EDITORIAL

Nudge, not sludge

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Science  03 Aug 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6401, pp. 431
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau9241

Summary

For some, the world is becoming increasingly complicated in that there are ever greater responsibilities, from selecting health insurance to figuring out how much to save for retirement. Ten years ago, my friend (and Harvard law professor) Cass Sunstein and I published a book called Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness that offered a simple idea. By improving the environment in which people choose—what we call the “choice architecture”—they can make wiser choices without restricting any options. The Global Positioning System (GPS) technology on smartphones is an example. You decide where you want to go, the app offers possible routes, and you are free to decline the advice if you decide to take a detour. Sunstein and I stressed that the goal of a conscientious choice architect is to help people make better choices “as judged by themselves.” But what about activities that are essentially nudging for evil? This “sludge” just mucks things up and makes wise decision-making and prosocial activity more difficult.