Why Nudge? 10 Exercises for Why You Need Nudges

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Nudge" by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Why nudge people? Why do you personally need nudging, and how can nudging help with decision making?

Biases and impressionability can leave you making the wrong decisions for yourself. Nudges can help push you in the right direction.

So, why nudge? Read on for some exercises to help you understand the need and impact of nudges.

Why Nudge? Exploring Your Biases

Self-diagnose your cognitive blind spots.

  • Think about a recent decision you made and analyze it using your own words. Was it a good or bad decision? Why or why not? 
  • Analyze the same decision using Thaler and Sunstein’s categories. Did you “go with your gut” or think rationally and deliberately about the choices you had (Automatic System vs. Reflective System)? Did you choose the safer option to avoid a loss (Loss Aversion) or maintain the status quo (status quo bias), or did you choose the riskier option because you were overly confident (Unrealistic Optimism)?
  • Now consider a decision you’ll have to make in the near future. Write down what the choices are, and which choice you’re leaning toward.
  • Explore how you came to the decision just above. Were you swayed by any of the cognitive biases Thaler and Sunstein describe? Which ones did you feel most strongly? If not, how did you avoid them?

How Impressionable Are You?

Analyze how social influence colors your decisions. Why nudge in these situations?

  • What was the last major purchase you made?
  • Why did you make this purchase? How did you come to this decision?
  • Revisit your answer just above. Did social influence play a part? If so, how? What were all the influences you received that could have nudged you toward making this purchase? (Think about cues from other people, and any messaging from advertising or news reports.)
  • At the time, how confident were you that you made the decision independently, without outside influence? On reflection, do you still feel this way?

Personal Opinions: Why Nudge?

Think through Thaler and Sunstein’s nudges and freedoms on hot topics.

  • Do you think patients should be allowed to waive their rights to sue for medical malpractice? Why or why not? Would you waive your rights to sue for a discount?
  • Do you think states should get out of the marriage business? Why or why not? If you’re married, would you be comfortable with a state civil union rather than a marriage? If you aren’t married, would you accept a civil union instead of a marriage?
Why Nudge? 10 Exercises for Why You Need Nudges

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  • Why subtle changes, like switching the order of two choices, can dramatically change your response
  • How to increase the organ donation rate by over 50% through one simple change
  • The best way for society to balance individual freedom with social welfare

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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