Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, is a book by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. The book offers insights into how we can apply the science of “choice architecture” to nudge others towards better decisions that will improve their way of living. Similarly, we can turn these same concepts back on our own lives and use them to improve our own thought processes as well, as we become cognizant of the various things that change and mold our decision making.
Nudge is a great book, but, like most things of 300 pages, has its weaknesses. Even then, I recommend you pick it up and have the revolutionary concepts therein change your life, and more importantly, help change the lives of those important people you know and love.
I have included book notes below. Special thanks to Jenny Blake from LifeAfterCollege.org for giving me the mental “Nudge” to start highlighting books that I’m reading, and similarly, use those notes to improve my own retention abilities and help others. I bolded the parts I thought would be the most interesting and informative to you – but the rest is packed full of goodness as well.
Nudge Book Notes
Representiveness bias -> small abstractions in huge sample sizes are not anomalies even though people think they are.
Availability bias – recentness of events greatly exaggerates cognitive likelihood in the brain. E.G. if one earthquake happens, people will overpay for earthquake insurance even though the odds of it happening again are astronomically low.
Unrealistic optimism explains a lot of individual risk taking, i.e. 50% of marriages end in divorce, at ceremony all say 0% chance of divorce.
When we give up something we are hurt more than acquiring the same thing, i.e. if we get a $100 ticket it pains us greatly, but if we win $200 with a lottery ticket, the positive impact is far smaller.
Practicing – How often do we have a chance to practice certain large events in life, like home ownership? Most of the time, but once – this makes our decision making ability severely substandard
Feedback – we can’t get better if there is no feedback mechanism in place for our decisions.
We need a nudge when choices have delayed effects, those that are difficult, infrequent, and offer poor feedback, and those for which the relation between choice and experience is ambiguous. – pg. 79
What would a large red “GO” sign cause you to do? – Stimulus response capability
6 Principles of Good Choice Architecture – iNcentives, Understand mappings, Defaults, Give feedback, Expect error, Structure complex choices – pg. 102
We interpret the statement “I should be saving (or dieting, or exercising) more” to imply that people would be open to strategies that would help them achieve these goals. In other words, they are open to a nudge.” – pg. 109
Roughly 30 percent of employees eligible to join a 401(k) plan fail to enroll. – pg. 109
The default for retirement plans is nonenrollment. – pg. 110
One survey found that 58 percent of people spent less than one hour determining both their contribution rate and investment decisions. / Many people simply pick a “round number,”, typically 5, 10, or 15 percent of income. Of course, there is no sensible reason why the correct percentage of your income to save would be an exact multiple of 5. / Changing the employer match formula from 50 percent on the first 6 percent of pay to 30 percent on the first 10 eprcent of pay would probably increase contribution rates, because people generally contribute the minimum amount necessary to get the full employer match. – p. 113
Save More Tomorrow system, based on five psychological principles that underlie human behavior:
- Many participants say they think they should be saving more, and plan to, but don’t.
- Self control restrictions are easier to adopt if they take place some time in the future. (Many plan to go on diets soon, but not today).
- Loss aversion: people hate to see their paychecks go down.
- Money illusion: losses are felt in nominal dollars (not adjusted for inflation, a dollar in 1995 is seen as the same as a dollar in 2005)
- Inertia plays a powerful role.
Save More Tomorrow system – by synchronizing pay raises and savings increases, participants never see their take-home amounts go down, and they don’t view their increased retirement contributions as losses. P.114-115
In an environment in which people have to make only one decision per lifetime, we should surely try harder to help them get it right. P. 119
When investing decisions are made, people think they can relax and look forward to a wonderful retirement. However, all these decisions should be revisited periodically. P. 121
Humans are loss averse. Roughly speaking, they hate losses about twice as much as they like gains. P. 122
Attitudes towards risk depend on the frequency with which investors monitor their portfolios. P. 123
When investing, people often use the “I/n” heuristic: “When faced with ‘n’ options, divide assets evenly across the options.” Put the same number of eggs in each basket, although this is not an “even” decision based on variable funds. P.125
5 million Americans have more than 60 percent of their retirement savings in company stock. P. 128
Plan participants tend to extrapolate past stock performance into the future, although past performance is no prediction of the future. P. 129
A dollar in company stock is worth less than half the value of a dollar in a mutual fund. P. 129
One study by Drazen Prelec and Duncan Simister found that people were willing to pay twice as much to bid on tickets to a Boston Celtics basketball game if they could pay with their credit card rather than cash. P. 145
Because interest on credit cards is not deductible, there is no particular reason for users to check how much they paid in interest last year on all their credit cards, and fees are likely to be buried and ignored altogether. / Similarly, credit card limits, which are nominally in place to limit spending, may serve as high anchors that actually encourage spending. P. 146
When choosing an investment portfolio, the timing of the launch of the program can have a strong impact on people’s choices. This effect can be long lasting, because only a tiny percentage of participants decide to alter their portfolios. – Status Quo Bias – P. 155
There is essentially no evidence that past performance predicts future performance. P. 156
As of January 2006, more than 90,000 Americans were on waiting lists for organs, mostly for kidneys. Many (possibly as many of 60 percent) will die while on the list, and the waiting list is growing at a rate of 12 percent per year. PG 177
