Routes to Nudging: some reading

The obvious text to mention here is:

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein

Publisher: Yale University Press
ISBN: 9780300122237: Number of pages: 304

The notion of how to ‘nudge’ was brought to the fore by this 2008 book.

The primary concern I have with their text – written from the perspective of economists – arises from the assumption that you can help people to nudge some-one else. Shades of manipulation. This web site seeks to address only what you might do for yourself.

This book highlights how we make decisions about our lives but – too often – we choose poorly. I find this approach to ‘nudging’  values the ‘small defeat’ less than it might. To me, the ways in which we get things wrong can be an important step towards getting it right. The road to success is not a straight-as-a-die Motorway, but rather a scenic route with few clear indications of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ steps en route.

Thaler and Sunstein are helpful in showing how humans are susceptible to various biases that can lead us to blunder. They say we can do things differently if we take humanness as a given and work with it – rather than against it. They invite us to enter an alternative world, They show that by knowing how people think, we can design and make choices that make get better results. There are easier ways we can choose what is best for ourselves and our families. 

However, this view appears to neglect the fundamental issue: who designs the experiment, for what intention and how can we learn from the results.

Mistakes do not always make us poorer; the scenic route, with both small defeats and small victories littering the road, may teach us important lessons.

There is a web site addressing the larger political issues relating to nudging:

This web site highlights how ‘nudging’ arose from a wish to change others – it’s what politicians do – and it may well be an important motivator for people to go into politics! I want my own web site to provide an antidote to the paternalism emanating from the hidden persuaders. Let me know if I succeed or fail on the way, please!  At the bottom of this page, there is a Comment section you can write in.

I am asking you how you will design experiments based on the victories and defeats you choose to experience. Here is a way of thinking about different types of actions you might consider. One practical possibility is:

  1. to select a page from the website in a random fashion.
  2. Skim read it, and be open to anything that jumps out for you.
  3. Stop and reflect on what it is that ‘jumps out’ and what you, yourself, might want to do about that experience.
  4. If necessary, use the Body Scan to monitor how your body is responding to the current event. 

Return to:



What is a nudge

How to design a nudge

An illustrated way to move along the scenic route

Obstacles to ‘nudging


Published by robintre

I am a semi-retired, Registered Counselling Psychologist working from Norfolk in the UK. My website is based on experience working as a therapist, supplemented by working in the Probation Service over ten years, in child protection for four years and Higher Education teaching for seven years. I continue to run my own private practice. The creativity of many clients - in developing safe experiments - has provided the backbone of what you will read.

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