Nudging is not enough (redux)

Paul Ormerod
As regular readers will know, I've been arguing for a while that the insights into human behaviour being brought to the table by what's widely known as Behavioural Economics are excellent and timely corrections to the rational choice models of behavior which themselves are rooted in classical economics in particular. They counter some of the sillier assumptions in this kind of model: that essentialy we don't think nearly as much as we've been told we do and even when we do, there are all kind of quirks and ticks in our mental processes that lead us astray from the kind of rationality we aspire to.

That said, it's equally clear that the big weakness of most of these BE-inspired models fall far short of aspirational accuracy because they miss the important fact that all human life is lived in company (real or imagined) of others – as Freud observed, we can never escape the Other. 

So I was delighted to see a great pamphlet published recently by one of my heroes , Paul Ormerod, for the RSA, saying much the same thing using his expertise and insight into network theory.

And doing so, with much greater eloquence than I could muster.

So, please don't just reduce it to "social proof", policy folk…




  1. Gordon Rae
    September 12, 2010

    I’m so pleased to see this post because yesterday, someeone I respect on Twitter posted a link to this Economist piece about agent-based modelling – – and summarised it as “Prediction tool to capture wisdom of crowd as they interact & change.” Quantitaive models, no matter how sophisticated we make them, are no substitute for collecting data about what real people do, especially when they’re playing the role of ‘economic agents’.

  2. tom
    September 13, 2010

    Great link. Mucho gusto.

  3. Gavin Heaton
    September 13, 2010

    “all human life is lived in company (real or imagined) of others” – I love it! It should be easy to remember, but it’s actually easier to forget. We keep designing interactions around what we want to happen rather than designing for organic and spontaneous/orchestrated connection.

  4. Malcolm Smith
    September 18, 2010

    .. just rereading Martin Hollis The Cunning of Reason:
    … where he takes apart rational person assumptions from the inside. The book was publishe in 1987, and takes an explicitly social perspective. It is beautifully lucid prose as well!

  5. Shane Carmichael
    September 21, 2010

    Good post and very apt as I come to the end of reading Ethan Nichtern’s excellent book: “One City; A declaration of interdependence”. All life is interconnected which must be the starting point for all considerations in this field. I hope this ethos too will start to influence the field of contemporary psychiatry as well – I sense that the focus on the individual has shifted just a little too far away from the 60’s/70’s interest in the influence of society and environment on the individual’s cognitive well being. A revival in complementary social psychiatry looming?