In NudgeLab, we design changes of the choice environment to inspire people to make different choices that they would make in absence of the changes to that environment. You may rightfully call it manipulation. We justify our work by saying that we do not stop people from making the choice in absence of the change; the option is still there. We just discourage the choice, keeping it ethical.
For example, we want you to snack more healthily. We offer you a choice between a candy bar (the undesirable, unhealthy option) and a piece of fruit (the desirable, healthy option). With nudging, we try to increase the likelihood that you choose the desirable option. We leave the options themselves untouched; we just change the environment in which the choice is offered.
In NudgeLab, we do not try to change your attitude to snacking first. We will not go out of our way to convince you how unhealthy snacking will harm your long-term health; we will not try to make you see reason and convince you to prefer fruits over candy bars. We turn it around. We make the choice of the healthy alternative more obvious and intuitive, and thereby inspire you to take the healthy alternative. We hope that the attitude change follows the behavior change. If you have tried fruits often enough, you may start to like it and prefer fruits over candy bars. Of course, one is more likely to follow the alternative path if one’s attitude is already favorable. If you hate fruits, there is no way we can convince you to try it. Other measures than nudging will be needed. Yet, by changing the environment, we may have introduced a barrier to the undesirable behavior that makes it more likely that the person gravitates to the healthy option.