The nudgezation of human behaviour

Human beings may be influenced by very small things, You change the disposition of vegetables in a supermarket and the consumers change behavior, You inform the citizen about the compliance of other taxpayers and reduce tax evasion, (Nudge 2008, 72), you inform students that the majority of them do not drink or smoke and you reduce the level of drinking or smoking (74), you inform households of the consume of energy and give them an emoticon as visual feedback and you reduce the consumption of energy (74-75).

The aware use of such tools, which have long been studied in the context of behaviorist theories, is sometimes called choice architecture and with a certain degree of interchangeability, nudge theory.

Since humans are not fully rational beings, they often do something that is not in their own self-interest. Because an individuals’ behavior is not always aligned with their intentions (value-action gap), within behavioral science were developed techniques that can help individuals to pursue their real self-interest.

Thaler and Sunstein (Nudge, 2008, 6) define a nudge as:

‘any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates. Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not.’

In 2010 Facebook Banner Ad made 60,000 more people vote in the US congressional elections and in 2012 manipulated the news feeds of 689,003 users, removing either all of the positive posts or all of the negative posts, proving to be able to affect their moods.

We know that Facebook, Google, Amazon, and many others are designed to modify our choices as part of their main goals.

The consequences can be dangerous. In the beginning, the purpose of mass nudging would be in favor of the individual. The first experiments on nudging were aimed at improving the diet, improving civic behavior, discouraging illegal behavior, but it is easy to see how the progressive marketization and privatization of nudging platforms would lead.

At the political level, the risk of increased control is significant. In 2010 David Cameron established a Nudge Unit in the Cabinet Office to apply behavioral science to public policy marking the path to subtle and sophisticated control.

Nudging has a manipulative effect on the human will. The manipulative effects of nudging in terms of cognitive sovereignty over self-interest, will, and self-determination are incalculable both in terms of magnitude and scope. (On a similar topic you can read The destruction of the teleological animal).

What is declared to man is a silent war where what we call self-interest, free will, freedom, are attacked silently, subtly, for unspoken and sometimes unspeakable ends.

It is easy to imagine a work of continuous improvement, through the collection of data and their processing aimed at a capillary control of human actions.

The discovery of simple, effective and cheap manipulation tools is the dream of every marketing agent, any control body, any subject devoted to power. The development of nudging seems to be favored by historical circumstances as well as economic, political, and social advantages of the main subjects of surveillance capitalism.

Such power poses a threat to humans as we know them. At the same time, there is a sort of voluptuousness in the surrender. Humans as species seem to be ashamed of themselves and willing to renounce to their wishes, will, and self-interest.

If in the past they tried to create computers and robots that imitated humans, today they try to turn humans into robots.

In Pinocchio’s fable, a puppet wanted to become a human being, today it is the human being who tries to become a puppet.

3 thoughts on “The nudgezation of human behaviour

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  1. Not sure about “tries” for the last thesis of yours… Trying implies free will, and all your examples prove otherwise. An interesting thought to add is the “useful suggestions” algorithms provide when you write your emails. Do you use them? Unfortunately, we all do because it seems effortless to press “enter” and move on with your thought when the computer guesses almost what wanted to say. As a result, our thoughts become standardized by the computer algorithms, our mere patterns of thinking are the same. But if you ask, “oh, that’s just a useful proposal, you don’t have to take it.” No, I don’t, but I have to constantly make a mental effort to fight for my freedom of thought by refusing to save my time.. an interesting choice, isn’t it?

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    1. I don’t think ‘trying’ implies free will. The useful suggestions are often cases of nudges and I agree with you, at the beginning they help you to act according to the rules you decided, later on, you have to act according to their rules.

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  2. Very few people really get it. thank heavens that someone like you exists. The end really is unspeakable and appears to be the destruction of all reality. it’s origins seem to lie in a form of manicheaism which declares the physical world to be corrupt/evil and the spiritual to be good. Thus “good” under the declaration of this form of Manichaeism would involve the destruction of the physical world.

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