top of page

Nudge - Book Review

1 June 2019
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

"Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness," 2008, 2017, was written by Richard H. Thaler, a Nobel Prize laureate in economics, and Cass R. Sunstein, also distinguished as a Holberg Prize winner.


Central to the book's premise is the introduction of the "nudge" concept – a subtle yet influential force capable of inciting individuals to make favorable choices and take proactive steps. Rooted in a liberal perspective, the authors adeptly navigate the delicate balance between safeguarding freedom of choice and offering gentle guidance. The ensuing summary delineates their methodology, lightly referencing illustrative examples, as the book primarily delves into real-world instances and scenarios showcasing positive shifts underpinned by their economic principles, achievable through the skillful application of nudges. These transformative instances span diverse realms: financial affairs encompassing savings, investments, loans, and the privatization of social security; considerations of well-being spanning insurance, organ donations, and environmental preservation; and matters of civil liberties, spanning the selection of educational institutions, insurance services, and the demarcation of church and state in marital affairs.


Perhaps one of the most globally renowned instances of nudge application is the placement of fly stickers inside urinals at the Amsterdam airport. This measure notably curbed incidents of misalignment.


 The book covers the following topics:


  • NUDGE - Fundamental Concepts and Principles

  • NUDGE Tools

  • Peer Pressure

  • Aiding in Decision-Making

  • Simplifying Complex Processes

  • Incentivizing Behaviors 

  • Integrating Knowledge into the NUDGE Framework

  • Addressing Objections to NUDGE


This summary is a valuable resource for professionals in knowledge management, product and service planning, and individuals involved in change management. For those desiring deeper insights, it is strongly recommended to delve into the book and explore the website


NUDGE - Fundamental Concepts and Principles

Introducing the NUDGE Concept and Its Underlying Principles


To foster a comprehensive comprehension of the NUDGE concept and its bedrock, let us embark by elucidating pertinent terms:


NUDGE – An inconspicuous prod possessing the potential for substantial change or influence. Consider, for instance, the dwindling markings on a fuel gauge, signifying a decline in fuel level; toggling a switch to illuminate a light hastens many of us to refuel, even though this information isn't novel. For clarity, the authors remind us: do not misconstrue this term with the Yiddish "NOODGE," which translates to "snooze" (an entertaining testament to its prevalence…).


CHOICE ARCHITECT – An individual vested with the responsibility of arranging information to facilitate decision-making. This role proves pivotal in deftly navigating the NUDGE concept, assisting us in traversing a world with knowledge and potential.


LIBERTARIAN PATERNALISM – A seemingly paradoxical term that melds liberalism with a modicum of paternalistic influence. It enables individuals' gentle steerage (or nudging) toward choices that augment their well-being. Deciphering what constitutes "good" emerges as a multifaceted matter, extensively tackled within the book. The underlying guiding principle is to direct toward avenues of maximum benefit while minimizing the risk of harm. Should professed intentions diverge from actions due to human proclivities, the paternalistic liberal stance involves offering aid and nudging back onto the right path. An unembellished example, as embodied by President Barack Obama, involves instituting initiatives to combat obesity in schools. Why is this necessary despite aligning with human desires? Because our human nature is strewn with biases that lead to irrational conduct (as expounded in Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow"): a penchant for immediate gains over long-term repercussions, avoidance of intricate actions, and aversion to decisions that appear convoluted. Notably, NUDGE proves considerably more lenient than rigid mandates and obligations.


NUDGE tools are far from arbitrary; they find their roots in our biases, encompassing representation, availability, heuristics, commitment to sustainability, framing, and beyond. These biases frequently propel us to act illogically, and NUDGE tools are fashioned to counteract these tendencies. The authors advocate the judicious employment of these tools where intervention is warranted.





Peer Pressure

The society encompassing us exerts an influence over our actions. Why does this occur? In most instances, we tend to conform and assimilate. Operating within these principles involves:


•   Providing information about actions taken by others.

•   Remaining within a group where colleagues hold sway.

•   Garnering people's commitment to step (priming).


