Review of Behavioral Economics > Vol 10 > Issue 2

Behavioral Public Policy and Well-Being: Towards a Normative Demarcation of Nudges and Sludges

Alejandro Hortal, Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, University of North Carolina Greensboro, USA, , Luis Enrique Segoviano Contreras, Facultad de Contaduría y Administración, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico,
Suggested Citation
Alejandro Hortal and Luis Enrique Segoviano Contreras (2023), "Behavioral Public Policy and Well-Being: Towards a Normative Demarcation of Nudges and Sludges", Review of Behavioral Economics: Vol. 10: No. 2, pp 57-76.

Publication Date: 07 Jun 2023
© 2023 A. Hortal and L. E. S. Contreras
Behavioral economics,  Bounded rationality,  Biases,  Procedural rationality,  Behavioral decision making,  Public policy
JEL Codes: D9, D04, D81, L38
Nudgesludgewell-beingdemarcationevidence-based policies


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In this article:
1. Introduction: The Problematic Definition of Nudge and Sludge 
2. The implicit Normative Approach 
3. Limitations of the Non-normative Solution: Symmetry and other Factors 
4. The Epistemological Role of Evidence in defining Nudges and Sludges 
5. Towards a New Evidence-Based Normative Taxonomy 
6. Concluding Remarks 


Nudging and sludging are forms of choice architecture that shape behavior. While it is generally believed that nudging should improve well-being and sludging should decrease it, there has been debate about how to distinguish between the two. Some have suggested that the difference lies in the ease with which behaviors are facilitated or hindered, but this criterion does not consider the normative distinction (nudges have a positive connotation and sludges a negative one) or the impact on well-being. This paper proposes a normative approach to defining nudging and sludging that takes into account both well-being and the principle of autonomy. According to our proposal, the concept of nudging should involve interventions that aim to increase well-being while respecting individuals’ freedom of choice, while sludging involves interventions that decrease well-being while also respecting autonomy, whether intentionally or unintentionally.