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Nudge 2.0: a broader set of tools for lasting behavioral change

This piece was co-authored by Cait Lamberton, Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Joseph Business School M. Katz of the University of Pittsburgh, and Benjamin Castleman, Assistant Professor of Education and Public Policy of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.

The nudges surround us

It is likely that someone has nudged you today, even if you did not notice. Maybe it was your doctor's office, sending you a text message about an upcoming appointment. Or maybe it was an airline website, which encourages you to make a reservation because "there are only three tickets left at this price". In fact, the private sector has been pushing us one way or another for at least 75 years, since Madison Avenue Ad Men's heyday.

It has taken a few generations, but the public sector is starting to gain popularity. In policy domains ranging from consumer finance and public health to retirement planning and education, researchers are applying knowledge of behavioral science to help people make more informed decisions that lead to better long-term results.

Sometimes, these pushes take the form of changing the rules that determine whether someone participates in a program or not (such as changing the default for people to automatically sign up for a retirement savings plan unless they choose not to participate , instead of just registering people who actively enroll in the program). But often, elbows can be as simple as sending simplified information to people about the opportunities they have available, or reminders about important tasks they must do to participate in beneficial programs.

A growing body of research demonstrates elbows such as these, though not very sensitive and very low cost, can lead to substantial improvements in educational outcomes, whether they are parents who read more to their children, middle school students who complete more class assignments or college students who persist successfully in college.

Moving beyond the low height fruit.

However impressive these results may have been, many of the early education studies in nudge have focused on very low height fruit. . Often, we help people to fulfill an intention they already have, or we inform them about opportunities or resources that they did not know or were confused about. However, what is less clear is how well these strategies can support a sustained behavior change, such as going to school every day or avoiding substance abuse.

To use a metaphor from the real world, imagine that you are behind someone in the row at the grocery store. As the line advances, the person in front of you is too busy to look up from your phone and recover space. If you give them a push to the cashier, do not change their address, push them in a direction they would go if they had paid attention. Their push motivates them to move, and once they start walking, the path to the cashier is quite simple.

Nudges are powerful, in part, because they take advantage of people's existing tendencies and make it easier to enact them. But nudges can also be a fairly blunt general-purpose tool. In the case of the metaphor of the grocery line, it is not clear if the first push will be enough, or if you will have to push them back when they are returned to your Candy Crush game.

A new generation of nudges.

But what if we want to change someone's address? In real-world terms, what happens if a student has difficulties in school but is not even considering seeking help? What happens if their lives are too busy to search or meet with a guardian consistently? What if they have the feeling that they are not the type of person that succeeds in school, so they do not see the point of trying?

For these types of change of behavior, we need a set of extended push tools, which we will call Nudge 2.0. These strategies go beyond the simplification of information, reminders and professional assistance, and address the person making the decisions in a more holistic way: the identity of the people, their psychology, their emotions and the forces in conflict that compete for your attention.

Think that the Nudge 2.0 toolkit has three separate compartments, as shown in the diagram below. First, we use the classic tools of behavioral economics that reduce the cognitive bandwidth that people need to apply to a decision and that help people achieve their own intentions. The messages should be simple, the default values ​​should be chosen carefully, reminders should be sent to help people to follow up and, when possible, help should be offered. The power of these tools has been amply demonstrated, at scale and in important domains.

Second, we can consider the tools that marketing and advertising have used to capture attention in a crowded electronic environment. These strategies focus on the visual design of messages (whether mail, email or text) to maximize the likelihood that a message will create an action. Marketing strategies also provide information on how we can communicate about objectives and the progress of objectives in a way that encourages completion rather than abandonment. Personalized content, new messages and visually appealing infographics can be important tools for policymakers and educators to include in their pushes if we want to make sure our message is processed.

Third, we extract tools from the world of social psychology to address the complex social identity and motivational factors that can affect students. Do underrepresented students feel that they belong to academically rigorous or culturally unknown environments? Do they have the kind of mentality that facilitates growth, even in the face of challenges? Could students' beliefs about their own ability to pursue objectives undermine their performance? In this cube, we apply push strategies that directly address the beliefs and relationships of people with those around them. For example, we can frame a particular behavior as a rule (for example, "everyone else votes, you should too!"), Or we can link a particular action or behavior with giving to another person, recognizing that the opportunity to pass time or money in others can be a powerful motivator.

With our colleagues Kelli Bird and Josh Goodman and in partnership with The Common Application, we recently used the Nudge 2.0 toolkit to encourage nearly 450,000 seniors from across the country to apply for financial aid early in the calendar year, to maximize the amount of subsidies they receive for college.

This has been a great testing ground for Nudge 2.0. Approximately 1.4 million high school students could not complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in 2014, leaving an estimated $ 2.7 B in financial aid at the table. A large number of barriers (informational, motivational, and identity-based) are likely to contribute to students failing to submit the FAFSA at all, or prior to the priority deadlines. First, we designed messages, offered personalized reminders about the outstanding FAFSA deadlines and links to the assistance to complete the FAFSA, from the cognitive facility toolbox. From the attention capture cube, we work with ideas42 to make the content of the message visually attractive by including infographics and bright colors, and eye-catching icons. We deliver messages by email, text message and postal mail, for a triple hit of exposure that should increase the likelihood of attention. Finally, we included content that activated positive identities, emphasizing that the work that the students had already put in the application for admission to the university was a good sign that they were the kind of motivated person who would take the next step to make the university was affordable when applying for financial aid.

In the field of education, the completion of the FAFSA is one of the many persistent challenges in which we need creative, sustainable and scalable solutions: Do we encourage parents to consider high-quality early learning environments for their children? How can we motivate at-risk teens to go to school every day and stay on task? How can we encourage students who have accumulated substantial college credit but then dropped out of school to consider completing their studies? The Nudge 2.0 toolkit can help us make significant progress in these and other important educational margins.

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