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Nudging? Only with permission, please!

4 July 2024
Nudging people to donate to a charity is effective, whether they agree to be nudged or not. However, nudging without consent might lead to negative welfare effects, concludes environmental and behavioural economist Sanchayan Banerjee.

In their study, which was published in Scientific Reports, Banerjee (Institute for Environmental Studies) and his fellow researchers designed the first experimental test of violating consent to being nudged to donate to a charity.

Nudging – presenting choices to people differently – has been criticized for manipulating people into making a choice that does not fit their true preferences. Two solutions are typically offered: making the nudge transparent before administering the nudge by letting people know they are about to be nudged, or seeking people’s validation for the nudge after administering the nudge by asking people if they support the nudge. In both cases, people’s consent is not explicitly considered.

Banerjee and his co-authors propose a third way: asking people’s consent to be nudged. This is as effective as nudging without consent and limits the negative consequences on welfare when nudged without consent.

Charity donations
To test this, 1518 UK participants were first explained what a nudge was and then asked if they would like to be nudged to donate to a charity of their choice. Following this, regardless of their consent, they nudged all participants anyway into donating 2 out of 10 GBP into a charity of their choice.

The amount of donations between the two groups did not differ. However, the non-consenting participants reported lower levels of happiness and support, and higher levels of resentment and regret about the donation.

‘Our findings show that asking for consent does not reduce the effectiveness of the nudge but can be useful in limiting negative welfare effects’, says Banerjee. ‘This is a promising result. By asking individuals if they agreed to receive a nudge, we introduced a method that gives people autonomy without the nudge being transparent. This way, participants are aware of what a nudge entails in general, and are only nudged if they agree.

Contact the VU Press Office