The impact of one nudge in a company restaurant on the experienced autonomy of employees

  • A. Vugts
  • E. de Vet
  • M. Verweij
  • M. van den Hoven


Nudging is considered an innovative approach for public health promotion. However, nudging has been criticized for being too manipulative; steering people in directions they might not have chosen themselves. One of the biggest concerns about nudge interventions is that they threaten personal autonomy. In earlier research (systematic review of reasons) we identified three conceptualisations of autonomy that are used in discussions on the ethics of nudging; freedom of choice, agency and self-constitution. In this experiment we wanted to empirically investigate the effect of one nudge (effort) on these three conceptualisations of autonomy. We constructed a questionnaire inspired by existing and validated autonomy questionnaires that fitted best with our earlier identified conceptualisations of autonomy; the Self-Determination Scale, the Perceived Competence Scale and the Index of Autonomous Functioning Scale. A repeated measures experiment was conducted at a company restaurant. The experiment consisted of three phases (of 2 weeks each); 1) a control phase (N=218), where no changes to the restaurant were made 2) a nudge phase (N=240), where one nudge (changing the size of the spoon for the potato dishes) was implemented in the restaurant and 3) a nudge + awareness phase (N=257), were the use of the nudge continued with the addition of an information sign. After each phase the autonomy questionnaire was administered. We also assessed the effectiveness of the nudge with the help of cash register data and weight of the products. Very preliminary results show no significant effect of the nudge on the experienced autonomy of the employees.
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