Character  &  Context

A Council of Psychological Advisors

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For all you psychologists out there, there's a fantastic opportunity to put your research to good use, but you'll have to be quick about it, the deadline's on Friday. Perspectives on Psychological Science has put out a call for proposals for what you would do if the President had a Council of Psychological Advisors, and you were tasked with writing a memo to use psychology to design or improve policy. Bobbie Spellman (@BobbiePoPs), PoPS editor, wrote about the call on her blog and I've re-posted it below (Bethany Teachman and Mike Norton are editing the special issue that will include the top proposals). Recently, Cass Sunstein (@CassSunstein), the President's former "regulatory czar" wrote a paper on the topic as well. He lists 31 psychologically-based nudges that you can use as inspiration, they're down at the bottom of this post. Besides submitting your proposals, I'd also like to encourage as much discussion of potential ideas as possible, since I'm guessing the more cross-pollination of ideas there is, the better the proposals are likely to be.


[A couple of months ago I interviewed for a Fellow position with the SBST -- the U.S. Social and Behavioral Sciences Team.  (You know, like the UK's Behavioral Insights Team, a/k/a "The Nudge Unit".)  It was a dream job but a nightmare interview.  So, I ditched the dream and decided to go back to an idea we had at Perspectives on Psychological Science a couple of years ago -- let's publish memos to President Obama about using psychological science to inform public policy.  Instructions for submission below.]


The Council of Economic Advisers to the President of the United States is “charged with offering the President objective economic advice on the formulation of both domestic and international economic policy” and “bases its recommendations and analysis on economic research and empirical evidence, using the best data available to support the President in setting our nation’s economic policy.”

Imagine serving on a new “Council of Psychological Advisers” on which you had the chance to send memos to the President offering insights from the best research in psychological science to help solve specific, pressing problems facing society.

Perspectives on Psychological Science is planning a special series of memos by the Council of Psychological Advisers to the President. This is an open call inviting authors to pair a societal problem with a psychological “solution” to make a succinct point about how psychological science can inform policy.

Examples might include (but are not limited to):

— Climate change and affective forecasting

— Inequality and status/hierarchy

— Obesity and self-control

— Water conservation and intertemporal choice

To submit a proposal for consideration for this special series, submit an abstract (250 words maximum) that outlines the central thesis and arguments by September 26, 2014.

Submissions can be made through the journal’s standard web portal entrance ( Please indicate that the submission is for the “Council of Psychological Advisers” series.

We will select approximately 10 abstracts and invite these authors to submit a full piece. The final pieces will be brief (1000-1500 words maximum) and can even use bullet points. (Think of these as actual brief memos – the goal is to make them short, punchy, and accessible.)

Abstracts are due by September 26, 2014, and you will be notified approximately two weeks later if you are invited for a full submission. The completed piece will be due by December 1, 2014. (Note that this is a hard deadline because all memos will be published in the same issue.)

A few tips to keep in mind: the memos should be based on reliable, established findings, be written from a nonpartisan view, and be pitched for a broad audience of both academics and policymakers (not colleagues in your subfield).

Please direct questions to Bethany Teachman ( and Michael Norton (, co-editors of the series.

We look forward to seeing your submissions!

Bethany Teachman, Associate Editor

Michael Norton, Guest Editor

Barbara Spellman, Editor

Perspectives on Psychological Science

Cass Sunstein's List of Freedom-Preserving Tools (or “Nudges”)

(1) default rules (eg, auto-enrollment in programs, including education, health, savings)

(2) simplification and easing of current requirements (in part to promote take-up)

(3) required active choosing (requiring people to make an explicit choice)

(4) prompted choice (people are asked a question without having to answer)

(5) simplified active choosing (where people are asked whether they want to choose or instead to rely on a default rule)

(6) enhanced or influenced active choosing (eg, asking people to choose but using order effects or loss aversion to influence choices; alternatively, enlisting authority to influence people)

(7) efforts to make contexts or policies easily navigable, with pointers and guides (cf. GPS)

(8) reminders or “accessible counts and accounts” (eg, by email or text message, as for overdue bills; could be personalized; reminder apps; health-related wristbands, watches, or apps)

(9) priming (perhaps by emphasizing an relevant feature of the situation, such as its effect on people’s future selves, or an aspect of people’s identity, such as their inclination to be honest)

(10) eliciting implementation intentions or commitments (“do you plan to vote?”)

(11) anchoring (starting with certain figures, eg, “do you want to give $200 to this charity”?)

(12) uses of social norms (emphasizing what most people do, eg, “most people plan to vote” or “most people pay their taxes on time” or “most people are eating healthy these days”)

(13) order effects (what people see 1st on a website or in a room; asking people to sign forms on first page)

(14) enlisting loss aversion (“you will lose $X if you do not use energy conservation techniques,” or alternatively, and a bit beyond a nudge, a small tax, eg 5-cent tax for plastic bags)

(15) increases in ease/convenience (e.g., making low-cost options or healthy foods visible)

(16) framing (“90 percent fat-free” vs. “10 percent fat”) (loss frame vs. gain frame)

(17) disclosure (as in calorie counts or traffic lights systems for food)

(18) warnings, graphic or otherwise (as for cigarettes; might counteract optimistic bias)

(19) literal or figurative “speed bumps” or cooling off periods (as for waiving rights)

(20) formal precommitment strategies (as in Save More Tomorrow)

(21) automatic enrollment with precommitment (auto-enrollment in Save More Tomorrow)

(22) visual effects, colors, picture, signs, noises, fonts (eg, to promote highway safety or attention to one’s future self, as in “virtual aging” through online programs)

(23) plain language; decreasing vagueness and ambiguity (“Plate, not Pyramid”)

(24) efforts to attract or reduce attention, including through drawing attention to certain product attributes or through product placement (for example, through cafeteria design)

(25) using moral suasion, increasing fun, or triggering a sense of responsibility

(26) checklists (as for doctors or administrators)

(27) paperwork reduction (including prepopulation or elimination of forms)

(28) giving comparative information (to overcome “comparison friction”)

(29) informing people of nature and consequences of their own past choices (“midata”)

(30) joint rather than separate evaluation of goods/people (might reduce discrimination) (31) structuring choices (as through pointers or eliminating rarely chosen options)

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