The Ethics of Nudge – a lecture at London School of Economics

One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about this wonderful city is the sheer number of education institutes that throw their doors open, and welcome you in for no pennies whatsoever.
A favourite of mine is the London School of economics : you could go for a free lecture every night if the week if the feeling took you.

Tonight it was the turn of Prof Drazen Prelec (MIT), Prof George Loewenstein (Carnegie Mellon) and Sam Nguyen (behavioural insights team to the cabinet office) to battle out their opinions on the power to nudge, and if so, how much?


There was the argument that if you have the understanding of behavioural psychology, plus the willingness to experiment and test your methods, then you should absolutely nudge your audience. By testing, you’re giving them the best selection if choices.
In addition, it was discussed that if an audience member knows that they are being tested (but not why) there’s no real swing as to what way they will choose. The test is a little useless.

However, if you first demonstrate why you are testing a hypothesis with a user (they are the right age, demographic, earning bracket) then their end choices often go against what you previously stipulated. All because you ‘told’ them what you thought they would choose.

Now, what does all this mean to someone carrying out the wishes of a client? As user experience designers we’re not creating the choice architecture, nor often enough the selection of choices … We’re simply guiding a user down a path, attempting to straighten that path whenever possible.
And sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get to test our assumptions. To see if people react to their prescribed choices.


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