Thursday, 2 December 2010

Nudging for health

The BBC covers the potential for behaviour change projects to improve public health. The article mixes up a few different kinds of interventions, though:
  1. Classic nudge-style policies: changing defaults, trying to influence social norms.
  2. Incentive-based policies: shopping vouchers for dieters.
  3. Full-blown regulation: banning branded cigarette packages.
The oddest thing about this confusion is the last sentence of the article:
The mandatory wearing of seat belts and the introduction of the ban on smoking in public places are two examples where legislation fundamentally altered, and some would say restricted, the choices of individuals.
Some would say???

The last couple of months seem to have seen a surge in mainstream interest in behavioural economics, which is good news - but also quite a few misunderstandings about what it is.

Some people understand it better, though - for example the OFT, which has carried out some behavioural experiments and released an interesting report today about the psychological effect of price advertising. More on that tomorrow.

1 comment:

Marianne said...

Yes, I agree, lots of confusion about "nudge" all around.

Another issue with discussions of nudge in health policy seems to be confusion about who is being nudged, and who is being restricted.

Nudging individuals to change their behaviour may well require restrictive changes at the level of industry. Different placement of cafeteria foods is a classic of nudging the individual. If we think this is a good idea, it is a separate question whether government should only nudge cafeterias to follow the beneficial layout, or if they should impose regulation.

The built environment, too, "nudges" us all the time. In the UK, many cities unfortunately nudge you away from walking (pedestrian barriers, noise, pollution). Changing this will necessarily involve regulation (about road layout, speed limits, etc).