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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Amir, O., and O. Lobel. 2008. Stumble, predict, nudge: how behavioral economics informs law and policy. Columbia Law Review 108: 2098–2137.
Bard, J. 2012. Lack of political will and public trust dooms presumed consent. The American Journal of Bioethics Volume 12(2): 44–46.
Bovens, L. 2009. The ethics of nudge. In Preference change: approaches from philosophy, economics and psychology, ed. T. Grüne-Yanoff and S.O. Hansson. Dordrecht: Springer.
Branson, C.D., B. Perry, C. and Wellings, D. 2011. Acceptable behaviour? Public opinion on behaviour change policy. Ipsos Social Research Institute
Epstein, S., R. Pacini, V. Denes-Raj, and H. Heier. 1996. Individual differences in intuitive-experiential and analytical-rational thinking styles. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71: 390–405.
Felsen, G., N. Castelo, and P. B. Reiner. 2013. Decisional enhancement and autonomy: public attitudes towards overt and covert nudges. Judgment & Decision Making 8(3): 202–213.
Frederick, S. 2005. Cognitive reflection and decision making. Journal of Economic Perspectives 19(4): 25–42.
Hardin, G. 1968. The tragedy of the commons. Science 162: 1243–1248.
Hausman, D.M., and B. Welch. 2010. To nudge or not to nudge? The Journal of Political Philosophy 18(1): 123–136.
Kahan, D.M. 2006. Cultural cognition and public policy. Yale Law and Policy Review 24: 147–170.
Kahan, D.M. 2014. Cultural cognition as a conception of the cultural theory of risk. In Handbook of risk theory, ed. S. Roeser. Dordrecht: Springer.
Kahan, D.M., D. Braman, G.L. Cohen, J. Gastil, and P. Slovic. 2010. Who fears the HPV vaccine, who doesn’t, and why? An experimental study of the mechanisms of cultural cognition. Law and Human Behavior 34(6): 501–516.
Kahneman, D. 2011. Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Kemmelmeier, M. 2009. Authoritarianism and its relationship with intuitive-experiential cognitive style and heuristic processing. Personality and Individual Differences 48: 44–48.
Marteau, T.M., D. Ogilvie, M. Roland, M. Suhrcke, and M.P. Kelly. 2011. Judging nudging: can nudging improve population health? BMJ 342: 228.
Norris, P. Pacini, R. and Epstein, S. 1998 The Rational-Experiential Inventory, short form. University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Pedhazur, E.J. 1997. Multiple regression in behavioral research, 3rd ed. Orlando: FL:Harcourt Brace.
Peters, E., and P. Slovic. 1996. The role of affect and worldviews as orienting dispositions in the perception and acceptance of nuclear power. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 26(16): 1427–1453.
Slovic, P. 1995. The construction of preference. American Psychologist 50: 364–371.
Sunstein, C.R. 2014. Why nudge? The politics of libertarian paternalism. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Thaler, R.H., and S. Benartzi. 2004. Save more tomorrow: using behavioral economics to ncrease employee saving. Journal of Political Economy 12(1): 164–187.
Thaler, R.H., and C.R. Sunstein. 2008. Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness. New Haven: Yale University Press.
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
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
About this article
Cite this article
Hagman, W., Andersson, D., Västfjäll, D. et al. Public Views on Policies Involving Nudges. Rev.Phil.Psych. 6, 439–453 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13164-015-0263-2
- Analytic Thinking
- Irrational Behavior
- Analytical Thinking
- Retirement Saving
- Choice Architecture