When a Nudge Backfires: Combining (Im)Plausible Deniability with Social and Economic Incentives to Promote Behavioral Change

63 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2020

See all articles by Gary Bolton

Gary Bolton

University of Texas at Dallas - Naveen Jindal School of Management

Eugen Dimant

University of Pennsylvania; CESifo

Ulrich Schmidt

University of Kiel - Institute of Economics

Date Written: 2020

Abstract

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 report here on an investigation of the questions of when and in what form backfiring occurs, the mechanism behind the backfiring, and how to mitigate it. We find that inequality aversion moderates the effectiveness of such nudges and that increasing the focus on social norms can counteract the backfiring effects of such behavioral interventions. Our results are informative for those who work on nudging and behavioral change, including scholars, company officials, and policy-makers.

Keywords: anti-social behavior, nudge, pro-social behavior, reputation, social norms

JEL Classification: :, C910, D640, D900

Suggested Citation

Bolton, Gary and Dimant, Eugen and Schmidt, Ulrich, When a Nudge Backfires: Combining (Im)Plausible Deniability with Social and Economic Incentives to Promote Behavioral Change (2020). CESifo Working Paper No. 8070, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3531419

Gary Bolton (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Dallas - Naveen Jindal School of Management ( email )

P.O. Box 830688
Richardson, TX 75083-0688
United States

Eugen Dimant

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

HOME PAGE: http://sites.google.com/view/eugendimant/

CESifo ( email )

Poschinger Str. 5
Munich
Germany

Ulrich Schmidt

University of Kiel - Institute of Economics ( email )

Olshausenstrasse 40
24098 Kiel, 24098
Germany

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