Changing behavior through monitoring and nudging


Foto: Johannes Jansson –

by Camilla Simonsen

A project at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) monitors one thousand students, tracking where they are going and who they are meeting to create a new understanding of how we interact in groups.

Two DTU researchers are using the data the monitoring finds to build a model of the social network the students live in. Then the aim is to test how much the students’ behavior can be changed through “nudging” – the strategy for changing human behaviour on the basis of scientific manipulation through psychological understanding.

The point is to gain more knowledge of the patterns of human behavior. And if we get to know these patterns very well, it can be tested how effective some sort of psychological “nudge” is by comparing patterns from before and after a sort of nudging is added to the monitored people, subtracting a lot of other influences from the outside world of course.

Nudging has to be done right
Pelle Guldborg Hansen, behavioural psychologist at Roskilde University and DHT researcher, warns in an article in New Scientist that it will be challenging to find a way to “nudge” people in ways that are neither annoying nor damaging, since deliberately manipulating people’s behavior in large scale could have enormous and immeasurable consequences. Used ethically though, the results could improve the way a lot of things in society works, from healthcare and public transport to education and governance. But, used for the wrong reasons though, it could probably be extremely dangerous.

About finding the right kind of nudge, Pelle Guldborg Hansen underlines in the article that it is important that nudges do not feel too personal, since that might deter people from accepting them. And if someone’s activity history is used for personalized nudges, then ethical constraints should be considered to the same standard as medicine.

Read the whole article in New Scientist here: Data trackers monitor your life so they can nudge you, or more about ethics in relation to nudging here: Nudge and the Manipulation of Choice


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