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Nudge, nudge, wink wink… How the Government wants to change the way we think

The public will have "social norms" heavily emphasised to them in an attempt to increase healthy eating, voluntary work and tax gathering. Appeals will be made to "egotism" in a bid to foster individual support for the Big Society, while much greater use will be made of default options to select benevolent outcomes for passive citizens – exemplified by the organ donation scheme.

A clue to the new approach came early in the life of the Coalition Government, in a sentence from its May agreement: "Our Government will be a much smarter one, shunning the bureaucratic levers of the past and finding intelligent ways to encourage, support and enable people to make better choices for themselves," it read.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, established the seven-strong unit in July, since when the Government has declined to divulge all its members and the full extent of its work. However, The Independent has learnt its guiding principles and some of the projects that have used its favoured techniques.

One experiment involved Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) secretly changing the wording of tens of thousands of tax letters, leading to the collection of an extra £200m in income tax.

Other ideas tried elsewhere that have been studied by the unit include reducing recidivism by changing public perception of ex-prisoners, and cutting health costs by encouraging relatives to look after family members in "patient hotels".

The unit draws inspiration from the Chicago University professor Richard H Thaler and his colleague Cass Sunstein, whose book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness is required reading for Conservative frontbenchers.

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Do you want to Nudge? If so, I recommend reading Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
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