Nudge plus: incorporating reflection into behavioural public policy


The authors of this paper outline a modified version of the behaviour change technique called ‘nudge plus’, which incorporates an element of reflection as part of the delivery of a nudge. Nudge plus builds on recent work advocating educative nudges and boosts.

The authors claim that a hybrid nudge–think strategy can be a useful additional way to design pro-social interventions; combining a colour-coded ‘traffic lighting’ nudge with a salience-building ‘information plus’, for example, can increase the uptake of the nudge by agents, especially by those who might unconsciously ignore the visual cue implied by the colour coding of the nudge alone. Such a process is more plausible than the nudge-only strategies because combinations of nudges with reflective strategies are not only more liberty-preserving to the agent, but they can also generate stronger and persistent one-off effects.

The authors suggest three key mechanisms of operationalising this nudge-plus: the plus could either come before and after (sequentially) or along with (simultaneous to) the nudge. Depending on when the ‘plus’ is administered with the nudge, it could embody various kinds of reflection; a plus that precedes a nudge, for instance, involves reflecting on the construct of the nudge or on the alternatives competing for availability to the decision-making agent. Finally, the authors compare the mechanistic scheme of the nudge-plus against that of the behavioural change tools that are currently available, namely classic nudges and boosts.

Key points for decision-makers

  • Nudge-plus is a type of behaviour change technique that combines any nudge intervention with a ‘reflective plus’. It can be used, for example, in sustainably altering core preferences and lifestyle habits such as dietary choices, exercising, water and energy use, and contributing to pension schemes.
  • Educative nudges and boosts are often used by policymakers to enable agents to work smarter by developing capacities of their inbuilt heuristics. Using quick food rules, for instance, can help an agent to follow a sustainable diet.
  • The authors’ findings are useful in inducing long-term and persistent pro-social and pro-environmental behaviour change. Nudge-plus can overcome the defects of classic nudge instruments, especially the opacity of the nudge and its non-persistence, by giving autonomy to the agent to choose what is best for them, without making it too cognitively burdensome like pure-reflective think strategies.
  • Nudge-plus is a hybrid: it lies on the spectrum of agent autonomy, where the left end of the spectrum with no autonomy involves classic nudges, and the right end with complete autonomy involves reflection. However, one must exercise caution in increasing agent autonomy as it involves a trade-off with the effectiveness of the instrument, and therefore, finding an optimal ‘plus’ on this spectrum remains an open-ended empirical question.