NUDGE strategies encompass:


•   Displaying the percentage of individuals who have already decided or opted for a specific path you aim to promote.

•   Employing phrases like "More people prefer..."

•   Conveying the actions others have already embarked upon.

•   Instilling the expectation that an individual with a favorable opinion will be the first to voice it, thereby encouraging confident and vocal expression.

•   Inquiring about people's intentions concerning the topic you seek to endorse, solitary discussion can heighten their commitment to acting in that direction.


Examples include:


•   The "Don't Mess with Texas" campaign, which curbed littering.

•   Highlighting individuals' significant tax contributions to deter tax evasion.

•   Contrasting an account holder's power consumption graph with the entire city.




•   More than merely informing people that their behavior is above average is required. For instance, presenting a power consumption graph, as depicted above, to those consuming less might trigger an adverse response. However, incorporating a smiling graph emoji alongside it can alleviate this impact. This touch of positive feedback prevents negative shifts in behavior that align with the norm.



Aiding in Decision-Making

The realm of choices can indeed pose challenges for us as users.


Abiding by these principles entails:

•   Simplifying the decision-making process.

•   Reducing the number of options presented.

•   Granting users the freedom to modify their choices effortlessly.

•   Acknowledging the potential for human fallibility in decision-making.


NUDGE strategies encompass:

•   Default Setting – Establishing a default option aligned with the desired outcome. In scenarios where multiple choices exist, and a universally optimal selection is absent, the default setting is tailored to group affiliation or individual preferences.

•   Mandatory Selection – Prohibiting progression without opting for one of the alternatives.

•   Streamlining Choices – Condensing the array of available selections to the essential ones.

•   Supplying Personalized Supplementary Information to facilitate decision-making.


Illustrations include:

•   Countries implementing a "positive" default for expressing willingness to donate organs, leading to a notable surge in donor percentages.

•   Preventing the possibility of inserting a train ticket in the wrong orientation.

•   Offering information about available schools to ensure well-informed and strategic choices rather than settling for familiar or convenient options.



•   When confronted with any choice, meticulous consideration is imperative to determine whether it's prudent to compel the user to decide or if providing a default option proves more suitable. There exists no one-size-fits-all solution...

•   And always bear in mind – accommodating user-initiated changes made easy.


Simplifying Complex Processes

Implementing intricate processes often proves to be a formidable challenge, frequently resulting in resistance or non-compliance among individuals.


The operational principles encompass:

•   Recognizing the inherent human tendency to reject complex implementations.

•   Prioritizing simplicity.

•   Disseminating knowledge.

•   Adapting communication to the specific target audience.

•   Streamlining ostensibly intricate procedures.

•   Identifying and rectifying common errors.


NUDGE strategies encompass:

•   Decomplicating intricate choices into streamlined, uniform steps.

•   Simplifying queries and responses related to decision-making.

•   Furnishing pertinent information to enable personalized decision-making.

•   Opting for deferred decisions in the present, with automatic implementation in the future.

•   Enhancing congruence between accompanying symbols and desired actions.

•   Detecting and averting common errors through feedback and corrective suggestions.

•   Facilitating correction before, during, and after the process, ensuring adherence to the correct course.


Illustrations include:

•   Committing to heightened savings as earnings increase.

•   Preventing sending an email containing the term "attachment" when no file is affixed.

•   Forwarding a pre-filled tax refund form to an employed individual, necessitating only a signature for return.

•   Incorporating relevant icons alongside actions or selections.

•   Introducing a dedicated credit card for donations with automated recognition of tax deductions.



•   A synergistic relationship exists between supportive measures and the simplification of processes. It is prudent to contemplate these aspects both individually and collectively.


Incentivizing Behaviors

Incentives and pricing stand as the foundational pillars of any free-market economy. Even when applying the NUDGE approach, their significance should always be considered. It remains crucial to ascertain whether incentives, be they positive or negative, can effectively propel individuals into action.


Operational principles encompass:

•   Customizing incentives for groups or individuals.

