The Nudge: When Does it Work?

The ‘nudge‘ operates by means of libertarian paternalism, in which individuals’ behavior is altered in a positive, predictable manner but without limiting individual choice. Although the nudge still remains in infancy (Sunstein & Thaler, 2008), in recent years there has been a steady increase in the number of studies testing if it works.

Today, I came across a study that tested a nudge to influence individual’s choice in milk consumption (low-fat vs. full-cream; Wilson et al. 2015) by placing notes (“Pick me! I’m low calorie”) on cartons. Based on previous readings, I was not surprised by the findings: low-fat milk consumption increased for two-weeks immediately after the nudge, but returned to individuals’ baseline tendencies over the next 10 weeks.

What does this suggest?

kickstarterAs I’ve said before, I believe nudges work best as adjuncts (vs. alternatives) to other means of promoting positive behavior change. Although such approaches should be considered an effective means to ‘kickstart’ healthy behavior change, there is clear need to provide continuous and more resource-intensive support to sustain behavior change*.

*This reminds me of the company KickStarter – the concept will help businesses to get off the ground, but without time, money, and other sufficient resources after the ‘kickstart’, a business is sure to fail!

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