What is nudge?

Dec 6, 2022

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Nudge is a word that we hear more and more and in different contexts, but it can be complicated, at first sight, to grasp all the meaning as well as the concrete applications of this concept of behavioral psychology.

What is nudge? Definition.

The nudge: definition

The English term “Nudge” means to give a little push or a little boost to someone. That is to say, a subtle indication that we give to someone to encourage them to do or not to do something.

Increasingly popular, the nudge is a method of behavioral psychology that seeks to influence the behavior of individuals by encouraging them to make decisions. Thus the nudge is designed to influence people to adopt behaviors and choices that are beneficial to themselves and to society.

Nudge techniques have the particularity of not forcing or coercing people but rather use cognitive biases to modify certain behaviors. A cognitive bias can be defined as a deceptive or false thinking mechanism that will impair an individual's decision-making.

The History of Nudge

In 2008, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein defined nudge in their book “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.” In their book, they describe nudge as a "gentle approach to influencing people's choices, giving them additional information about their options and encouraging them to make healthier decisions." 

Since the publication of the book, and especially from 2017 when R. Thaler was awarded the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, the concept of nudge has grown considerably.

It is used by businesses and governments around the world to influence consumer and citizen decisions. For example, in 2010, David Cameron, then British Prime Minister, created a “Nudge Unit” with the mission of applying behavioral sciences to public policies. Other governments in different countries then applied this same approach.

The nudge has also become a very popular concept in the world of psychology and social research. Researchers use it to understand how information and environments can influence human behavior.

Finally, the nudge has also been adopted by the private sector, where it is used to encourage customers to buy products or comply with trade policies.

Some examples of nudge

We find examples of nudge everywhere around us, whether in the street, in shops, on the internet, on television and even on our mobile phones. For example:

  • The Nutri-score set up in 2017 in France aims to help consumers choose healthier products, thus fighting against obesity and diseases linked to poor diet, thanks to clearly identifiable logos on the packaging of the products.

  • For road safety, the speed cameras which display the speed of drivers without penalizing them when it is not respected, aim to slow down people by informing them that they are speeding excessively and dangerously.

  • Some mobile phones send a notification to users when they have listened to music at too high a volume, prompting them to reduce the volume in order to preserve their eardrums. In the same spirit, some phones send a notification when the user has not walked enough.

  • With the COVID19 epidemic, the authorities have also implemented nudge techniques to encourage populations to take health measures, or barrier measures (such as hand washing) through TV spots and information campaigns. .

The nudge in training?

The principle of nudge can be exploited in the field of training in order to promote the learning of knowledge. Depending on the subject, there are vast possibilities for integrating nudge techniques.

Since the nudge must be gentle and without obligation to cause change or learning in people, it must be integrated into concrete learning (group work for example) or fun or even games.

Micro-learning, which follows training, can be qualified as nudge provided that it meets certain criteria:

  • Micro-learning should not be an obligation for learners and there should be no consequences if they fail the questions but also if they simply do not participate,

  • The micro-learning phases must be very short so that the learners do not see any constraint and that the effort is not too great: 1 or 2 questions each day with simple response methods, favoring MCQ type questions and avoiding open questions.

  • Micro-learning must be easily available to learners: that is to say, they must be able to access the tool to complete each learning phase without difficulty, directly from their mobile phone and thanks to push notifications (whether notifications directly on the mobile phone or by email).

The concept of nudge offers a wide range of possibilities to be exploited depending on the context, the situations and the target audience. This is yet another tool to enrich and increase training!

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