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Gustav Almqvist - The Good Place: Essays on Nudging

Google “how to make better decisions” and you get 5 million hits. Blog posts, TED talks and self-help books that promise to improve our lives dramatically as long as we follow their easy steps towards becoming better decision makers. A popular concept within the same discourse is known as choice architecture or nudging. Nudge, a book published by two scholars in 2008, stands out as it offers us a way to make better decisions for someone else.

A nudge is a gentle way to influence someone without violating his or her freedom of choice. It must be for a good cause, but must not involve money. Graphic warnings on cigarette packages, the power saving mode on your TV, and the “open here” symbol at the back of your bag of chips are all nudges. The pedometer on your smartphone is a nudge.

Judgment and decision making (JDM) research has normative, descriptive and prescriptive sides. Nudging has become a cornerstone of prescriptive JDM. Over the past decade, it has spread to business and public administration. Many governments now use it. This dissertation critically discusses the ideological assumptions behind nudging and empirically investigates when it may be unpopular, unnecessary or Big Brother-esque. That is, when not to nudge.

Building on secondary data analyses and surveys, the dissertation contains four articles. Articles 1 and 2 investigate the Swedish public support for nudging. Article 3 studies an alleged bias among horseracing bettors. Article 4 looks into predictions from Big Data. The dissertation concludes that Swedes are cautiously positive towards nudging; that horseracing bettors generally are not biased; and that it remains to be seen whether Big Data leads to Big (Brother) nudging. The dissertation generally warns against unrealistic expectations of nudging.

GUSTAV ALMQVIST is a researcher at the Center for Media and Economic Psychology and the Center for Sports and Business at the Stockholm School of Economics Institute for Research (SIR) and a teacher at the Department of Marketing and Strategy at the Stockholm School of Economics. He lives in Stockholm.

Gustav Almqvist - The Good Place: Essays on Nudging