The “nudge” may have been formalized in a 2008 book, but I’d bet that the core concept — simple strategies for influencing other people’s decisions — dates back at least to the rise of human language. It wouldn’t surprise me if early hunter-gatherers on African savannas relied on some strategies of persuasion to convince, for example, other members of the group to help hunt for food. These hunter-gatherers weren’t analyzing what text message to send and when, questions that can concern today’s “choice architects,” as described by behavioral sciences writer Bruce Bower in “Nudge backlash.” But the most astute communicators might have realized that appealing to survival, adventure or sense of duty could lead to varying results. And they might have adjusted their messages accordingly.
A lot of human communication, in fact, is designed around achieving specific results. So much of what we see on TV and online is aimed at selling us a product or an idea, with some strategies subtler than others. Even communications among family members or friends can be deliberately tilted toward building relationships and establishing trust. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Recently in Boston, at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, I attended a session…
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