Holding everything else constant, switching from explicit consent to presumed consent increases the organ donation rate in a country by roughly 16 percent. PG 181
If you engage in environmentally costly behavior next year, through your consumption choices, you will probably pay nothing for the environmental harms that you inflict. This is what is often called a “tragedy of the commons”. PG 187
The second problem that contributes to excessive pollution is that people do not get feedback on the environmental consequences of their actions. PG 187
The best approach to pollution problems is to impose a tax on the harmful behavior and to let market forces determine the response to the increased cost. PG. 188
All by themselves, business emission disclosure requirements might be able to produce significant emissions reductions. / A major reason for this is that environmentally concerned groups, and the media in general, tend to target the worst offenders, producing a kind of “environmental blacklist”. / The government should create a Greenhouse Gas Inventory (GGI), requiring disclosure by the most significant emitters. PG. 193
In fact, the EPA is revising its fuel economy label on cars at dealerships to highlight the estimated annual fuel cost, which should improve awareness over the standard MPG displays. PG. 194
The trick to people choosing a good school is to promote actual freedom – not just by giving people lots of choices (though that can help) but also by putting people in a good position to choose what would be best for their children. PG. 203
A nudge for HS students to enroll in college was this: in order to graduate from San Marcos High, a student would have to complete an application to nearby Austin Community College. / From 2004 to 2005 the percentage of San Marcos High students who went to Texas colleges rose 11 percentage points, to 45 percent. PG. 208
Customers of many businesses face higher prices simply because they retain the right to sue those businesses. PG. 210
Suppose that people had the right to sue their hairdressers if a haircut went badly wrong, and that the cost of this insurance raised the price of haircuts by $50 after someone who had received a particularly gruesome haircut won a $17 million judgement. PG 211
It is not clear that patients gain a lot from the right to sue. / Part of the current cost is passed onto patients, in the form of higher bills, and defensive medicine can be bad medicine for those who want good care./ PG 212
One study found that fewer than 2 percent of patients inured by negligence at a New York hospital over the course of a year filed a malpractice claim. PG 212
One factor that influences a patient’s decision to sue is whether the doctor apologized for the mishap and admitted fault. PG 213
Since it is impossible to buy medical treatment without implicitly buying the right to sue, sick people who can afford treatment but not the package of treatment plus suit option will drop out of the market. PG 213
When people marry, they receive not only material benefits but also a kind of official legitimacy, a stamp of approval, from the state. PG 220
Is there any good reason that a person in a same-sex relationship should not be able to make medical decisions on his partner’s behalf or bequeath some of his assets upon death without paying taxes? PG. 222
People have been shown to have an accurate sense of the likelihood that other people will get divorced (about 50 percent). But recall the fact that they have an absurdly optimistic sense of the likelihood that they themselves will get divorced. PG. 226
We believe that the relevant rules should nudge the outcome in a way that will help the weakest parties – usually women. Typically, a woman’s economic prospects fall after divorce, whereas the prospects of the man increase. PG 226
The stickiness of default rules can easily be enlisted to insulate the most vulnerable people from the worst outcomes. PG. 227
The stickiness of default rules can easily be enlisted to insulate the most vulnerable people from the worst outcomes. PG. 227
The self-serving bias means that in difficult or important negotiations, we tend to think that both the objectively “fair” outcome and the most likely outcome is the one that is skewed in our own favor. PG. 227
We have argued that states should abolish “marriage” as such and rely on civil unions instead. If religious institutions want to restrict “marriage” to heterosexual couples, they should certainly be permitted to do exactly that. If such institutions want to limit divorce (that is, ending a “marriage”), they could do that too. PG. 228
Example of a nudge – Disulfiram – which is given to some alcoholics. Disulfiram causes alcohol drinkers to throw up and suffer a hangover as soon as they start to drink. PG. 237
One study finds that a candidate whose name is listed first gains about 3.5 percentage points in the voting process. PG. 249
Our basic conclusion is that the evaluation of nudges depends of their effects – on whether they hurt people or hurt them. PG. 250
When Nudgers have expertise, and when differences in individual preferences are either not important or can be easily estimated, then the potential for helpful nudging is high. PG. 251
“asymmetric paternalism” – guiding principle is that we should design policies that help the least sophisticated people in society while imposing the smallest possible costs on the most sophisticated. PG. 252
Asymmetric paternalists also endorse a class of regulations requiring “cooling off periods”. The rationale in the heat of the moment, consumers might make ill-considered or improvident decisions. PG. 253
Some states impose a mandatory waiting period before a couple may get divorced. PG. 253
In this book we have made two major claims. The first is that seemingly small features of social situations can have massive effects on people’s behavior. / The second claim is that libertarian paternalism is not an oxymoron. PG. 255
The Big Apple recently adopted a law that requires fast-food restaurants with at least fifteen outlets in the city to post, in prominent places, the calories of each of their food items so that customers can make informed choices. PG. 262
Procrastinators Clock – a downloadable program for your computer, that displays a digital clock that is guaranteed to be up to 15 minutes fast. How fast? Well that’s the nudge. You’re never exactly sure because the clock unpredictably speeds up and slows down. PG. 265