Nudge Versus Boost: How Coherent are Policy and Theory?
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- Grüne-Yanoff, T. & Hertwig, R. Minds & Machines (2016) 26: 149. doi:10.1007/s11023-015-9367-9
If citizens’ behavior threatens to harm others or seems not to be in their own interest (e.g., risking severe head injuries by riding a motorcycle without a helmet), it is not uncommon for governments to attempt to change that behavior. Governmental policy makers can apply established tools from the governmental toolbox to this end (e.g., laws, regulations, incentives, and disincentives). Alternatively, they can employ new tools that capitalize on the wealth of knowledge about human behavior and behavior change that has been accumulated in the behavioral sciences (e.g., psychology and economics). Two contrasting approaches to behavior change are nudge policies and boost policies. These policies rest on fundamentally different research programs on bounded rationality, namely, the heuristics and biases program and the simple heuristics program, respectively. This article examines the policy–theory coherence of each approach. To this end, it identifies the necessary assumptions underlying each policy and analyzes to what extent these assumptions are implied by the theoretical commitments of the respective research program. Two key results of this analysis are that the two policy approaches rest on diverging assumptions and that both suffer from disconnects with the respective theoretical program, but to different degrees: Nudging appears to be more adversely affected than boosting does. The article concludes with a discussion of the limits of the chosen evaluative dimension, policy–theory coherence, and reviews some other benchmarks on which policy programs can be assessed.