Working Paper 14/330 - abstract

A Nudge in the Dark: An artefactual experiment investigating the effects of priming in the presence of distractions (PDF, 287kB)

Michael Sanders

“Nudges" - small, usually cheap, interventions to alter the behaviour of individuals to improve their “health, wealth or happiness", are increasingly popular with governments and have thus far played a large role in the coalition government's attempts to encourage pro-social behaviour. The power of many of these nudges, such as the effect of priming in a trust-game type scenario, has been tested widely in the lab, but have proven difficult to replicate in the field. Although the laboratory allows a sterile environment, this is not always desirable - the real world is not sterile, and there are often many different factors competing for an individual's attention. We present the results of an experiment conducted during the course of a busy public engagement event at the University of Bristol, where members of the public, with little or no knowledge of economic theory, were invited to take part in a game during which they received incidental priming. We find that although the effect of a nudge is reduced in such a hectic environment, it remains statistically (and economically) significant.