Empowering People to Choose Wisely by Democratizing Mindfulness and Thinking Tools

50 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2015 Last revised: 2 Nov 2015

See all articles by Peter H. Huang

Peter H. Huang

University of Colorado Law School

Date Written: November 1, 2015


Making choices (wisely) can be difficult; demand focused, cognitive attention; produce delayed, noisy feedback; require careful and clear thinking; and quite often trigger anxiety, stress, or strong, negative emotions. A large body of empirical, experimental, and field research finds that people often make choices resulting in outcomes that are suboptimal as judged by the very people making those choices. These studies have led to the popularity of the idea of nudging people to achieve better outcomes by changing how choices and information are framed and presented. On September 15, 2015, President Obama signed an Executive Order titled Using Behavioral Science Insights to Better Serve the American People. This Executive Order directs executive departments and federal agencies to base the design of policies and programs on research in behavioral economics and psychology about how people make decisions. In particular, the Executive Order specifically directs federal agencies to carefully design how choices are presented and structured (also known as choice architecture) in order to empower people to make the best choices for themselves and their families. The Executive Order also specifically directs federal agencies to improve how the federal government presents information by devoting more consideration to how the format, medium, and timing of information (also known as information architecture) affects the understanding of that information by consumers, borrowers, and federal program beneficiaries.

Although choice architecture and information architecture can effectively nudge people into better outcomes, choice architecture and information architecture also assume that people’s decision-making processes are immutable or too costly to improve and so fail to improve people’s decision-making processes. This Article advocates that law and policy can and should empower people to choose wisely by educating people about practicing mindfulness and utilizing thinking tools. Mindfulness involves paying attention in a deliberate way to life as it unfolds moment to moment. Mindfulness is currently very popular in American business, culture, and even sports. Much of that popularity focuses on how mindfulness can improve mental and physical health by reducing stress and negative affect. This Article analyzes how mindfulness offers people real options to choose wisely after processing information concerning their feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. This Article analyzes research about how practicing mindfulness can improve people’s decision-making. Thinking tools include thinking architecture and thinking technologies. Thinking architecture offers a systematic procedure to split up a complex problem into a sequence of cognitively easier thinking steps that can result in making better choices. Thinking technologies involve computer or digital technologies to assist people in their thinking. Examples of novel, fun thinking technologies include financial entertainment computer video games, such as one where a player is a vampire managing a blood bar and planning for retirement, and video adventure games designed to teach players to recognize and mitigate their cognitive biases.

Keywords: empowering people, choosing wisely, improving decision-making, mindfulness, thinking tools, real options, thinking architecture, thinking technologies

JEL Classification: D81, D83, K20

Suggested Citation

Huang, Peter H., Empowering People to Choose Wisely by Democratizing Mindfulness and Thinking Tools (November 1, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2639953 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2639953

Peter H. Huang (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School ( email )

Colorado Law
401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States
303 492-4563 (Phone)
303-492-1200 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://lawweb.colorado.edu/profiles/profile.jsp?id=456

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