Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sunstein (2016) on (Mild) Preferences for System 2 Nudges

Cass R. Sunstein, “People Prefer System 2 Nudges (Kind Of),” July 19, 2016. Duke Law Journal, Vol. 66, 2016. [The outline here is based on an earlier version, that of February 19, 2016.]

• In Kahneman’s terminology, System 1 is the automatic, intuitive part of our decision making, whereas System 2 represents our more considered (though not necessarily better) thoughts. 

• Some types of nudges, such as graphic labels on cigarette packages or the selection of defaults, tend to be aimed at affecting System 1 responses. Other nudges, such as the provision of better information on nutrition, engage with System 2. System 2 nudges help people “exercise their own agency [p. 5],” that is, make better considered decisions. 

• Sunstein arranges for a survey to be administered to seven groups of Americans, with more than 400 people in each group; they are paid for their participation. 

• The participants are presented with four issues -- savings, smoking, clean energy, water -- and two alternative approaches, one System 1 nudge and one System 2 nudge, for each of the issues. The majority tends to prefer System 2 nudges, but a sizeable minority feels the other way. Democrats seem slightly more likely than Republicans to support System 1 nudges. 

• If told that the System 1 nudge is significantly more effective, about 12% of folks switch to preferring the System 1 nudge; precise quantitative evidence of superior effectiveness does not seem to increase any further the attractiveness of System 1 nudges. When folks are told that System 2 nudges are more effective, that information has no effect on overall preferences between the options.

• Sunstein also explores a second set of three, more ideologically charged issues: voter registration, childhood obesity, and abortion. For voter registration and anti-obesity, a majority favor System 1 nudges. For dissuading abortions, most people prefer System 2 nudges, even when System 1 (show fetus photos) is said to be more effective. 

• Alternatively, some people like System 1 nudges, even when they are told that those nudges are less effective. It seems that when people feel strongly about an issue, they support System 1 nudges that push their side of the issue. 

• Sunstein makes a meta-observation, that perhaps our brain's System 1 likes System 2 nudges, but sometimes System 2 overrides that preference. Note that often System 1 nudges are fairly easy to implement, such as by setting a default, for instance.