On the Rise of the Psychological State
The study of human behaviour, and how it can be shaped, lies at the heart of myriad academic disciplines and applied sciences. Economics, sociology, political science, psychology, neuroscience, geography, anthropology, law, performance studies, philosophy, cognitive design and engineering, and biology have all, to admittedly varying degrees, explored the causes of human conduct and how it can be changed. While the accumulated wisdom of these collective arts and sciences of behaviour is germane to the pursuits of this volume, our concerns are more specific. This book critically analyses an emerging approach to behavioural government. This is an approach that has risen to prominence over the last 20 years. Inspired by developments in microeconomics and psychology, it has subtly insinuated itself in public policy and state strategy throughout large parts of the world. Although it goes by many names (including ‘the behaviour change agenda’, libertarian (or soft) paternalism, and intuitive judgement theory), and employs a wide range of techniques (including cognitive design, choice editing, default setting, anchoring, peer-to-peer pressure, and norm formation), it is bound together by a particular understanding of the human condition. This is a vision of the subject that questions the ‘standard economic model’ of motivation and decision making and draws attention to the irrational constitution of human life.
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