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Improving the Effectiveness of Nudging: The Role of Emotions and the Self

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Senior Researcher : Daniel Navarro Martínez

Research Centre or Institution : Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Barcelona


Choice architecture or "nudging" refers to the use of small changes in the environments in which people make decisions to influence their behavior, without restricting their freedom of choice. In this project, we study two aspects that we consider especially relevant to the effectiveness of nudging: the emotional state of the people who are being nudged and the degree of connection that nudging establishes with the individual (what is known as the "self"). To systematically study how these two elements influence the effectiveness of nudging, our plan is to carry out a series of experimental studies, some in the laboratory, some in the field in collaboration with the NGO UNHCR and others in which we develop specific apps to monitor people for several days.

This first year of the project has been quite unusual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which for most of the year has prevented laboratory experiments from being carried out under normal conditions and has generally made research difficult. Still, we consider that we have made good progress on the first two of our three objectives (as we set out in our action plan) and have laid the groundwork to carry out the rest of the project in the next two years. We have done a whole series of experiments on nudging and how it is affected by emotional states in different circumstances. Given the situation, we have adapted our methodology to carry out the experiments online through the Prolific platform, which has allowed us to test our hypotheses without major problems.

At the moment, the emotional states we have studied are proving to have less potent effects than we expected on the types of nudging we have included in our experiments. However, this is leading us to design new emotion inductions and include new types of nudging that we hope will be more optimal. In addition, in the process of conducting these experiments we have discovered several promising effects in relation to nudging and emotions. On the one hand, we have obtained significant effects of the degree of emodiversity (diversity of emotions experienced) on decision making. On the other hand, we have found that getting people to justify their decisions can be a very useful tool to increase the effectiveness of some types of nudging. These are two effects that we will continue to explore and we hope will lead to important research results. Apart from these experiments, we have also carried out a first field experiment with the NGO UNHCR through its website, in which we have explored how emotional states influence the effectiveness of nudging using default options. At this time, we are still in the process of putting together all the data so that we can analyze the results. Finally, in the different experiments we have carried out, we have also been collecting information from the participants to prepare the studies of our third objective, which we have not yet started to carry out. It is still too early to have published articles on results related to the project, but we have presented related results in three international events (two of them online due to the pandemic and the devastating effects it has caused in the domain of conferences and seminars).


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