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Nudging people to make good choices can backfire

Choice architects like to prod us to save for retirement and eat healthier

By
8:00am, March 8, 2017
Nudge

NUDGE BACKLASH  Nudging people to make good choices, about their retirement plans, charitable giving or even preventive health care, does not always go as planned.

Nudges are a growth industry. Inspired by a popular line of psychological research and introduced in a best-selling book a decade ago, these inexpensive behavior changers are currently on a roll.

Policy makers throughout the world, guided by behavioral scientists, are devising ways to steer people toward decisions deemed to be in their best interests. These simple interventions don’t force, teach or openly encourage anyone to do anything. Instead, they nudge, exploiting for good — at least from the policy makers’ perspective — mental tendencies that can sometimes lead us astray.

But new research suggests that low-cost nudges aimed at helping the masses have drawbacks. Even simple interventions that work at first can lead to unintended complications, creating headaches for nudgers and nudgees alike.

Nudge proponents, an influential group of psychologists and economists known as behavioral economists, follow a philosophy they dub libertarian

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