Here’s a Reading Nudge

I was reading through the Chronicle of Higher Ed yesterday and found an interesting column by James M. Lang, Nudging Higher Education. I thought his suggestion about the distraction level of the bulletin boards to be very relevant. Then I read where he got the idea.

Those bulletin boards have been on my mind because I have been reading Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein’s book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. The book was selected by a committee at my college to be our first-year text, which means that all incoming freshman will be given a copy of the book at orientation, and they are expected to have read it when they arrive in August.

The book focuses on the importance of what the authors call “choice architecture” — the design of situations in which individuals have to make choices. To draw from the simple opening example used in the book, a child walks down the food line at her school cafeteria, deciding what to select for her lunchtime meal, and feels the power of the cafeteria’s choice architect — the person who decided which foods to place where in the line, which foods are within the child’s reach, which foods she has to request, and so on. If the vegetables are behind smudged glass and require ladling out by a grumpy service worker, while the candy bars are within reach at the register, the choice architect has helped to ensure that more students will take candy rather than vegetables.

For some reason, it sounded fascinating. I didn’t even read the rest of the article. Instead I went and got the Kindle version. Yeah, for Kindle. And I started reading it this morning. I’m only 6% through, but it is a very thought-provoking read. I’ve had to stop to let the ideas percolate through my brain.

I did go back and finish the article though. He has some practical applications to his situation in the article. But really beginning to read the book first was good for me.

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