Nudge, the much-beloved buzzword of psychologists, behavioural economists and those trumpeting neuromarketing. But is this the psychology equivalent of the Emperor’s New Clothes?
Popularised by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in their book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness – required reading, and upcoming on the PsychMatters bookshelf. The theory suggests that small ‘nudges’ can help people make better decisions.
Proponents of Nudge often use the Behavioural Insights Team (BUT) and their reported successes as a beacon for the theory. Indeed, the BIT proved to be in such demand that it was privatised earlier this year to allow private sector and other governments to tap their brain trust.
“The mechanism behind nudge is likened to subliminal advertising, but what is rarely ever mentioned is that subliminal advertising is a myth,” explains
Dr Osman added: “There is no good psychological evidence to suggest targeting the unconscious through such priming methods has ever been effective in changing peoples’ behaviour for any sustained period, just as there is limited reliable evidence that we have a separate conscious and unconscious mind.”
An enticing case study with staggering results will always generate interest, but in order to gain traction across industry it needs to be repeatable and this is where Dr Osman takes issue,
“The problem is experimental rigor needs to improve before we can say that nudges are effective. Certainly there is no reliable evidence that nudges lead to significant behavioural change in the long term, just as there is no direct comparisons of the effectiveness of nudges against the introduction of taxation systems when it comes to increasing fitness, reducing smoking cessation, and reducing alcohol consumption.”
The audience at the recent Chinwag Psych conference will have (we hope) have seen dozens of examples of repeatable examples of nudges, but many of these were on a small scale (the videos are on our YouTube channel, so you can see for yourself), but do the techniques work across a society?
There’s still lots of work to do applying psychology, neuroscience and behavioural economics and there’s a pressing need for case studies and experimental work to back up the theories.
If you’ve used these theories successfully or it’s been a total failure, do let us know, we’d love to cover them (anonymously if you’d rather not share your #fail).
Source: Medical Xpress.