Nudge theory is a concept in behavioral economics which argues that positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions promoting non-forced compliance can influence the motives, incentives, and decision making of groups and individuals, at least as effectively – if not more effectively – than direct instruction, legislation, or enforcement. The theory came to prominence with a 2008 book, ‘Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness’ by behavioral economists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein.
They defined a ‘nudge’ as: ‘any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates. Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not.’ One of nudges’ most frequently cited examples is the etching of the image of a housefly into the men’s room urinals at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, which is intended to ‘improve the aim.’