Rationality Pills #1 - What is nudge?

The MInD research group at Scuola IMT studies both the theory and practice of human reasoning.


Aristotle said that the human being is a 'rational animal'. And throughout history, many philosophers have shared this optimistic view, although some have pointed out weaknesses and blind alleys in human thinking. Only in the last fifty years, however, have cognitive sciences begun to study human rationality and irrationality experimentally. Psychologists, economists and neuroscientists have collected data on how we reason and make decisions, both at work and in everyday life. These studies show us that we are often not rational at all, but victims of cognitive distortions (so-called biases) that lead us to make incorrect or inefficient choices and reasoning. These mental traps affect not only lay people but also experts (scientists, doctors, judges, politicians, consultants...) and cast a shadow of pessimism over the possibility of human beings to improve themselves and the society they live in by using reason.
On the other hand, the increasingly accurate knowledge we have of our mind and its spontaneous reasoning and decision-making strategies (so-called heuristics) allows us to use countermeasures and cognitive tools to avoid traps and improve our decisions.
The MInD research group at Scuola IMT studies both the theory and practice of human reasoning in order to understand and improve our decisions and their impact on society. In the videos of 'Pills of Rationality' we offer some food for thought.

When we make a choice, we think we are making it freely, but in reality there are so many factors that influence us. Among these factors is what in the jargon of the scientific literature is called 'choice architecture'. The architecture of choice is the context in which our decisions take shape, and is a much-studied area of research today. It was especially Richard Thaler, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics in 2017, and Cass Sunstein, who have studied in depth the factors that can influence our choices, even when we do not realise it.
A nudgeis a change in the architecture of choice, i.e. the context, which can influence people's behaviour in a predictable way, but without - mind you - affecting their freedom of choice. Having identified these aspects and factors, one can intervene on them to push people to choose certain options instead of others, for example to make healthier choices, for themselves, society, or the environment.

Watch the video to learn more.

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