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When should nudging be deemed as permissible and when should it be deemed as intrusive to individuals’ freedom of choice? Should all types of nudges be judged the same? To date the debate concerning these issues has largely proceeded without much input from the general public. The main objective of this study is to elicit public views on the use of nudges in policy. In particular we investigate attitudes toward two broad categories of nudges that we label pro-self (i.e. focusing on private welfare) and pro-social (i.e. focusing on social welfare) nudges. In addition we explore how individual differences in thinking and feeling influence attitudes toward nudges. General population samples in Sweden and the United States (n = 952) were presented with vignettes describing nudge-policies and rated acceptability and intrusiveness on freedom of choice. To test for individual differences, measures on cultural cognition and analytical thinking were included. Results show that the level of acceptance toward nudge-policies was generally high in both countries, but were slightly higher among Swedes than Americans. Somewhat paradoxically a majority of the respondents also perceived the presented nudge-policies as intrusive to freedom of choice. Nudge-polices classified as pro-social had a significantly lower acceptance rate compared to pro-self nudges (p < .0001). Individuals with a more individualistic worldview were less likely to perceive nudges as acceptable, while individuals more prone to analytical thinking were less likely to perceive nudges as intrusive to freedom of choice. To conclude, our findings suggest that the notion of “one-nudge- fits-all” is not tenable. Recognizing this is an important aspect both for successfully implementing nudges as well as nuancing nudge theory.

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  1. In contrast, banning or taxing junk food would not qualify as a nudge according to the definition made by Thaler and Sunstein (2008) because it implies forbidding or making a choice more expensive.

  2. It should of course be noted that not all unhealthy choices are caused by irrational behavior. However, many of the unhealthy choices where individuals fail to stick to a plan that they previously have deemed optimal are unlikely to promote the overall welfare of the individual. See e.g. Thaler and Sunstein (2008 p.7–9) for further discussion.

  3. There may be other types of pro-self nudges which do not concern weakness of will as the main cause of irrationality, e.g. nudges designed to fix overconfidence (see Bovens (2009) for further discussion).

  4. To facilitate understanding of the logistic regression output (Pedhazur 1997), acceptability and intrusiveness were recoded into binary variables corresponding to acceptable/not acceptable and intrusive/not intrusive respectively. The results were similar when conducting the analyses with continuous dependent variables.


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We thank Paul Slovic, Lina Koppel and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on a previous version of the manuscript. Financial support by the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation and the Swedish Research Council (VR) is gratefully acknowledged

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Gustav Tinghög.

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Hagman, W., Andersson, D., Västfjäll, D. et al. Public Views on Policies Involving Nudges. Rev.Phil.Psych. 6, 439–453 (2015).

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