When a Nudge Backfires: Combining (Im)Plausible Deniability with Social and Economic Incentives to Promote Pro-Social Behavioral Change
63 Pages Posted: 26 Dec 2018 Last revised: 27 Mar 2020
Date Written: March 26, 2020
Both theory and recent empirical evidence on nudging suggest that observability of behavior acts as an instrument for promoting (discouraging) pro-social (anti-social) behavior. We connect three streams of literature (nudging, social preferences, and social norms) to investigate the universality of these claims. By employing a series of high-powered laboratory and online studies, we investigate when and in what form such a nudge can backfire (not only be ineffective but actually worsen the outcome), the mechanism behind the backfiring, and how to mitigate it. For one, we find that inequality aversion moderates the effectiveness of such nudges. For another, we successfully explore the mechanism of increasing the salience of norms as means to counteract the backfiring of the tested nudge. From a policy point of view, our results raise awareness of the pitfalls of simple behavioral interventions.
Keywords: Anti-Social Behavior, Nudge, Pro-Social Behavior, Reputation, Social Norms
JEL Classification: C91, D64, D9
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation