One of our most recent topics of study in university lectures has been the nudge theory. This is a theory that suggests positive reinforcement and and indirect suggestions can cause people to change their behaviour, whilst thinking it was a decision they had made for themselves.
“The belief that people are more likely to change their behaviour for the better if they are gently encouraged to do so instead of using any force” – Collins Dictionary
The fact that people change their behaviour to suit the wants of the company could quite fairly be deemed unethical, however as the nudge theory suggests behavioural change rather than enforcing it, others argue the audience is making the decision themselves and acting freely.
Let’s take a classic example I have seen used in many explanations, a school cafeteria. Quite simply the school nudges students towards making healthier lunch choices by placing healthy food at eye-level, displayed in an attractive and welcoming way. Unhealthy food is not at eye-level displayed and in a less welcoming fashion.
Is the school forcing you to make the healthy choice? No. Is the strong suggestion there? Yes. Are the pupils making a completely free decision? There lies the question.
Personally, I think that the nudge theory cannot have hard and fast rules placed upon it as to whether it is good or bad. It’s not a black and white issue.
Encouraging children to choose healthier snacks is undisputeably a good thing, but not all cases of the nudge theory being used have an answer as clear.
In some cases it is ethically or morally wrong to change people’s behaviour without them noticing – a form of brain washing if you like. But I would hope that those that implement it have good personal and business morals and only use the tactic in those situations, such as the above example, that are undeniably good.
What are your thoughts on the theory? Please share your them and any examples in the comments.
Until next time…