The Central Role of Social Dynamics in Nudging Social Norms for Collective Health (Discussion Paper)

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Apr 2023
“Norms-nudging” consists of publicizing how others in society behave on average, hoping to encourage further adoption of a desired behavior. While numerous studies show that norms nudges can work in small groups and one-shot interventions, increasing attention is being devoted to the challenges of scaling up to ongoing, population-level norms nudging policies. Regularly nudging entire populations, we argue, can unleash social adjustment dynamics that move the societal rate of the desired behavior in unexpected directions. We provide practical guidance on the kind of information
needed to estimate the likely effectiveness of an ongoing, population-level norm nudging policy. We illustrate our approach through a survey-in-the-field experiment about face mask-wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the context we study, our results suggest that publicizing initially high rates of mask-wearing would likely backfire by
leading to lower equilibrium rates of mask-wearing. Our approach can be adapted and enriched to estimate the likely effects of nudging with norms at scale in other substantive realms and heterogeneous populations.