Matroesjka dolls

Policymakers throughout the world want to enable people to make the right choices in a world which offers ever more choice. But individuals choose less rationally than is assumed. This, combined with new psychological insights which come down to the fact that the citizen/consumer can be readily steered, even without financial incentives and/or orders or prohibitions, has led to the development of what has come to be termed ‘libertarian paternalism’ in the international scientific literature. This type of steering can be used to serve the enlightened self-interest of the citizen, but can also turn into manipulation.

Rational individual

The modern view of the citizen is of a rational individual, who will make the optimum choice if he or she is well informed, if markets function properly and if there is a level playing field. This rational, calculating citizen is taken as a given and as a starting point, which is why policymakers, including in the Netherlands, argue in favour of transparency and provision of information, competition and the creation of a level playing field. Examples are the warning texts on cigarette packs and in loan adverts, the setting up of a competition authority, consumer authority and regulators to oversee market forces, and the increased role of the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets in regulating the conduct of financial firms.

Human decider

But how do people really choose from the many possibilities they are faced with, day in, day out? The WRR has studied this question, together with leading Dutch scientists. The study findings are brought together in the WRR Investigation De menselijke beslisser (‘The human decider’). Scientists from a range of disciplines present a clear overview of the latest insights into human choice behaviour. In doing so, they explore in detail the major influence of the setting and the role of the subconscious. The latest insights from neurobiology are also covered.