A CRITICAL EXAMINATION OF NUDGE ON THEORETICAL AND ETHICAL GROUNDS
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Nudges are psychologically informed tools designed to promote behaviour change that improve health and wellbeing. As nudges gain global appeal through government administrations, their implementation as a tool within social policy are subject to stricter scrutiny. The need for inspection of the current underpinning theoretical framework of nudges is particularly critical given the diversity of nudge-type interventions and the mixed evidence for their effectiveness. The thesis first conceptualised nudge into Type 1 and Type 2 differed according to the amount of re-evaluation and re-structuring of knowledge representations needed to bring in alignment the evidence base and choice behaviour. Based on this conceptualisation, evidence base in the health domain were critically examined to determine which type of nudges is effective. The literature review showed that Type 2 nudges are more effective at sustaining behaviour change than Type 1 nudges. The thesis then explored the extent to which nudge undermines autonomy. From a welfarist perspective, nudges such as default rules bypass people’s reflective thinking and make general presumption about people’s choices which may not align with their underlying wishes. Indeed, two online questionnaires revealed that third-party judgements of choices made under pro-self default in pension enrolment and pro-social default in organ donation were less likely to represent the individual’s “true” preference compared to when an active choice is made. The welfare consequence of implementing defaults were discussed in these respective contexts. From a transparency perspective, influencing people’s behaviour without their awareness can be regarded as manipulation and hence a violation of autonomy. The online survey findings revealed that the public generally find interventions easier to identify, perceive them as more effective and acceptable, and more likely to align with people’s values or interest when they are transparent, and have a positive rationale for how they work. In closing, the proposed theoretical framework corroborated the empirical findings which suggest that Type 1 nudges are more likely to bypass people’s reflective thinking and infringe upon personal autonomy. Conversely, Type 2 nudges that work in a transparent manner are more likely to promote behavioural change in line with the chooser’s higher-order desire. For policy makers, the important practical point is that Type 2 nudges are more likely to preserve autonomy in a way that will trigger sustainable behavioural change at a population level compared to Type 1 nudges.
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