•   Employing a "carrot or stick" paradigm.


NUDGE strategies encompass:

•   Offering insights into available incentives or feasibility.

•   Spotlighting the costs of inaction or incorrect choices.

•   Reinforcing or underscoring familiar incentives or feasibility to stimulate decision-making and action.

•   Alleviating conflicts between pros and cons during the decision-making process.

•   Fostering feasibility by conveying content that resonates with decision-makers.


Illustrations include:

•   Displaying the message "Drink more water. When sweating, the body loses fluids" on pamphlets distributed at sporting events.

•   Portraying the feasibility of higher education by bridging the gap for high school students, juxtaposing differences between a Mercedes car and a Kia, and prominently featuring registration forms.

•   The "Turns on Whoever Clicks First" campaign – champions a cultural shift in seat belt usage.



•   When devising incentives, it is prudent to inquire: Who wields influence over the decision? (Not exclusively the user or payer) Incentive concepts should be tailored accordingly.

•   Ensure that the incentive is conspicuously displayed and readily noticeable by the decision-maker.


Integrating Knowledge into the NUDGE Framework

Knowledge intricately weaves into the array of previously expounded NUDGE tools. Nevertheless, a few additional pivotal points warrant emphasis.


Operational principles encompass:

•   Timely dissemination of knowledge.

•   Tailoring knowledge to the specific context.

•   Artful framing of knowledge to harmonize with NUDGE objectives.

•   Concentrating on pertinent knowledge.


NUDGE strategies encompass:

•   Strategically assessing the opportune moment for NUDGE implementation and knowledge delivery.

•   Seamlessly integrating knowledge alongside choices, responses, and throughout the decision-making process.

•   Infusing lesser-known information to influence decision considerations.

•   Illustrations include:

•   Orchestrating gatherings with parents of eighth-grade children to introduce university savings programs.

•   Mandating the prominent display of graphic fuel efficiency and environmental performance data, complemented by relative positioning based on Ministry of Transport statistics, for comparable vehicles.

•   Publicly disclosing a blocklist of 100 companies with subpar environmental practices (or in any other sphere).

•   Appending a "meets the standard" emblem for companies showcasing excellence in specific domains.



•   Exercise prudence to avoid inundating with an excess of knowledge.


Addressing Objections to NUDGE

For the authors of this book, the task of delivering a conscientious nudge while upholding a liberal perspective is a formidable challenge. This nuanced approach reverberates throughout the book, manifesting in explicit assertions and the curation of subjects warranting NUDGE implementation. Yet, the authors do not shy away from addressing potential objections and furnishing their counterarguments:


1. Slippery Slope

Concern: Instigating NUDGE in appropriate contexts might inadvertently pave the way for its application in less fitting scenarios.

Response: While this is a valid consideration, the drawbacks of abstaining from NUDGE outweigh the associated risks. Furthermore, the provision for effortless decision reversal acts as a protective measure against potential harm.


2. Problem with Choice Architects

Concern: Apprehensions arise regarding potential bias in those executing NUDGE, favoring choices aligned with their agendas.

Response: Transparency, to the maximum extent, is imperative. Upholding freedom of choice, even in the presence of bias, helps mitigate this concern.


3. The Right to Make Mistakes

Concern: The discourse revolves around individuals' entitlement to make choices, even if not inherently advantageous, potentially resulting in uniformity in erroneous decisions.

Response: Just as we wouldn't thrust children into deep waters due to the universality of mistakes, assisting people is prudent—especially in matters where their preferences are evident.


4. Resistance to Bias

Concern: Opposition may arise against intervention, even when the intervention aligns with the correct course.

Response: Tackle resistance with perseverance. Pursuing a legitimate goal remains justified.


5. Neutrality of Concern

Concern: Governments or public entities should maintain impartiality.

Response: In instances of providing assistance rather than harm to individuals, unswerving neutrality is not an absolute mandate.


The authors adeptly navigate these objections, striking an artful equilibrium between guided influence and preserving individual autonomy within a liberal framework.

bottom of page