Immediate backfire? Nudging sustainable food choices and psychological reactance

Sanchayan Banerjee*, Matteo M. Galizzi, Peter John, Susana Mourato

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Nudging people towards sustainable diets can help mitigate agricultural emissions. Recent debate suggests “nudges” can have heterogeneous treatment effects in the population, including some backfire effects. In this paper, we present experimental evidence on backfiring effects to a nudge, after people pledge for sustainable food choices. The backfiring effect is driven by people's short-term intention to eat sustainably. Specifically, we compare a purely reflective tool, the “think”, versus a hybrid “nudge-think” tool, “nudge+”, in a group of 611 participants in the United Kingdom. While the think prompted people to first reflect on a green pledge and then choose an appropriate nudge to comply with their pledge, the nudge+ altered this think by proposing a green default to people who took the pledge. In both experimental conditions, participants self-reported their short- and long-term intentions to eat sustainably. We do not find any evidence of heterogeneous treatment effects by unconditional intentions of participants. Yet nudging people, who already intend to eat sustainably in the short-term, after they have taken the pledge, leads to a backfire. This fades out when we control for people's overall longer-term intentions. Our results suggest that policymakers should not be deterred by initial reactance to behavioural policies if such effects are driven by people's short-term intentions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104923
Early online date24 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023


  • Backfire
  • Nudge
  • Nudge+
  • Reflection
  • Think


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