The Nudge Theory and Positive Strokes

This year’s Nobel prize for Economics has been awarded to Dr. Richard H. Thaler for his research into Behavioral Economics, a field that he pioneered and has come into the mainstream rather recently.  Behavioral Economics works in the area of interplay between Economics and Psychology.  It takes into account people’s social, emotional and irrational tendencies in decision making and studies the effects of these actions on economic outcomes.  His work on the ‘nudge’ theory, formalized ideas for ‘making it easy to do the right thing’.

Simple, usually common sense methods, employed to prompt alteration of behavior and improve outcomes for humanity.  That, in one line, describes the ‘nudge’ theory.

It is exciting to see this work come into prominence.  Especially because of how closely Positive Strokes mirrors these ideas.  The underlying belief of Positive Strokes is that by positively reinforcing good road behaviors, we will gently be nudging people into safe driving practices every time they are on the road.  When a majority of road users follow road rules and safe driving habits, it is easy (and normal) for new road users to do the same.  More importantly, this method underscores that nudging towards desired behaviors works better than instructing or imposing rules and laws to achieve a similar result.

The beauty of this theory is that, although empirical, it is simple and intuitively understood with a little bit of reflection.

Here are some other ways you may already be using the nudge theory ideas in your daily life:

  • Modeling proper behavior to co-workers by putting mobile phones away or in silent mode while in a meeting
  • Stocking up on healthy foods and keeping them readily available in your kitchen or refrigerator
  • Making it easy for your child to always choose to be honest by consistently responding to them in a non-judgmental, compassionate and helpful way

A massive overhaul of the way we function as individuals or as a community, is possible by simply appealing to our subconscious sensibilities and tendencies.

In fact, nudging is possibly the only way to sustainably affect large-scale public behavior change.





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