Nudge, sludge, and the ethics of behaviour change

I have just read The Williams Behaviour Book by Bri Williams. The book contains a great selection of behavioural frameworks to help readers frame and solve behavioural challenges. I should add that I love much of the work that Bri Williams has done and promotes through social media.

However, I have a real issue with the lack of ethical frameworks and the way that she frames these issues in her book. For example, Bri talks about “Change Quadrant” and “Customer Retention Strategies” without a detailed discussion of the issues of nudge versus sludge. Very specifically she gives recommendations on how to “make it difficult to leave” and while she says that these are not recommended because they might “upset customers”, there is no reference to the underlying ethical issues in encouraging behaviours that are against customer’s interest.

I might be over-reacting to this, but I really think that practitioners of behavioural science need to take a more robust stance on the ethics of behaviour change. That includes not promoting interventions that work against people’s interests and potentially harm them. Do you agree?

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