Book Review: Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein

by Scott Crabtree

Nudge is a book for people who want to help –but not force– others to make better decisions.

I first learned of this book when Daniel Kahneman raved about it in Thinking Fast and Slow. I was looking forward to Nudge and was not disappointed. I recommend it to anyone who might be presenting choices to others, and therefore affecting those choices.

Nudge is about choice architecture: the ways that various factors in how a choice is presented may affect the decisions made by the chooser.

The heart of the book can be summarized through a clever (if imperfect) mnemonic device: NUDGES.

  • iNcentives (pricing and more: bonuses that can be offered, and even penalties)
  • Understandable options (or as the authors say “Understand mappings”)
  • Defaults (they are often taken, so make the default the best choice)
  • Give feedback (it helps improve the quality of decisions)
  • Expect error (and help people recover from it)
  • Structure complex choices (a small number of choices at a time)

By using NUDGES, choice architects can be more effective at helping people to make better choices. For many excellent examples, from placement of food items in a cafeteria to software that makes you delay sending emails to that seem to be uncivil, read Nudge.