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Meat-based food production has a detrimental impact on the environment and health. In response, Veganuary (an international non-profit organisation) encourages people to go vegan each January. We investigated the effects of a Veganuary campaign in workplace cafeterias which increased the availability and salience of plant-based products. We conducted an interrupted time series analysis on a large dataset from a UK catering company, which comprised 2,255,404 meals sold between 2016 and 2022, with Veganuary activity starting from 2019. Analysis indicated that Veganuary activity had a positive effect on sales of vegan products in 2020, 2021 and 2022, estimated at an initial increase of 86–113% in the proportion of weekly sales (relative to the baseline, depending on year). The effects of the 2020 and 2021 campaigns were still present – at approximately one third of their initial magnitude – one year following the campaigns. There was a positive effect on vegetarian products in 2019, 2021 and 2022; initial effects were smaller – 23–79% – due to higher levels of pre-campaign consumption. The effects of the 2019 and 2021 campaigns endured, with a small impact present after one year for 2019 and six months for 2021.
Dark patterns are user interface design elements which harm users but benefit vendors. These harms have led to growing interest from several stakeholders, including policymakers. We develop a high-level analytical framework – the dark patterns auditing framework (DPAF) – to support policymaker efforts concerning dark patterns. There are growing links between dark patterns and the behavioural science concept of sludge. We examine both literatures, noting several worthwhile similarities and important conceptual differences. Using two ‘sludge audits,’ and the DPAF, we examine 14 large online services to provide a high-level review of the user experience of these services. Our approach allows policymakers to identify areas of the user ‘journey’ (dark paths) where sludge/dark patterns persist. For regulators with constrained resources, such an approach more be advantageous when planning more granular analyses. Our approach also reveals several important limitations, notably, within some of the tools for sludge auditing which we develop, such as the ‘equal clicks principle.’ We discuss these limitations and directions for future research.
The effectiveness and uptake of financial incentives can differ substantially between reward- and deposit-based incentives. Therefore, it is unclear to whom and how different incentives should be assigned. In this study, the effect of different modes of assigning reward- and deposit-based financial incentives on effort is explored in a two-session experiment. First, students’ (n = 228, recruited online) discounting, loss aversion and willingness to pay a deposit were elicited. Second, an incentivized real-effort task was completed (n = 171, 25% drop-out). Two modes of assigning reward- or deposit-based financial incentives were compared: random assignment and ‘nudged’ assignment – assignment based on respondent characteristics allowing opting out. Our results show that respondents receiving nudged assignment earned more and persisted longer on the real-effort task than respondents randomly assigned to incentives. We find no differences in effectiveness between reward-based or deposit-based incentives. Overall, 39% of respondents in the nudged assignment mode followed-up the advice to take deposit-based incentives. The effect of deposit-based incentives was larger for the respondents who followed-up the advice than for respondents that randomly received deposit-based incentives. Overall, these findings suggest that nudged assignment may increase incentives’ effect on effort. Future work should extend this approach to other contexts (e.g., behaviour change).
Existing regulation in the UK states that the term ‘milk’ can only be used in labelling to describe products that originate from animals. We conducted an observational study, which surveyed the availability and labelling of milk substitutes in UK supermarkets, and an online experimental study, which assessed the impact of using the term ‘milk’ on milk substitute labelling. In the experimental study, 352 UK adults were randomised to one of the two conditions where they saw milk substitutes that were either labelled with UK regulations (e.g., soya drink) or using the term ‘milk’ (e.g., soya milk). Our primary aims were to assess whether adding the term ‘milk’ to labels would (1) more accurately communicate the uses of milk substitutes or (2) confuse consumers about which products come from an animal source. In our observational study, milk substitutes were readily available and labelling varied significantly. In our experimental study, labelling products with the term ‘milk’ increased understanding of the product's use. However, participants who saw the term ‘milk’ on milk substitute labelling misidentified more milk substitutes as coming from an animal source. Future policy should consider the clarification of such labelling.
There is growing public concern about the ‘unfairness’ of many pricing practices that have become common in consumer, particularly digital, markets. Industrial and behavioural economists have developed theories that explain the conditions under which these practices are profitable for firms, and their implications for consumer welfare. We identify a mismatch between the welfare economic principles used in this theoretical work and the normative perspective in which these practices are viewed as unfair. We develop a concept of ‘transactional fairness’, grounded in the normative approach of Sugden's Community of Advantage, that is reflective of public concerns. Transactional fairness is complementary to established criteria of economic efficiency and distributional equity but is based entirely on the relationship between individual buyers and sellers. It establishes clear principles with realistic information requirements that are appropriate for compliance by firms. Regulation based on this approach can help to restore public faith in markets.
