Choice architecture refers to a scenario in which the environment in which someone must make a decision has been carefully designed to try and influence that decision. There is a variety of ways in which the “environment” can be designed. For example:
- Altering the “Default” option; most consumers stick with a “default” option, so producers should think about which option they would most like consumers to use
- Providing “immediate feedback” on choices that are made in order to make consumers reconsider their decision
- Altering the number of options available or changing the wording in order to subconsciously manipulate our decisions
As a result, advocates of libertarian paternalism and asymmetric paternalism have endorsed the deliberate design of choice architecture to nudge consumers toward personally and socially desirable behaviors like saving for retirement, choosing healthier foods, or registering as an organ donor. These interventions are often justified in that well-designed choice architectures can compensate for irrational decision-making biases to improve consumer welfare. These techniques have consequently become popular among policymakers, leading to the formation of the UK’s Behavioural Insights Team and the White House “Nudge Unit” for example. While many behavioral scientists stress that there is no neutral choice-architecture and that consumers maintain autonomy and freedom of choice despite manipulations of choice architecture, critics of libertarian paternalism often argue that choice architectures designed to overcome irrational decision biases may impose costs on rational agents, for example by limiting choice or undermining respect for individual human agency and moral autonomy.
Choice architect: Someone who frames information and designs the presentation of choices. Many people turn out to be choice architects, without realizing it.
Libertarian paternalism: The idea that it is both possible and legitimate for institutions to influence behavior while also respecting freedom of choice (i.e. without coercion).
Nudge: Any aspect of choice architecture that alters behavior in a predictable way, without forbidding options or significantly changing economic incentives.
Reinforcement: Strengthening the likelihood of a future behavior. Positive reinforcement adds a desirable consequence while negative reinforcement removes an undesirable consequence associated with the behavior.