What’s next for nudging and choice architecture?

Richard Thaler at a Special Edition of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes: “I have long considered all my co-editors of this special issue to be good friends. That is, until they asked me to write an editorial on the topic of “what is next?” When a bunch of experts in judgment and decision-making ask you to do something they know to be impossible, you should be suspicious, right? Do they think I don’t know that predicting the future of science is impossible?

They slyly assigned Katy Milkman the job of luring me into agreeing. The first request came via email with what had to be a deliberately impenetrable subject heading: “Ask for OBHDP Special Issue You’re Co-Editing: 13 Paragraphs on the Future of Nudge.” The other three co-editors were copied, the message was long and complicated, and, to top it off, the first word of the subject was “Ask.” Katy surely knew there was no chance I would read that email, which of course was part of her cunning strategy. She figured that when she sent the inevitable follow-up email I would feel guilty about not responding to the first one. Guilt is a powerful nudge.

The expected second email came three days later, this time with a catchier one-word subject line: “Noodge.” (Have I mentioned that these emails arrived in the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown?) This new email began by acknowledging that the first one had been too long and poorly timed, lulling me into a false sense of security that I was being excused and off the hook. But then, Katy launched the heavy artillery. She framed her request in a way that made my acceptance the default option: “Hope you’re up for writing 1–3 paragraphs, but let me know if not and we’ll manage. :)” We all know that defaults are powerful, but did she really think this was going to work on me? Although I was mildly miffed at the brazen noodging, I find it hard to say “no” to Katy, so I stuck to my usual strategy of lying low and ignored this email as well, foolishly hoping she would give up.

That hope was dashed a week later when the third email arrived with the subject line: “pretty please with sugar on top. :)” Plus, she pulled out another trick she had up her sleeve: a deadline! “The introduction is due in just a few days!” She was telling me that this assignment, which I had never agreed to do, was almost overdue. Of course, she also knew I was trapped in my home with very few excuses. Seeing no plausible escape route at this point, I capitulated and agreed to her request.

Conclusion: nudging works! Even on me.

Recall her request was that I write one to three paragraphs. This is already the sixth paragraph so by all rights I should already be done. Certainly, I will not be lured into making any forecasts. Phil Tetlock is her colleague! But since the word processor is already open, I will instead offer a few thoughts about my hopes and dreams for this enterprise.

My first hope is that the range of “nudges” expands. We know a lot about the effect of the kinds of strategies Katy used in her emails to me such as defaults, reminders, deadlines, guilt, salience, and norms. Come to think of it, I am surprised Katy didn’t try “90 percent of all recipients of my emails agree to do what I ask.” While I concede that these ploys often (though not always) work, it can’t be that they span the entire behavioral science repertoire. So I am hoping to see studies using a different set of behavioral insights. I am sure there are good ones out there….(More)”.