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Nudging Ourselves and Others Towards Day 12

Anne Dalke's picture

Nudging Ourselves and Others Towards Day 12--and Fall Break!

I. coursekeeping

anyone attend/want to report on
"Sex, Politics, and Cancer: The Future of the HPV Vaccine"?

what to report on the process of identifying your subject group & generating 5 questions?
can you begin to imagine how you might present the data you'll be gathering?

will your surveys function as nudges? might you think about introducing some??

These graphs are due on-line when we return from break: by 5 p.m. Monday (10/19) ;
in the meantime, be sure to e-mail me your midterm course-and-self-evaluation:
How well are we meeting the stated goals of this course?
How well have I been facilitating them? How well have you?

III. Reading "Nudge": the Argument and the Application
work of Richard Thaler (an economist) and Cass Sunstein (a legal scholar)
--very congruent with that of Barry Schwartz (psychologist);
and w/ Jonah Lehrer's report on how the prefrontal cortex works.

Thaler is often named as the founder of behavioral economics:
"our brains didn't really evolve to calculate the probabilities and
make the cold comparisons that economic rationality demands.
We've developed cognitive rules of thumb to make sense of them,
but those shortcuts don't always work."

"The thinking problems come from the fact that we have a slow,
erratic CPU and the fact that we're busy," says Thaler. "So we
try to rationally cope with that . . . but we cope in imperfect ways."

"Simply giving people more choices, therefore - whether it's among
healthcare plans, pension plans, or schools - is no assurance that
they'll make the best choice."

From The Boston Globe:
"I think it's a massively important idea," says Barry Schwartz,
a psychology professor at Swarthmore College who looks at economic behavior.
"It's hard to imagine a context in which it's not relevant."

Seeing what sense we make of this....
Beginning with our own Biases and Blunders:
Shepherd's "Turning the Tables"

Two kinds of thinking:
intuitive/automatic/gut and

biases associated w/ three rules of thumb/heuristics:
(typically insufficient adjustments)
availability (accessibility, salience, how readily exs. come to mind)
(similarity/stereotypes/imagining causal patterns)

optimism, overconfidence
loss aversion, status quo bias, lack of attention
framing effects
(how problems are stated)

choice architect:
responsible for organizing the context in which ppl. make decisions
there is no such thing as a "neutral" design: "everything matters"--paralyzing? empowering?

libertarian paternalism:
self-conscious efforts to steer ppl's choices in directions
that will improve their lives (as judged by themselves--
imagining full attention, complete information,
unlimited cognitive abilities and complete self-control!)
--while preserving their liberty

cf. homo economicus (who chooses unfailingly well) & homo sapiens (who predictably err):
i.e. systematic tendency toward unrealistic optimism about time to complete projects;
status quo bias--inertia/sticking w/ default option)
ordinary consumers are novices in many areas, lacking experience, good information, prompt feedback


[Privitizing Marriage: decouple material and symbolic benefits
now easily dissolvable, no solution to self-control problem
self-serving bias: nudge toward smaller range of expected outcomes
allow wide range of experiments]

Objections: slippery slope reduced: creates freedom
"sunshine the best of disinfectants": transparency
it's all right to be wrong:
How much learning is good for people?
not all redistribution is illegitimate:
trade-offs beween protecting the unfortunate & encouraging initiative, self-help
more concern for liberty, free choice than welfare?
insidious subliminal advertising?
"the publicity principle": gov't banned from policy it could not defend publicly/respectfully
manipulation objectionable if invisible, impossible to monitor
neutrality sometimes feasible, important: potential for beneficial nudging
asymmetric paternalism: help less sophisticated, pose smallest cost on most
"cooling off periods" to deal w/ self-control problems
when is a nudge a shove?

consider: New Anti-Smoking Ads Warn Kids "It's Gay to Smoke"

Applying these ideas to our (past and future) lives:
1. Write? Then Go 'round and describe a
time when you have been "nudged."
Was it justified? Appropriate?
Were you resentful? Grateful?

2. Get into groups based on your shared topics

(i.e.: sleep, mental health, exercise...?)
will your surveys function as nudges? might you think about introducing some??
design a "nudge" that would help students choose more wisely than they do now...

3. Come back to the big group: 
how would you feel/
what do you think about being a "libertarian paternalist"?

4. Thaler and Sunstein want your thoughts!
Nudge website:
Nudge blog:
their dozen nudges:
send them your suggestions:
(related webpage on "stickKing to commitments":
"put a contract on yourself" @ )