Responsible after a nudge?

From push to nudge. Can you be held responsible for choices that have been guided by a nudge?
PhD Defense

29 August 2016 12:57

(updated: 29 August 2016 13:04)

Responsible after a nudge?

On Friday 9 September 2016 Sebastian Fest will hold a trial lecture on a prescribed topic and defend his thesis for the PhD degree at NHH.

Prescribed topic for the trial lecture:

Behavioral Economics and the Design of Social Policies

Trial lecture:

10:15 in Aud. Karl BorchNHH

Title of the thesis:

Choice and Attitudes towards Inequality


Previous literature has studied the relevance that choices have for personal responsibility and the willingness to accept economic inequalities in choice environments in which people can be said to have clearly made an autonomous choice and are ex ante causally responsible for the outcome of their choices. However, in many economic situations that are of great relevance to the present inequality debate these features are typically not in place.

For example, in the health domain, where sometimes all available choices entail the acceptance of high risks, the link between choice and causal responsibility is very vague. Furthermore, in labor markets in which workers are forced to choose hazardous jobs due to the lack of acceptable alternatives, the notion of personal responsibility in case of a bad outcome is less obvious. The latter is also less clear in many social policy areas in which people are not free from the influence of others when choosing such that the autonomy of making choices, and thus personal responsibility, becomes questionable.

This doctoral thesis studies the notion of personal responsibility in situations in which the above mentioned concerns play an important role. Specifically, by using a series of incentivized economic experiments, this thesis investigates people's behavior towards inequality that results from individual choices in environments in which people either cannot be said to be causally responsible for the consequences of their choices or where their choices have been intentionally influenced by others. In three chapters, different issues are considered.

The first chapter explores whether people are held responsible for outcomes resulting from nominal or forced choices. The second chapter investigates whether people are held less responsible for choices that have been guided by a nudge in the form of a default or an explicit recommendation. In the third chapter, the research question is again personal responsibility and defaults, in particular, how people who deviate from the default position rather than stick to it are hold personally responsible for the outcome of their choice.


12:15 in Aud Karl Borch, NHH


Professor Alexander W. Cappelen, Department of Economics, NHH

Members of the evaluation committee:

Professor Kjetil Bjorvatn (leader of the committee), Department of Economics, NHH
Assistant Professor Michal Bauer, Charles University Praha
Senior lecturer Ismael Rodriguez-Lara, Middelsex University

The trial lecture and thesis defence will be open to the public. Copies of the thesis will be available from