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Special Report: Persuasion

We humans — if only we acted in our own self-interest more often, how much better our lives would be. But frequently, we undermine ourselves — and persuading us to change our ways is far from simple, as psychologists, public health workers (and our friends) know only too well. Rarely does simply educating people about the facts help them make better decisions. Persuasion takes something more.

In a special collection we explore what’s known about the complex art of persuasion, including the nuances and pitfalls. A feature explores the latest on a tool known as nudging: working with, not against, irrationalities in human cognition for the greater good. Another dissects an audacious attempt by one nation to change the health habits of its entire population. A comic looks at how and why attitudes about climate change became so entrenched and partisan. And in interviews with scholars, we explore the forces of peer pressure, ways to counteract the powerful persuasive tactics of marketers, and the spectrum of persuasive tools — from education to laws — used in public health interventions.

Together, our stories describe how the science of human behavior underlies effective persuasion in a broad array of scenarios. Please enjoy.

Finland’s bold push to change the heart health of a nation

Beginning in its bleak borderlands, the country launched an official — and broadly influential — effort to improve food and lifestyle choices, using everything from cozy fireside chats and reality TV shows to laws and incentives.

The anti-ads

Countermarketing succeeds by exposing the motives behind the advertising of unhealthy products. It worked for teen smoking — could it do the same for junk food?

Feeling the pressure

How we want to be perceived influences how we act, and that presents persuasion opportunities. But the social factors involved are not easy to unravel.

In promoting health, when to tiptoe — and when to stomp?

Inform, incentivize, legislate: There’s a ladder of escalating approaches for changing citizens’ behavior — and nudges for every rung

Unpersuasive: Why arguing about climate change often doesn’t work

COMIC: In the US, where political parties have increasingly staked claims on one side of the issue or the other, beliefs may be more about belonging than facts

Nudging grows up (and now has a government job)

Ten years after an influential book proposed ways to work with — not against — the irrationalities of human decision-making, practitioners have refined and broadened this gentle tool of persuasion

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