Heather's Reviews > Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

Nudge by Richard H. Thaler
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's review
Apr 26, 11

bookshelves: nonfiction, 2011
Recommended to Heather by: Cari Rottman
Recommended for: Everyone
Read from April 19 to 26, 2011, read count: 1

Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, is a book describing how humans are often influenced by contextual variables which often lead to poor decision making. However, by structuring choices differently and changing these contextual elements, it is possible to “nudge” people towards making better decisions, those that they would choose themselves if we were completely rational creatures.

The authors state the purpose of their book quite eloquently on their website: “Decision makers do not make choices in a vacuum. They make them in an environment where many features, noticed and unnoticed, can influence their decisions. The person who creates that environment is, in our terminology, a choice architect. The goal of Nudge is to show how choice architecture can be used to help nudge people to make better choices (as judged by themselves) without forcing certain outcomes upon anyone, a philosophy we call libertarian paternalism. The tools highlighted are: defaults, expecting error, understanding mappings, giving feedback, structuring complex choices, and creating incentives” (http://nudges.org/).

It’s kind of scary to think about how all the things that shouldn’t affect our decisions but do anyway. Defaults, for instance – A majority of the population says they would gladly donate their organs in the event of an untimely demise. Yet, the numbers of people who indicate their consent to donate organs on the back of their drivers license does not even come close to the numbers who claim they would donate. Why the discrepancy? Because here individuals have to opt in if they wish to donate… the default is to not. In other places where the default is to donate, the numbers who indicate they would not are far less. The examples go on and on – nearly every decision we make is influenced by the architecture of the choice. I definitely side with the authors that if we can use these tactics to nudge people towards making better decisions, why shouldn’t we?

While the topic of the book in itself is very interesting, I felt somewhat removed from this book, despite the very visible practical implications. I think part of it is just because at this point in my life, when I am riding home from school or work, I want to listen to something light that doesn’t require me to think (**cough – Tina Fey’s Bossypants—cough**) I think this book will be very helpful to come back to at a later date though. I definitely want to read up on good investing practices, because I am not at all well-versed in that area and I think I would be able to get more out of the sections on money after I am a bit more knowledgeable.

In conclusion, this book is definitely worth a read through, especially if you are looking for a book to “better yourself” by understanding the extraneous variables which unduly impact our decisions, and learning to consequently make better ones. However, I would recommend the text version and not the audio, because this narrator’s voice verged on monotone (to the point of being Kristen Stewart annoying) and he had a much harder time sustaining my attention than I’m sure reading it myself would have.

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