Big Brother is nudging you: Consumer acceptance of nudge interventions in food

Nudge interventions – when the ‘choice architecture’, or environment, of a consumer is shaped in an effort to persuade them to make a certain choice – have since the introduction of widespread use shown varying success​ depending on context, environment and participants.

They have been used for a long time in an attempt to move consumers towards healthier​ and more sustainable​ eating whilst following liberal principles of free choice. However, interventions haven’t always worked perfectly, seeing far more success in people who are better socioeconomically positioned to change behaviours. Particularly, they have a low level of success compared to more prohibitive measures, such as bans.

Do consumers know they’re being nudged? And are they happy about it? A new study, led by the Universities of Göttingen and Bonn, explores consumer attitudes towards nudge interventions.

Testing attitudes to nudging

Consumers were presented with five nudge scenarios, and were asked what their reaction would be to each kind of nudge. Each nudge was selected because it had shown promising signs that it could be effective.

Nuffield ladder of intervention

The Nuffield ladder of intervention​, proposed by the charity Nuffield Council on Bioethics, measures how much a behavioural intervention impacts personal freedom. Nudge interventions, such as the ones examined in the study, are low on the Nuffield ladder, while bans and prohibitions are high.

Participants were also asked for their general attitudes to provide important context (for example, for a nudge where a restaurant made butter available only on request, participants were asked if they normally eat butter).