The purpose of this paper is to first review William James's explicit positions on paternalism in the context of medical licensure and the annexation of the Philippines. Then I wish to show that these positions, as well as a more generalized antipaternalist stance, are the implications of James's philosophy and psychology and not simply his ‘personal’ sentiments. The elements of James's thought are arranged in such a way as to facilitate a comparison with contemporary behavioral (heuristics and biases) paternalism. The conclusion is that James has arguments against behavioral paternalism avant la lettre that are still useful and deserve discussion.
Nudges are widely employed tools within organizations, but they are often criticized for harming autonomy and for being ineffective. We assess these two criticisms simultaneously: can nudges be both autonomy-preserving and effective in changing behavior? We developed three nudges – an opinion leader nudge, a rule-of-thumb and self-nudges – to reduce a particularly sticky behavior: email use. In a survey experiment of 4,112 healthcare employees, we tested their effect on perceived autonomy and subjective effectiveness. We also tested traditional policy instruments for comparison. Next, to assess objective effectiveness, we conducted a quasi-field experiment in a large healthcare organization with an estimate of 1,189 active email users. We found that each nudge in isolation, but especially when combined, was perceived to be both autonomy-preserving and effective, and more so than traditional policy instruments like an access limit or a monetary reward. We also found some evidence that the combination of all nudges decreased actual email use. This paper advances the literature by showing how innovations in nudge design improve nudges’ ability to be autonomy-preserving and effective.
We provide behavioral insights into the economic substitution phenomenon among front-loaded and back-loaded tax-sheltered savings plans. We conduct three behavioral studies with adult Canadian participants to show experimentally that substitution can occur and to explain why substitution can occur. The first study shows that participants transfer savings from a front-loaded plan to a back-loaded plan when the latter becomes available, consistent with a substitution effect. The second study examines how participants trade-off two unique features of back-loaded and front-loaded savings plans. Our results indicate that participants favor the back-loaded tax feature and a variable contribution limit (offered in a front-loaded plan). As participants prefer one feature from each type of plan, this finding can help explain why substitution occurs. The third study provides participants a categorization task with various household budgeting items, including savings items. Results show that 68.1% of participants categorize multiple tax-sheltered savings plans in the same mental account, again consistent with a substitution effect under a budget constraint. As both tax-sheltered savings plans in Canada are used for different purposes, this finding shows that participants tend not to distinguish between the purpose of saving in each account, consistent with a substitution phenomenon.
Behavioural public policy is increasingly interested in scaling-up experimental insights to deliver systemic changes. Recent evidence shows some forms of individual behaviour change, such as nudging, are limited in scale. We argue that we can scale-up individual behaviour change by accounting for nuanced social complexities in which human responses to behavioural public policies are situated. We introduce the idea of the ‘social brain’, as a construct to help practitioners and policymakers facilitate a greater social transmission of welfare-improving behaviours. The social brain is a collection of individual human brains, who are connected to other human brains through ‘social cues’, and who are affected by the material and immaterial properties of the physical environment in which they are situated (‘social complex’). Ignoring these cues and the social complex runs the risk of fostering localised behavioural changes, through individual actors, which are neither scalable nor lasting. We identify pathways to facilitate changes in the social brain: either through path dependencies or critical mass shifts in individual behaviours, moderated by the brain's property of social cohesion and multiplicity of situational and dispositional factors. In this way, behavioural changes stimulated in one part of the social brain can reach other parts and evolve dynamically. We recommend designing public policies that engage different parts of the social brain.
Public policies often involve “norm nudging”, the use of norm information to steer individual behavior in a prosocial direction. Analysis of social norm messaging often concentrates on the outcome measure: the potential change in behavior. The cognitive and psychological processes that underlie individuals’ response to norm information, especially the inferences they draw, are usually overlooked. This knowledge gap may lead to adverse consequences, such as messages backfiring. To (factually) justify norm nudging interventions, it is essential that policymakers understand the complex mechanisms that link context, social expectations and preferences, and how the interpretation of different types of messages affects behavior.
