Review of Philosophy and Psychology

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 469–479 | Cite as

What can Neuroscience Contribute to the Debate Over Nudging?

  • Gidon Felsen
  • Peter B. Reiner


Strategies for improving individual decision making have attracted attention from a range of disciplines. Surprisingly, neuroscience has been largely absent from this conversation, despite the fact that it has recently begun illuminating the neural bases of how and why we make decisions, and is poised for further such advances. Here we address empirical and normative questions about “nudging” through the lens of neuroscience. We suggest that the neuroscience of decision making can provide a framework for understanding how nudges work, and how they can be improved. Towards this end, we first examine how nudges can be incorporated into a leading model of decision making supported by neurobiological data, and use the model to make predictions about the relative effectiveness of different classes of nudges. We then use the model to demonstrate how nudges can both infringe upon and promote autonomy. Finally, we explore the normative implications of the converging consensus from neuroscience and related fields that many everyday decisions are susceptible to covert external influences.


Decision Variable Starting Position Drift Rate External Influence Choice Architect 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank the editors and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive suggestions. This work was supported by the Greenwall Foundation’s Faculty Scholars Program in Bioethics (G. F.).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physiology and BiophysicsUniversity of Colorado School of MedicineAuroraUSA
  2. 2.Center for Bioethics and HumanitiesUniversity of ColoradoAuroraUSA
  3. 3.National Core for NeuroethicsUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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