Nudge FAQs

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  • +When can you use a nudge?
    There are various levers available to create incentives or disincentives for changing individuals’ behavior. A nudge is the correct tool when you want to change how a choice is presented in a context where people are making quick—reflexive, intuitive—“gut reaction” decisions.
  • +Are nudges new?

    Trying to influence behavior with a nudge is not new. There is a large interdisciplinary literature on behavior change and how humans attempt to influence each other’s behavior. The term "nudge" originates from the field of behavioral economics and is a type of behavioral insight. The concept was popularized by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s 2008 book, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness. Richard Thaler won a Nobel Prize for Economics in 2017 for his work on nudges.

    What is new is the application of nudges to the field of public policy through evidence-based development and implementation. Many governments around the world are beginning to establish nudge units tasked with applying behavioral insights to analyze obstacles and then designing nudges to overcome them.

  • +How are nudges used?

    Nudges can solve all sorts of problems that governments and businesses consider important. Traditional areas where behavioral insights can play a strong role include:

    • Determining access to programs
    • Presenting information to the public
    • Structuring choices within programs
    • Designing incentives

    Nudging is a compelling tool because it provides a low-cost, low-risk intervention strategy with tangible, measurable gains.

  • +What is not an example of a nudge?

    Some behavioral interventions do not qualify as nudges, including:

    Behavioral Change Tool



    Persuasion is the process of changing or reinforcing attitudes, beliefs, values or behaviors. It's appropriate for reflective decision-making that requires concentration, problem-solving and deliberation. (Nudges focus on the opposite—quick decision-making.)


    Education is effective when the public interest aligns with those of the target audience, the benefits are attractive, and immediate, obvious, low cost, skills/resources to change are available (such as recycling or dietary guidelines).


    Laws are effective when individuals are unlikely to change in the absence of formally codified norms and expected consequences (such as seat belts and child safety seats in motor vehicles).


    Enforcement is the correct tool when tangible action (such as fines or sanctions) must be taken against prohibited behavior (such as illegal fishing, poaching, wildlife trade) to counter offenders, ensure accountability, and deter future offenses.

  • +What is the average duration of a MITRE nudge study?

    While no two studies are exactly alike, all the studies have two phases. Phase 1 consists of exploratory research to understand the problem and the desired behavior. During this phase, the team then identifies behavioral insight principles relevant to the desired behavior. At the end of Phase 1 the team identifies nudge(s) to test.

    Phase 2 focuses on proof-of-concept field experiments (randomized controlled trials) to test the nudge(s). The field experiments take time to execute (4-6 months). On average, the total length of a nudge study is approximately 6-12 months.

  • +How do you know when a nudge worked?
    The MITRE Nudge Lab takes a scientific approach to conducting nudge studies. All nudge interventions are tested with proof-of-concept field experiments. The goal is to make a small change with a disproportionate impact. The MITRE team will provide evidence (or the lack thereof) of a nudge’s impact. The team does not encourage scaling a nudge up until there is evidence that it works at a smaller scale. Sometimes refining a nudge is an iterative process.
  • +Who should I contact to explore a nudge project?
    Please send an email to the Nudge Lab at The team is happy to explore whether a Nudge Study is a good option for your project.

Learn more about MITRE's Nudge Lab.