Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What We're Reading: Nudge

A few weeks ago, I was reading an article online about school cafeterias and the abundance of unhealthy foods that can be found there. One point of view presented in the article was the possibility of influencing student behavior - not by eliminating sweet and fattening options altogether, but by instead offering them a nudge toward the better options while maintaining free choice. Perhaps the fruits and veggies could be presented first, or be more visible than their more nefarious culinary brothers and sisters. I was a little skeptical, as it takes more than a slight nudge to get me to choose an apple over an apple pie. I noticed that a book was referenced in the article: Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Thaler and Sunstein. It even has cute little elephants on the cover, aww. I decided to see what they had to say.

This is a thoroughly interesting book about the idea of libertarian paternalism, which essentially says that it should be easy for people to do what they like. However, it is nearly impossible NOT to influence people one way or another, so in offering choice, gentle nudges can lead people to the option that would improve their lives. How could nudges improve our decisions in complicated and confusing areas like investing? How can we do what we know we should, like save more money? How important is the default option (or, have you ever started a free subscription of a magazine you no longer want, but kept paying for it after the free period expired?) Isn't it good to give all choices without giving preference to any one selection? Questions such as these are explored in areas ranging from pollution to Medicare Part D. I will give you a nudge to read it by saying that it comes to you "highly recommended."

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