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If knowledge is power, knowledge about how best to change your behaviour ought to be particularly empowering, yet public dissemination of relevant behavioural science currently plays a negligible part in the behaviour change agenda. The RSA Social Brain Project is working to change this fact.

Existing approaches to behaviour change include ‘Nudge’, a form of libertarian paternalism outlined by Thaller and Sunstein. Nudge is paternalistic in that it assumes to know what is good for you (e.g. to save for a pension, or avoid being knocked down) but it is liberal in the sense that it merely nudges you towards these objectives (e.g. by making the pension a default you can opt out of, or by painting ‘look left’ at crossings) while leaving the choice in your hands. The nudge approach involves shaping our ‘choice architecture’ on the basis of what is known about the automatic, unconscious aspects of our nature (e.g. we rarely change default settings).

The ‘Think’ approach, advocated by Gerry Stoker, is passionately democratic, and contends that if we deliberate collectively as rational agents responsive to argument, we will find a suitable course of action and collectively follow it through. ‘Think’ therefore seeks to change our behaviour through the conscious, controlled aspects of our nature, and places faith in reason and reflection.

Both approaches have considerable power in certain contexts to shape certain aspects of our behaviour, but as general theories of behaviour change they have limitations.

This blog was originally published on Left Foot Forward. Read the rest of the article there.


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