A conversation with Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein
Q: What do you mean by "nudge" and why do people sometimes need to be nudged?
A: By a nudge we mean anything that influences our choices. A school cafeteria might try to nudge kids toward good diets by putting the healthiest foods at front. We think that it's time for institutions, including government, to become much more user-friendly by enlisting the science of choice to make life easier for people and by gentling nudging them in directions that will make their lives better.
Q: You discuss tricks our minds play on us, and biases we have. What are some of those?
A: As with visual or optical illusions, our minds can play tricks on us. For example, we are very sensitive to the way choices are described or "framed." A medical treatment can be made more or less attractive depending on whether the outcomes are described in terms of the chances of survival or the chances of death, even though these are, of course, equivalent.
Q: What are some of the situations where nudges can make a difference?
A: Well, to name just a few: better investments for everyone, more savings for retirement, less obesity, more charitable giving, a cleaner planet, and an improved educational system. We could easily make people both wealthier and healthier by devising friendlier choice environments, or architectures.
Q: Can you describe a nudge that is now being used successfully?
A: One example is the Save More Tomorrow program. Firms offer employees who are not saving very much the option of joining a program in which their saving rates are automatically increased whenever the employee gets a raise. This plan has more than tripled saving rates in some firms, and is now offered by thousands of employers.
Q: You are very adamant about allowing people to have choice, even though they may make bad ones. But if we know what's best for people, why just nudge? Why not push and shove?
A: Those who are in position to shape our decisions can overreach or make mistakes, and freedom of choice is a safeguard to that. One of our goals in writing this book is to show that it is possible to help people make better choices and retain or even expand freedom. If people have their own ideas about what to eat and drink, and how to invest their money, they should be allowed to do so.