March 15, 2022 | Article

Behavioral scientist Prof. David Gal from University of Illinois at Chicago and his colleague study the limited impact of nudges in their recent article published in Nature Reviews Psychology. They note that nudges that work in academic studies often fail in the real world. 

Recent years have witnessed significant excitement over real-world applications of psychology, traced to the idea that behavioural science can identify light-touch interventions, or ‘nudges’, to influence behaviour. Central to the nudge approach is its emphasis on simple, relatively superficial interventions over fundamental or structural change. For example, as opposed to increasing retirement security through expanding social security programs, a nudge might take the form of an opt-out program that directs some of individuals’ own income to a retirement savings account by default.

The appeal of nudges has been far reaching. ‘Nudge units’ have been formed in various governments, agencies and firms. For example, the UK government created a ‘Behavioural Insights Team’ and the US White House formed a ‘Social and Behavioral Science Team’ to design nudges for public policy aims. 

We suggest that the dominance of the nudge approach in applied behavioural science is largely due to experimental validation bias, that is, the tendency to overvalue interventions that can be ‘validated’ by experiments. This bias results in interventions of limited ambition and scope, leading to an impoverished view of the relevance of behavioural science to the real world.

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The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors, who are responsible for the content, and do not necessarily represent the views of Vega Economics. To learn more about this topic or to retain Prof. Gal as an expert, please contact

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