T Nation

Social Nudges

Fascinating post by Cass Sunstein on how observing the behavior of others affects people’s behavior:

http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2008_04_13-2008_04_19.shtml#1208359594
[i]
[Cass Sunstein, guest-blogging, April 16, 2008 at 11:26am] Trackbacks
Social Nudges

Human beings are greatly influenced by the actual or apparent behavior of others. Consider just a few examples:

  1. Federal judges on three-judge panels are much affected by the votes of their colleagues. Democratic appointees, sitting with two Republican appointees, show pretty conservative voting patterns. Republican appointees, sitting with two Democratic appointees, show pretty liberal voting patterns. Clinton appointees turn out to look a lot like Bush appointees on DRR panels. And in some areas of law, the political party of the president who appointed the two other judges on the panel is a better predictor of a judge’s vote than the political party of the president who appointed that very judge (!).

  2. Teenage girls who see that other teenagers are having children are far more likely to become pregnant themselves.

  3. Ethnic identification is contagious. When relevant people start to identify in ethnic terms – in clothing choices, rituals, attitudes – “ethnification” can spread rapidly throughout a locality or a society.

  4. Broadcasters have been found to mimic each other, producing otherwise inexplicable fads in radio and television.

These social nudges are best explained in two ways. First, the behavior of others conveys information about what is true or right or best. Often people lack entirely reliable information, and they base their choices on what others say or do. Second, the behavior of others imposes reputational pressure. If you want to keep people’s good opinion, you might want to do what they do.

The four examples given above reflect both sets of influences. Reputational pressures are probably of special importance for (3). (For more detail, see Nudge: http://www.amazon.com/Nudge-Improving-Decisions-Health-Happiness/dp/0300122233/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1208358193&sr=8-1 )

Social nudges can easily be enlisted by libertarian paternalists, who seek to alter behavior without imposing mandates of any kind. Having failed in various efforts to reduce littering on its highways, Texas adopted an inventive “Don’t Mess With Texas” program, in which influential people, including Willie Nelson and players for the Dallas Cowboys, sent strong signals about appropriate behavior. The program has had large effects in reducing litter.

Or consider an intriguing recent experiment designed decrease energy use. In San Marcos, California, people were simply informed about whether they were above-average or below-average users of energy. In the following weeks, the above-average users significantly reduced their use of energy.

The less good news is that the below-average users actually increased their energy use. But a small tweak eliminated this effect. When they were given a happy emotikon, signalling social approval, the below-average users stayed well below average.

Of course there is reason to worry about government efforts in this vein. We could imagine programs that would violate neutrality requirements; consider efforts to promote certain religious practices or political convictions. And here as elsewhere, hard-line libertarians might just want government to stay out. But when government has a legitimate end, and wants to avoid a mandate, social nudges can serve as an immensely effective tool. [/i]

Immensely interesting stuff, very easily observable to.

Monkey see, monkey do, I suppose.

This is why I’m waiting for lots more people to post on this topic. So i know what to parrot.

this is not really new. this person is about a 100 years behind modern theories of concept formation and language.

perhaps the empirical studies actually cataloging this stuff are new, but the two explanations given are basically just old tenets of philosophy of language and philosophy of social science.

[quote]stokedporcupine wrote:
this is not really new. this person is about a 100 years behind modern theories of concept formation and language.

perhaps the empirical studies actually cataloging this stuff are new, but the two explanations given are basically just old tenets of philosophy of language and philosophy of social science. [/quote]

We’d hate to focus on the practical applications of all the ivory theories…

I guess this means Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign and other such campaigns weren’t/aren’t quite as ridiculous as they seem(ed) at first - provided they are effected in such a way as to make the desired behavior seem more appealing (this basic post doesn’t cover a counter-culture reaction - e.g., smoking more because the adults say not to smoke).

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
stokedporcupine wrote:
this is not really new. this person is about a 100 years behind modern theories of concept formation and language.

perhaps the empirical studies actually cataloging this stuff are new, but the two explanations given are basically just old tenets of philosophy of language and philosophy of social science.

We’d hate to focus on the practical applications of all the ivory theories…

I guess this means Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign and other such campaigns weren’t/aren’t quite as ridiculous as they seem(ed) at first - provided they are effected in such a way as to make the desired behavior seem more appealing (this basic post doesn’t cover a counter-culture reaction - e.g., smoking more because the adults say not to smoke).[/quote]

no no, i’m not saying that. i’m just pointing out i sure hope they cite their sources and don’t pretend their so smart for “explaining” this all by themselves.

[quote]

stokedporcupine wrote:
this is not really new. this person is about a 100 years behind modern theories of concept formation and language.

perhaps the empirical studies actually cataloging this stuff are new, but the two explanations given are basically just old tenets of philosophy of language and philosophy of social science.

BostonBarrister wrote:
We’d hate to focus on the practical applications of all the ivory theories…

I guess this means Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign and other such campaigns weren’t/aren’t quite as ridiculous as they seem(ed) at first - provided they are effected in such a way as to make the desired behavior seem more appealing (this basic post doesn’t cover a counter-culture reaction - e.g., smoking more because the adults say not to smoke).

stokedporcupine wrote:
no no, i’m not saying that. i’m just pointing out i sure hope they cite their sources and don’t pretend their so smart for “explaining” this all by themselves. [/quote]

You can check their book: http://www.amazon.com/Nudge-Improving-Decisions-Health-Happiness/dp/0300122233/ref=wl_it_dp?ie=UTF8&coliid=I1KH68FNEF0WVE&colid=26M9RZYLYW66Q

I’ll just assume these professors cited properly, given their CVs: http://www.law.uchicago.edu/faculty/sunstein ; http://faculty.chicagogsb.edu/richard.thaler/research/

actually, looking at the stuff on amazon, the book seems more interesting then it first appeared.

like i said, i’m not saying the research is not valuable, and i’m not saying its not original. just saying, hope they cite their sources. if their theoretical stuff is originally theirs, then they should have surveyed the literature in that area better, so they didn’t try to reinvent the wheel.

i mean i haven’t read the book, so perhaps they do all this stuff. hence why i say i “hope” they cite, not that they don’t cite.

its very easy in professional academics to fall into a vacuum.

[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:

  1. Teenage girls who see that other teenagers are having children are far more likely to become pregnant themselves.[/quote]

They probably also live in the same region.

This should be number one, shouldn’t it?

The idea of ‘social nudges’ is nice. I always prefer carrot to stick. How videly ‘social nudges’ are applicable in the communication between society and the individual, it’s hard to say. People tend to become jaded pretty fast.
Maybe it could give a positive vibe when administered occasionally.

This is called memetics.