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5 ways to nudge behaviour, ethically

Updated: Jan 11, 2019

We often get asked if there is a connection between gamification and behavioural economics. 

Behavioural economics and gamification certainly share aspects of psychological, neurological, cultural and environmental factors that influence behaviour and decision making. They are part of a broader movement in viewing products, services, architecture, policies, and more through the lens of human-centred design and the user experience. 

Behavioral economics is the study of the effects of psychological, cognitive, emotional, cultural and social factors on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions and how those decisions vary from those implied by classical (economic) theory. Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize for his work in this field,

In their book Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein define a behavioural nudge as:

"Any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people's behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates. Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not."

Gamification is the use of game mechanics and experience design to engage users and solve real world problems. It is about incentivising and rewarding behaviour in the real world, using fun and virtual world / game world mechanics. In this way, gamification can be viewed as a type of nudge. Both have the intent of nudging behaviour through design. 

At today's Behavioural Exchange in Sydney, we heard from Cass Sunstein about how to ensure nudging is used ethically. He shared 5 ways to nudge ethically:

1. Nudges must be consistent with people's values and incentives

2. Nudging must be done for legitimate ends (nudge for good!)

3. Nudges must not violate individual rights

4. Nudges must be transparent

5. Nudges must not take things from people without their consent 

Given the connectedness between nudging and gamification, gamification designers must also ensure their designs affect people for good. This is especially true in light of digital rating systems like Sesame Credit in China. The ethics of gamification is an important topic that is being debated in industry and academia. 

At PentaQuest, every project or client we work with undergoes an ethical screening process to ensure that the gamification we are designing is positive, healthy, and making the world a better place. 

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