Architecture of the mind and libertarian paternalism: is the reversibility of system 1 nudges likely to happen?

  • Riccardo VialeEmail author


The libertarian attribute of Thaler and Sunstein’s nudge theory (Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Yale University Press, New Haven, 2008) is one of the most important features for its candidature as a new model for public policy-making. It relies on the reversibility of choices made under the influence of nudging. Since the mind is articulated into two systems, the choice taken by System 1 is always reversible because it can be overridden by the deliberative and corrective role of System 2. This article does not aim to criticise the whole theory of nudge and neither to assess its practical efficacy as a policy-making tool. Rather it intends to show that there are doubts that the specific claim of reversibility is correct for a subset of nudges called “System 1 nudges” (Sunstein in The ethics of influence, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2016). And that therefore, in this case, the libertarian claim seems little justified. The thrust of my argument contests the truth of the main pillar of the libertarian claim, namely the dual-process theory of mind. I will show that even the minimal version of dual reasoning, namely the Type 1 and Type 2 processes proposed by Evans and Stanovich (Perspect Psychol Sci 8(3):223–241, 2013), is weakened by psychological and neural data.


Nudge Duality of mind Decoupling Autonomy Incubation Default mode network Public policy Libertarian paternalism 



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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Behavioral Insights Bicocca, Department of EconomicsUniversity of Milano BicoccaMilanItaly
  2. 2.Cognitive Insights Team, Herbert Simon SocietyCollegio Carlo AlbertoTurinItaly

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