Monday, 7 November 2011

Nudge and Shove: Behavioural Economics in The Smoke

In London last week for a fascinating debate hosted by the Local Government Association and the British Heart Foundation on the role of behavioural economics in public health – should policy makers nudge or shove the public to take better care of themselves? bhf logo One of the most telling points came from Professor Gerry Stoker from Southampton University: we need to get outside the labs, where most of the behavioural economics studies have been carried out, and undertake field experiments so that we can see what happens in practice. We should then use this evidence base, and do what works. Stoker has carried out a number of field experiments to test whether Nudges work, and has found lga that they do lead to shifts in behaviour – shifts which he described as modest, but significant.  According to Stoker, “Nudge is a tool that we should use where possible, while still recognising its limitations.” Absolutely right. I made the point that, if you can find a Nudge that works, why wouldn’t you use it? After all, the “other side” is nudging us all the time – whether it’s getting us to smoke, eat the wrong kind of food, drink more than we should, or get in the car. Behavioural economics might not have the answer to all our problems, but, as someone said, “Every little helps.”

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