top of page
  • Writer's pictureDr. Ja-Nae Duane

Dark Nudges

Man on computer dark design nudges
Image generated by Revolution Factory using MidJourney

* Have you ever seen a sale online for a product, decided to click on that product, and when you got to the checkout page, the price seemed to change with no reason why it was different from when you first saw it advertised?

* Have you recently been told to accept except the default cookies of a website, but when you try to change the preferences, it is unclear what to do?

* Have you ever looked something up on Google and then ads for relative content that keeps following you around the internet, including into your Facebook feed.

These are three examples of dark nudges. Dark nudges are a subset of digital nudges. They are instances that incite to incite action by a user using technological design elements and/or data that may deceive, coerce, confuse or manipulate the user. Nudges create minor changes to an environment (digital or otherwise) as a way to guide individuals towards a predefined choice usually defined by whoever designed the nudge (Thaler & Sunstein, 2009). In their original concept, Nudges were meant to maintain freedom of choice or “libertarian paternalism.” However, as nudges have moved online, the concept of libertarian paternalism has become nothing more than a false promise from those who nudge individuals. Sunstein (2015) argues that there is no way to maintain the freedom of choice because the nature of digital environments, such as your Instagram feed or your shopping experience on Amazon, is inherently designed to guide your choices.

What makes dark nudges so dangerous is that 1) you might not see them (may use big data), and 2) nudges are designed to overload the critical thinking system of your brain to trigger an automated response. This is usually done by combining common digital nudges with ones that may manipulate, confuse, or coercive an individual to make a decision that may not be in their best interest.

Why am I telling you this?

I have been spending much of my time as a researcher focused on digital nudges and dark nudges. However, there is much that we do not know yet regarding the long-term cognitive effects that they may have on us.

What can you do about it?

Recently, Consumer Reports has begun collecting tips from users so that they can start to advocate for individuals’ digital rights. If you come across a sketchy design pattern or dark nudge, report it:

To learn more about dark design and digital nudges, follow this link for further research. Feel free to contact me and my team to discuss strategies for identifying patterns that impact your organization's systems and customers.

bottom of page