Samuli Reijula, Ralph Hertwig.
Behavioural Public Policy, 2020
This article argues that nudges can often be turned into self-nudges: empowering interventions that enable people to design and structure their own decision environments—that is, to act as citizen choice architects. Self-nudging applies insights from behavioral science in a way that is practicable and cost-effective but that sidesteps concerns about paternalism or manipulation. It has the potential to expand the scope of application of behavioral insights from the public to the personal sphere (e.g., homes, offices, families). It is a tool for reducing failures of self-control and enhancing personal autonomy; specifically, self-nudging can mean designing one’s proximate choice architecture to alleviate the effects of self-control problems, engaging in education to understand the nature and causes of self-control problems, and employing simple educational nudges to improve goal attainment in various domains. It can even mean self-paternalistic interventions such as winnowing down one’s choice set by, for instance, removing options. Policy makers could promote self-nudging by sharing knowledge about nudges and how they work. The ultimate goal of the self-nudging approach is to enable citizen choice architects’ efficient self-governance, where reasonable, and the self-determined arbitration of conflicts between their mutually exclusive goals and preferences.
From the Conclusion:
Commercial choice architects have become proficient in hijacking people’s attention and desires (see, e.g., Nestle 2013; Nestle 2015; Cross and Proctor 2014; Wu 2017), making it difficult for consumers to exercise agency and freedom of choice. Even in the best of circumstances, the potential for public choice architects to nudge people toward better choices in their personal and proximate choice environments is limited. Against this background, we suggest that policy makers should consider the possibility of empowering individuals to make strategic changes in their proximate choice architecture. There is no reason why citizens should not be informed about nudges that can be turned into self-nudges and, more generally, about the design principles of choice environments (e.g., defaults, framing, cognitive accessibility). We suggest that self-nudging is an untapped resource that sidesteps various ethical and practical problems associated with nudging and can empower people to make better everyday choices. This does not mean that regulation or nudging should be replaced by self-nudging; indeed, self-nudging can benefit enormously from the ingenuity of the nudging approach and the evidence accumulating on it. But, as the adage goes, give someone a fish, and you need them for a day. Teach someone to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime. We believe that sharing behavioral insights from psychology and behavioral economics will provide citizens with a the citizen choice architect means for taking back power, giving them more control over the design of their proximate choice environments–in other words, qualifying them as citizen choice architects.
The article is here.