MIT Press authors Cass Sunstein, Elspeth Kirkman, and Michael Hallsworth discuss why behavioral insights are important to study and understand during a pivotal year
How much information is too much? Do we need to know how many calories are in the giant vat of popcorn that we bought on our way into the movie theater? Do we want to know if we are genetically predisposed to a certain disease? Can we do anything useful with next week’s weather forecast for Paris if we are not in Paris? In Too Much Information, Cass Sunstein examines the effects of information on our lives. Policymakers emphasize “the right to know,” but Sunstein takes a different perspective, arguing that the focus should be on human well-being and what information contributes to it. Government should require companies, employers, hospitals, and others to disclose information not because of a general “right to know” but when the information in question would significantly improve people’s lives.
Our behavior is strongly influenced by factors that lie outside our conscious awareness, although we tend to underestimate the power of this “automatic” side of our behavior. As a result, governments make ineffective policies, businesses create bad products, and individuals make unrealistic plans. In contrast, the behavioral insights approach applies evidence about actual human behavior—rather than assumptions about it—to practical problems. This volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, written by two leading experts in the field, offers an accessible introduction to behavioral insights, describing core features, origins, and practical examples.
About the authors
Cass R. Sunstein is Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School and Chair of a WHO advisory group on behavioral science and health. He was Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration. He is the author of The Cost-Benefit Revolution, How Change Happens, Too Much Information (all three published by the MIT Press), Nudge (with Richard H. Thaler), and other books.
Elspeth Kirkman founded BIT’s North American office before returning to the UK to run the organization’s social policy portfolio out of London. She has taught behavioral insights courses at Harvard and Warwick Universities and is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King’s College London.
Michael Hallsworth, PhD, is Managing Director of the Behavioral Insights Team (BIT) North America. He has held positions at Columbia University and Imperial College London.