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No Stupid Questions: Is Nudging Enough?

From No Stupid Questions: By Angela Duckworth and Maria Konnikova
KONNIKOVA: Look at that. Look at this. It’s a tiger. Wait, no, not it’s a tiger. It’s just a breaking news alert. What is this breaking news alert? Oh, the breaking news alert is about Kim Kardashian. 
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DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth. KONNIKOVA: I’m Maria Konnikova. DUCKWORTH + KONNIKOVA: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions. 
Today on the show: How do you get someone to change their behavior?
DUCKWORTH: I recycled my can of Diet Pepsi and now I’ve checked off “Be a good environmental citizen” for the day.
*      *      * KONNIKOVA: Angela, for the last few years, we’ve all spent time sitting at home as Covid has been raging and thinking about all of the different ways that the public has been receiving messages — from the government, from the WHO, from all of these public health organizations — about what we’re supposed to be doing, how we’re supposed to be doing it and this is something that we should be paying attention to because people are changing the way they talk about it, they are changing the language about it, they are changing the thinking about it. And along with that, they’re changing how they’re communicating to the public. And some of these communication decisions — you know, should you mask? What about vaccines? — it’s really made me think about that classic social psychology work of Richard Thaler about nudges And what’s actually the best way to make good decisions? Is it the nudge route? Or is it something else? DUCKWORTH: Just to set the stage here, I think it’s important to say what nudges are. So nudges, as I understand them, are these changes in the environment in which people make decisions that gently encourage them to make decisions that are good for them and that they probably in some way want to make. And whatever you do, however you change that environment for the decision maker, you have to preserve their autonomy. It’s still a freely-made choice. So taxes are not nudges. Incentives are not nudges. Fines are not nudges. Mandates are not nudges. But putting the water at eye level and hiding the soda behind the counter, that’s a nudge. It’s funny that you mentioned Richard Thaler and social psychology in the same sentence. As we both know, he won the Nobel Prize. I think it was in 2016, somewhere around then. I often think of it as a win for psychology. I think of like Danny Kahneman and Herb Simon. There were these people who won the Nobel Prize in economics. But when I think of them, the first word that would come to mind as describing what they do is a psychologist. I will say though, for Richard Thaler, he would probably —. KONNIKOVA: He’d be mad at me. DUCKWORTH: Not want to be identified as a psychologist. I have recently been slightly fascinated with the biography of Richard Thaler for a variety of reasons. I was thinking kind of broadly about what you were just asking about Maria, like what is the best way to make good decisions? And I was thinking about how much the environment, the situation we’re in — you know, where the soda is or where it’s not. What the box is that’s already checked off for us on some form when we’re on a website — like how much that really bosses us around and how little autonomy and free will we may have and why we resist that notion. So anyway, I’m down this rabbit hole looking at all this nudge stuff, and I come across Richard Thaler’s bio on the Nobel Prize website. This is a rabbit hole that you could spend like the rest of your life in. Have you seen — do you even know that the Nobel Prize maintains a reasonably awesome website for like all of the people who have won the Nobel Prize, I think, ever? KONNIKOVA: I do know that, but only because I’m obsessed with Nobel Prize lectures. I actually love reading people’s acceptance lectures and their Nobel Prize addresses. So that’s what I go on the website for. DUCKWORTH: Wait, why are you obsessed with them? KONNIKOVA: Because these are brilliant people and they often have something really interesting to say. Now, I will say that I’m not equally obsessed with all Nobel prizes, so I usually go to the literature ones and I read those because they usually have a lot to say about the state of humanity. But I think that there is just amazing material there. And also I’m just weird. So that’s the other part of it. Listen to the full episode at No Stupid Questions.