Nudge 2.0: A broader toolkit for lasting behavior change

Cait Lamberton and Benjamin Castleman in the Huffington Post: “Nudges are all around us. Chances are that someone has nudged you today—even if you didn’t realize it. Maybe it was your doctor’s office, sending you a text message about an upcoming appointment. Or maybe it was an airline website, urging you to make a reservation because “only three tickets are left at this price.” In fact, the private sector has been nudging us in one way or another for at least 75 years, since the heyday of the Madison Avenue Ad Men.

It’s taken a few generations, but the public sector is starting to catch on. In policy domains ranging from consumer finance and public health to retirement planning and education, researchers are applying behavioral science insights to help people make more informed decisions that lead to better long-term outcomes.

Sometimes these nudges take the form of changing the rules that determine whether someone participates in a program or not (like switching the default so people are automatically enrolled in a retirement savings plan unless they opt out, rather than only enrolling people who actively sign up for the program). But oftentimes, nudges can be as simple as sending people simplified information about opportunities that are available to them, or reminders about important tasks they have to complete in order to participate in beneficial programs.

A growing body of research demonstrates that nudges like these, despite being low touch and costing very little, can lead to substantial improvements in educational outcomes, whether it’s parents reading more to their children, middle school students completing more class assignments, or college students successfully persisting in college….

As impressive as these results have been, many of the early nudge studies in education have focused on fairly low-hanging fruit. We’re often helping people follow through on an intention they already have, or informing them about opportunities or resources that they didn’t know or were confused about. What’s less clear, however, is how well these strategies can support sustained behavior change, like going to school every day or avoiding substance abuse….

But what if we want to change someone’s direction? In real-world terms, what if a student is struggling in school but isn’t even considering looking for help? What if their lives are too busy for them to search for or meet with a tutor on a consistent basis? What if they have a nagging feeling that they’re just not the kind of person who succeeds in school, so they don’t see the point in even trying?

For these types of behavior change, we need an expanded nudge toolkit—what we’ll call Nudge 2.0. These strategies go beyond information simplification, reminders, and professional assistance, and address the decision-making person more holistically- people’s identity, their psychology, their emotions, and the competing forces that vie for their attention….(More)”