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Nudge, nudge, wink, wink: How government psychological manipulation became the norm

Summarised by Centrist

Dr Gary Sidley uncovers how the UK government has normalised psychological manipulation through the ubiquitous use of behavioural science strategies, or “nudges.” 

These techniques, originally designed to subtly influence public behaviour through “fear inflation” have become pervasive across daily life, from health initiatives to public transport usage. 

The UK government’s Behavioural Insight Team (BIT) known as the “Nudge Unit” has been in operation since 2010. 

Thousands of ‘nudgers’ operate through various departments within the UK government, and the Government Communication Service, which includes over 7,000 professional communicators and its own Behavioural Science Team in the Cabinet Office.

The COVID pandemic saw the government intensify these efforts, employing scapegoating and shame tactics, such as the controversial “Look them in the eyes” campaign, to ensure compliance. 

While the UK model of nudging has gone global, the roots of this approach trace back to American scholars like BF Skinner, who pioneered behaviourism, and later figures like Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, who introduced behavioural economics. 

Sidley argues the normalisation of such manipulative tactics calls for a critical examination of their appropriateness in a democratic society.

“Is it ethically sound for our political elite to strategically inflict emotional discomfort on the populace as a means of encouraging the populace to adhere to their diktats?” he asks. 

Read more over at The Brownstone Institute

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