‘Nudging’ symbolizes the widespread idea that if people are only provided with the ‘right’ options and contextual arrangements, they will start consuming sustainably. Opposite to this individual-centered, top-down approach stand observations highlighting the ‘contagiousness’ of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of reference groups or persons present in a decision-context. Tying in these two lines, this paper argues that nudging may sound promising and easily applicable, yet the social dynamics occurring around it can easily distort or nullify its effects. This argument stems from empirical evidence gained in an exploratory observation study conducted in a Swedish cafeteria (N = 1073), which included a ‘nudging’ treatment. In the study, people in groups almost unanimously all chose the same options. After rearranging the choice architecture to make a potentially sustainable choice easier, people stuck to this mimicking behavior—while turning to choose more the non-intended option than before. A critical reflection of extant literature leads to the conclusion that the tendency to mimic each other (unconsciously) is so strong that attempts to nudge people towards certain choices appear overwhelmed. Actions become ‘contagious’; so, if only some people stick to their (consumption) habits, it may be hard to induce more sustainable behaviors through softly changing choice architectures.
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