Insights on Marketing & Technology

So, when is it legitimate to nudge?

Critical debates about the nudge approach as a policy tool are often about that nudging “manipulates peoples choices“. That government tricks people to, in their unconsciousness, choose a certain choice.

  • By: Linda Lindstöm
  • Published: 22-06-2015

When it comes to this characterization of critique, Hansen and Jespersen (2013) highlights in a very well written paper that there are often some unseen areas in the debate. (Source)

Firstly, they argue that standard policy tools are seldom transparent. Hence, the critique about “manipulation of choice” applies not only for nudging – but for most types of policy instruments. E.g. who among us knows what taxes are applied to every product in the supermarket? So, perhaps a more accurate debate regarding this critique would be the question if paternalism is justified at all? And that’s another debate…

Another valid point is that there are different types of nudges, some that may be more appropriate than others when it comes to policy implementation. Hansen and Jespersen divide nudges in to two types; type 1 and type 2. Both aim at influencing automatic behaviour*, but only type 2 is anchored in reflective behaviour*. Therefore, type 2 can be argued to change – not only people’s behaviour – but people’s choices, thus alleviate the manipulation of choice.

The authors further divide these types in to two groups – transparent and non-transparent nudges. A transparent nudge is when the citizen being nudged, she or he reasonable understands the intention behind it. A Non-transparent nudge is working in a way that the citizen in situation cannot reconstruct the means by which the behavioural change is pursued. I have tried to clarify these types in the following table:

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Linda Lindström

"Linda is one of the initiators of the Swedish Nudging Network and it's blog. The aim with the network is to gather people who are interested in the field of applied behaviour economics to share information, spur debates and spark collaborations among individuals, research disciplines, businesses as well as policy-makers. Her academic background is in environmental economics and she is currently a master student at Stockholm Resilience Centre where her ongoing research is about nudging consumers towards more sustainable choices in Swedish grocery stores.

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