DissertationPossibilities, boundaries, and consequences of choice architecture: The case of green defaults and environmental attitudes

Release date: 
August 2016

University Library Heidelberg

In this publication-based dissertation, I focus on changes in the decision environment as a way to address urgent problems originating in human behavior and decision making. Unsustainable consumption patterns and their influence on climate change serve as the primary example for this approach. In three original publications and a broader framework, I introduce, test, and evaluate the concept that has recently been popularized as “nudges” (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). Nudges are intentional changes to the decision environment or “choice architecture” based on psychological insights and aiming at changes in decision making and behavior.

The first paper contributes to conceptual sharpening of nudges and choice architectures by a bottom-up identification of nine recurring and distinct techniques used to foster behavior change. In Papers 2 and 3, I integrate situational and individual predictors of behavior in three experimental studies in the realm of environmental decision making. Pro-environmental behavior is predicted by green defaults (i.e., preselected environmentally-friendly options) and environmental attitudes measured with different scales. The results from bothexperimental papers support the conclusion that defaults and attitudes additively influence decision making without limiting each other’s impact.

These findings imply that defaults provide a suitable complement to other regulatory measures and environmental educational approaches but do not substitute them. The research program presented in these three papers is situated within different psychological research traditions such as bounded rationality, the heuristics and biases program, and advancements of behaviorism. Against this background, theoretical and practical policy implications are discussed.