Sunstein. The volume not only brought the discourse on Nudge theory to the wider public, but secured a significant following among contemporary US and UK political personalities as well as the private sector involved with public health and related fields.[1] Nudge theory and similar policy frameworks have been criticized by some psychologists for failing to take into account the psychological determinants of the behaviors that they are trying to change,[2] despite the ethical implications.[3]

Most recently, the political machinery of both President Barack Obama in the United States and Prime Minister David Cameron in the UK have sought to employ Nudge Theory to advance their respective domestic policy goals. In both the UK [4] and the Australian state of NSW [5] there is a Behavioural Insights Team in the government.


Nudge Theory has also found its way into the business management and corporate culture. Health- Safety and Environment (HSE) and Human Resources are two areas that have applied the theory to internal safety or management culture. Regarding its application to HSE, one of the primary goals of nudge is to achieve a "zero accident culture".[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See: Dr. Jennifer Lunt and Malcolm Staves
  2. ^ van der Linden, Sander (2013). "A response to Dolan". In Oliver, Adam. Behavioural Public Policy. Cambridge University Press. pp. 209–215. ISBN 9781107617377. 
  3. ^ Fischer, Mira; Lotz, Sebastian (2014). "Is Soft Paternalism Ethically Legitimate? - The Relevance of Psychological Processes for the Assessment of Nudge-Based Policies". Cologne Graduate School Working Paper Series (05-02). Retrieved 2014-05-30. 
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