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Surveys based on self-reported hygiene-relevant routine behaviors have played a crucial role in policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this article, using anchoring to test validity in a randomized controlled survey experiment during the COVID-19 pandemic, we demonstrate that asking people to self-report on the frequency of routine behaviors are prone to significant measurement error and systematic bias. Specifically, we find that participants across age, gender, and political allegiance report higher (lower) frequencies of COVID-19-relevant behaviors when provided with a higher (lower) anchor. The results confirm that such self-reports should not be regarded as behavioral data and should primarily be used to inform policy decisions if better alternatives are not available. To this end, we discuss the use of anchoring as a validity test relative to self-reported behaviors as well as viable alternatives to self-reports when seeking to behaviorally inform policy decisions.
During the last decade, the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) has been the main driver of establishing behavioural public policy as a novel approach in public policy. Adhering to a set of strategic principles, BIT has succeeded in translating insights from the behavioural science literature into policy interventions to show how behavioural science may be applied to public policy in a methodologically as well as economically efficient way. However, as Sanders, Snijders and Hallsworth (2018) note in their paper, the wide-ranging transformation of public policy development that many thought possible has remained absent. In this comment, I argue that this situation itself is due, at least partly, to the strategic principles adopted by BIT, and I call for developing more ‘diagnostic’ approaches, including better tools and models, to ensure that behavioural science is not perceived as offering merely technocratic tweaks.
In recent years the concepts of ‘nudge’ and ‘libertarian paternalism’ have become popular theoretical as well as practical concepts inside as well as outside academia. But in spite of the widespread interest, confusion reigns as to what exactly is to be regarded as a nudge and how the underlying approach to behaviour change relates to libertarian paternalism. This article sets out to improve the clarity and value of the definition of nudge by reconciling it with its theoretical foundations in behavioural economics. In doing so it not only explicates the relationship between nudges and libertarian paternalism, but also clarifies how nudges relate to incentives and information, and may even be consistent with the removal of certain types of choices. In the end we are left with a revised definition of the concept of nudge that allows for consistently categorising behaviour change interventions as such and that places them relative to libertarian paternalism.
In Nudge (2008) Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein suggested that public policy–makers arrange decision–making contexts in ways to promote behaviour change in the interest of individual citizens as well as that of society. However, in the public sphere and Academia alike widespread discussions have appeared concerning the public acceptability of nudgebased behavioural policy. Thaler and Sunstein's own position is that the anti–nudge position is a literal non–starter, because citizens are always influenced by the decision making context anyway, and nudging is liberty preserving and acceptable if guided by Libertarian Paternalism and Rawls’ publicity principle. A persistent and central tenet in the criticism disputing the acceptability of the approach is that nudging works by manipulating citizens’ choices. In this paper, we argue that both lines of argumentation are seriously flawed. We show how the anti–nudge position is not a literal non–starter due to the responsibilities that accrue on policy–makers by the intentional intervention in citizens’ life, how nudging is not essentially liberty preserving and why the approach is not necessarily acceptable even if satisfying Rawls’ publicity principle. We then use the psychological dual process theory underlying the approach as well as an epistemic transparency criterion identified by Thaler and Sunstein themselves to show that nudging is not necessarily about “manipulation”, nor necessarily about influencing “choice”. The result is a framework identifying four types of nudges that may be used to provide a central component for more nuanced normative considerations as well as a basis for policy recommendations.
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