Manipulation, salience, and nudges

Bioethics 32 (3):164-170 (2017)
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Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler recommend helping people make better decisions by employing ‘nudges’, which they define as noncoercive methods of influencing choice for the better. Not surprisingly, healthcare practitioners and public policy professionals have become interested in whether nudges might be a promising method of improving health-related behaviors without resorting to heavy-handed methods such as coercion, deception, or government regulation. Many nudges seem unobjectionable as they merely improve the quality and quantity available for the decision-maker. However, other nudges influence decision-making in ways that do not involve providing more and better information. Nudges of this sort raise concerns about manipulation. This paper will focus on noninformational nudges that operate by changing the salience of various options. It will survey two approaches to understanding manipulation, one which sees manipulation as a kind of pressure, and one that sees it as a kind of trickery. On the pressure view, salience nudges do not appear to be manipulative. However, on the trickery view, salience nudges will be manipulative if they increase the salience so that it is disproportionate to that fact's true relevance and importance for the decision at hand. By contrast, salience nudges will not be manipulative if they merely highlight some fact that is true and important for the decision at hand. The paper concludes by providing examples of both manipulative and nonmanipulative salience nudges.



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Robert Noggle
Central Michigan University

References found in this work

Emotion drives attention: detecting the snake in the grass.Arne Öhman, Anders Flykt & Francisco Esteves - 2001 - Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 130 (3):466.

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