Nudge Theory: Background information when reading Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman X
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2017, 336 pages
    Jun 2018, 352 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Francesca Baker
Buy This Book

About this Book

Nudge Theory

This article relates to Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Print Review

In Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, the protagonist's lack of knowledge or understanding of social norms and conventions evokes sympathy, and leaves her lonely and isolated, at odds with the world. She expresses bafflement at many, and rightly so – they simply do not make sense. But social norms are not just cultural oddities and habits. They are powerful, can be both positive and negative – but are able to be changed. Governments and brands around the world are harnessing their potential for impact.

Nudge theory is a type of behavioral economics based on the idea that by creating situations and circumstances that make certain behavior and activity more attractive, individuals can be encouraged to change. In their 2008 book, Nudge – Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein state that patterns of action and behavior are better changed by improving the "choice architecture" surrounding it – the physical, psychological and social aspects that create the context in which people make choices. For example, having healthy food closer to the checkout makes it easier for individuals to choose those options.

Under the Obama administration the members of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Team at the White House were tasked with designing systems that helped alleviate some of the barriers individuals faced when engaging with social, political and economic issues. For example, implementing an "active choice" intervention, where individuals had a say in their pension contributions, helped increase retirement security. Reminder emails resulted in an almost 30% increase in student loan repayments. And paper wastage was reduced in companies by creating a pop-up message that would disappear if employees switched from single to double-sided printing.

Facilitating the creation of social norms is part of the World Health Organization's approach to challenging the practice of female genital mutilation in some African villages. According to WHO, a key factor leading to the abandonment of the practice was addressing collective rather than individual behaviours. Public condemnation and declarations against it were found to have significant symbolic value.

The Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute analyzed vast quantities of data to identify the tipping point at which a marginal belief becomes the majority opinion. At least 10% of people have to hold an opinion for it to have any chance of being adopted more widely. One of their studies shows that a small group can create change – as long as they are committed and consistent in their belief.

Money talks. General Electric wanted its employees to stop smoking and researchers ran a trial offering cash incentives to quit. Quitting for six months earned you $250 and quitting for a year, $400. The treatment group had three times the success rate of the control. Rates of prolonged abstinence at 15 or 18 months in the incentive group remained significantly higher than those in the control group. Even within the incentive group however, the cessation rate at 15 or 18 months was just 9.4%, as compared with 3.6% in the control group, which shows that even financial incentives can't be enough to make a person quit smoking.

Social norms can change lives – for the better. It's all a case of understanding psychology and the environment in which we operate, our responses to it, and how small shifts can create big results.

Filed under Society and Politics

Article by Francesca Baker

This "beyond the book article" relates to Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. It originally ran in June 2017 and has been updated for the June 2018 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Join Now!

Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: My Heart Underwater
    My Heart Underwater
    by Laurel Fantauzzo
    Corazon — Cory — Tagubio is a Filipina-American teenager living with her family in ...
  • Book Jacket: Black Sun
    Black Sun
    by Rebecca Roanhorse
    Reading the first book in a series is always difficult because readers know that, by definition, it ...
  • Book Jacket: Somewhere in the Unknown World
    Somewhere in the Unknown World
    by Kao Kalia Yang
    Resettled refugees are mostly invisible. Their needs are rarely publicized and their struggles are ...
  • Book Jacket: The Orchard
    The Orchard
    by David Hopen
    The protagonist of David Hopen's first novel, The Orchard, is 17-year-old Aryeh Eden, a Brooklyn boy...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    A Girl is A Body of Water
    by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

    A powerful portrait of a young Ugandan girl and her family.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Exiles
by Christina Baker Kline

The author of Orphan Train returns with an ambitious, emotionally resonant historical novel.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win This Book!
Win Jack

Return to Gilead with Jack, the instant New York Times bestseller

Enter to win Marilynne Robinson's latest novel in her classic series.



Solve this clue:

I G I O Ear A O T O

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.