Nudge

Putting many of the principles of Thinking, Fast and Slow into action, Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein provides some excellent food for thought. The utility of the book is how the authors make pragmatic use of the advances made by Kahneman and other psychologists. Thaler and Sunstein deem any person in a position to influence (however subtly) the manner in which humans choose as “choice architects.” To illustrate this subtlety, consider that how much ice cream you buy at the supermarket is at least partially dependent on how good (or bad) you feel about the fruits and vegetable you bought (or didn’t) when you first walked into the grocery store. The produce is invariably and intentionally at the front of the store to take advantage of the understanding that if you feel good about buying produce you are then much more likely to think it is okay to buy ice cream – after all, you’ve earned it with all that healthy produce you are going to eat!

Thaler and Sunstein provide suggestions for how choice architecture could nudge people into better decision in situations where humans do not develop good decision making skills. As discussed here, our decision making abilities do not improve in the absence of regular/predictable environments, an opportunity to practice, and clear, rapid feedback. The authors identify financial decisions, health decisions, and social programs such as education, health insurance, and marriage as areas where we could benefit from nudges and better choice architecture.

Nudge provides many ideas for how our lives are influenced on a daily basis. The main takeaway for me is the necessity of understanding your values, beliefs, and purposeful direction of your life. Then, in situations where choices are difficult or you might feel yourself being pulled to make a choice that is not necessarily consistent with your values, take a moment to consider how choice architecture might be influencing you.

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