In October 2021, a majority of the UK gambling industry implemented a new UK safer gambling message, ‘take time to think’, which features on gambling advertising and websites. An effective safer gambling message could plausibly affect several relevant gambling behaviours, with previous research suggesting that message effectiveness is maximised via messages that are displayed prominently immediately prior to gambling. We experimentally tested this message's effect on four contemporaneous gambling behaviours (the proportion of available funds bet, clicks for help service information, the mean speed of play, and the total number of roulette spins made) in an incentivised online roulette game in a sample of UK-based online gamblers. Participants (n = 2,305) were randomly allocated to either (a) ‘no-message’ control, (b) ‘message’ shown throughout the condition or (c) a ‘message+’ condition, where the message was shown throughout and also via a popup immediately prior to the roulette game. Overall, the results showed no credible effects across the four outcome measures when comparing either of the message conditions to the no-message control. Even the prominent display of the ‘take time to think’ message did not lead to credible beneficial effects on a range of contemporaneous gambling behaviours.
Robert Sugden has advanced various critiques of behavioural welfare economics, offering the notion of opportunity as an alternative. We agree with much of Sugden's critique but argue that his approach would benefit from a broadening of the informational base beyond opportunities to include people's concern for decision processes. We follow Amartya Sen in arguing that the process through which choices are made (process freedom) is something individuals care about beyond the availability of choice options (opportunity freedom) as they value a sense of agency. We argue that individuals’ agentic capabilities are crucial for people's process freedom and hence for their sense of agency. In the final section of the paper, we sketch the institutional implications of our argument, i.e. what a joint consideration of opportunities and agentic capabilities means for behavioural public policy.
This paper offers an interpretation of the behavioural evidence that casts doubt over whether people always have preferences or, if they do, that they are stable. If people do not have preferences in this sense, then the usual policy evaluation standard of preference satisfaction cannot be used in these cases. The paper then develops, to fill this gap, a Millian policy framework where policy is judged by whether it advances what Mill understands by individual liberty in On Liberty. This yields many recognisable policies but offers a different evaluative standard for them. It also yields some policy innovations: e.g. a basic income and a flat tax.
A substantial experimental literature in behavioral economics and psychology finds that individuals rely on heuristics and cognitive biases when they make decisions. These heuristics and biases impact the choices of individuals from all walks of life, including police officers entrusted with the power to enforce laws. Individuals act within an institutional context. We examine how the institutions that structure American policing interact with the heuristics and biases of individual police officers. We then suggest institutional changes that may result in better performance from boundedly rational police officers.
Nudges – light-touch interventions aimed to help people achieve socially desirable outcomes – can take place without individuals being aware of them. It would seem to be ethically superior to tell individuals that they are being nudged, encouraging them to be aware of the reasons for the official interest in their behaviours. Aided by internal reflection, individuals may make informed choices whether to go along with officially-preferred options or not. In general, this paper adopts this line of argument, justifying self-awareness from the liberal belief in autonomy of the person. However, awareness and/or reflection are not always necessarily ethically superior to passivity, as in cases where manipulation is also present with information provision, when there is framing of deliberative exercises, and where there is harm done to others due to reflectively-driven actions. Most of the time self-awareness is to be preferred, but not always.
Two concepts shaped and continue to shape the discussion on the limits of a liberal and democratic state. First, Mill's harm principle, according to which the fundamental justification for a state exercising power over individuals is to prevent harm being done to others. Second, the distinction between the public sphere, where liberal democracies can intervene, and the private sphere, where individuals are, in principle, free to do as they like. I argue that both concepts have to be revisited in the context of today's ‘ultra-processed’ world, in which sophisticated technologies and highly engineered products reach deep into the private sphere, exploiting human psychology and jeopardizing citizens’ health and welfare in the interest of maximizing profit. In this ultra-processed world, where the distinction between the public and the private spheres is blurred, systemic interventions such as regulation and taxation, often criticized as paternalistic, are necessary to minimize harm. However, they must be complemented by interventions informed by behavioural science that modify and guide individual behaviours. Beyond the soft paternalism of nudging, people can be empowered to self-nudge – a non-paternalistic approach that enables them to design and structure their own decision environments and choice architectures as they see fit.
In this article, the confidence that has been placed in hard and, in particular, soft paternalistic measures in the field of behavioural public policy is questioned. The four purported limitations of human reasoning – i.e. limited imagination, willpower, objectivity and technical ability – are considered, but ultimately it is concluded that these are insufficient justifications for paternalistic intervention, for two principal-related reasons. First, it is impossible for a policy maker to discern what people desire for their own lives, and second, so long as they are not harming others, people ought to be free to pursue their own desires. The vision for the future of behavioural public policy proposed here is thus consistent with classical liberal, and in particular, Millian thought: i.e. aim to educate people on the pros and cons of their actions and inactions so that they are better equipped to live the lives they wish to lead but do not interfere directly in guiding them towards any particular end.