Managing population behaviour through nudge theory.

Nudge theory, or how to nudge without seeming to nudge…

We learned from an investigation by Le Point, published on 4 June: to manage the behaviour of the population during and from confinement, the British and French governments have resorted to special units, “nudges units”, cells specialised in the development of nudges. Nudges, literally, are little mental nudges that influence us without our being aware of it.

These conceptual objects were born in the 1980s from the intersection of economics, information and behavioural studies. More subtle and different than simple advertising, they are supposed to compel us to do something for our own good. Their promoters present them as a scientific revolution aimed at rectifying the way we make our decisions. We think we act rationally, but we do not. In fact, we are conditioned by biases. Therefore, we must be reconditioned to act better in our own interest and in the general interest.

This theory is so popular among today’s political and industrial decision-makers that nudges are invisibly invading our social and cultural life. It is now advocated by at least five of the last fifteen Nobel laureates in economics. Platforms such as Facebook and Google are interested in it, while a growing number of states are taking an interest. The technological revolution, the general crisis of political representation and the Covid epidemic make it appear as the ideal solution for crisis governance. And as the world is now nothing but a crisis, the question arises: will the techniques for guiding people replace democracy?

Marc Weitzmann in discussion with Eric Singler, Director General of the BVA institute, in charge of the “BVA push unit”, Géraldine Woessner , journalist at Point and Henri Bergeron , CNRS researcher at the CSO (Centre de Sociologie des Organisations).

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