“If we nudge one behaviour, we may be ‘un-nudging’ others.” 

Introduction

In this, our eighth article on the new frontiers of behavioural science, we turn our attention to the unintended consequences of its application.

Researchers have identified a series of wider-reaching holistic effects from nudging and steering behaviour which can have a significant impact on the overall outcome of a nudge or intervention. Having a broader understanding of the effects of a nudge - such as displacement effects, licensing, or spillover effects - on all related behaviours, not just the behaviour that is being nudged, is important in order to evaluate if the nudge has a positive outcome on overall behaviour.

This is particularly relevant for some behavioural change interventions, notably behaviours which are repeated frequently over the long term, such as household energy consumption, taking daily medication or exercise. Without this wider understanding an intervention might, at first glance, seem like it has had the desired impact, giving us a false sense of success.