Actual and perceived polarisation in people’s opinions on behavioural policy interventions

PsychologyPolitical Science
DOI: 10.18258/27553
Raised of $365 Goal
Funded on 9/04/22
Successfully Funded
  • $370
  • 101%
  • Funded
    on 9/04/22

About This Project

Behavioural policy interventions (BPIs), designed to influence people's behaviour without introducing mandates, are being adopted in increasingly polarised environments worldwide. Even though BPIs are not polarising per se, political disagreements can emerge if they are discussed alongside political cues. Across different countries and samples, this project examines how different communication strategies affect support for BPIs, and the tendency to (mis)perceive polarisation in this domain.

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What is the context of this research?

Insights from behavioural sciences have been increasingly used to inform policies in a variety of domains (e.g., health, finance). In practice, behavioural policy interventions (BPIs) commonly involve altering features of the physical or social environment to steer individuals towards desirable behaviours and outcomes, whilst maintaining their freedom of choice.

Even though political ideology is not predictive of support for BPIs, partisan nudge bias is a phenomenon where people approved of BPIs more when these were paired with political objectives or sponsors that matched people’s political affiliation. Thus, even though BPIs do not seem to be polarising per se, they can easily become an area of polarisation when political information is simultaneously available.

What is the significance of this project?

This project will help us understand how both laypeople's and policymakers’ evaluations of and predictions concerning behavioural policy interventions (BPIs) can be skewed by their own political preferences.

In addition to expanding previous work on partisan nudge bias to the context of Slovenia and the UK, this project will address three significant gaps in the literature. First, it will help clarify how BPIs should be introduced to and discussed with the public to prevent them from falling prey to politicisation. Second, it will outline the differences between actual and perceived polarisation in the domain of BPIs. Finally, it will address the question of whether policymakers are also likely to (mis)perceive polarisation in the domain of BPIs despite their expertise.

What are the goals of the project?

This project examines whether people display partisan nudge bias when evaluating behavioural policy interventions (BPIs) in two European countries (Slovenia and the UK) and whether its magnitude depends on how BPIs are communicated - in a politically neutral way or alongside different political information.

In addition to examining people's own evaluation of BPIs, this project investigates whether people expect members of other political groups in society to show partisan nudge bias when evaluating BPIs (perceived partisan nudge bias), which will help us understand how perceived political animosity might lead to perceptions of disagreement in a novel domain. In total, this project involves two pilot (N = 50, completed) and two main studies (N = 500). More details can be found here.


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Prizes for participants:

Since this is an independent project conducted by a group of undergraduate, master’s, and PhD students as a part of the Junior Researcher Programme, it is not externally funded. Thus, the research team decided to use Experiment to raise funds in order to be able to offer participants small prizes as a “thank you” for their participation. In each of the two countries (Slovenia and the UK), upon completing our ten-minute survey, participants will be entered into a prize draw for one of multiple $20 prizes.

Platform fee:

Experiment charges an 8% platform fee plus a 3-5% payment processing fee (please see the researcher guide).

Endorsed by

This project touches on a extremely valuable topic at a critical moment for societies around the world. By involving early career researchers, students, and young professionals, it doubles as an opportunity to build meaningful opportunities for the next generation of social scientists. Any support they receive will be put to immediate, meaningful use.

Project Timeline

This research project was launched in July 2021 and is expected to be completed by February 2023. More information on the timeline and the project itself can be found in the infographic on the right side and in our Open Science Framework pre-registration.

Project breakdown

1) Pilot 1 (N = 50 in each country, completed)

2) Pilot 2 (N = 50 in each country, completed)

3) Study 1 (N = 500 in each country, sample of the general public)

4) Study 2 (N = 200 in each country, sample of policymakers)

Jul 11, 2021

The research team participated in the first event of the Junior Researcher Programme (jSchool) and designed the project.

Oct 08, 2021

Ethics applications at the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia) and the University of Stirling (UK) were approved.

Dec 12, 2021

The study design and hypotheses were pre-registered.

Jan 10, 2022

The research team applied for a student grant awarded by the Association for Psychological Science (APS).

Feb 07, 2022

A literature review and the first pilot study were conducted to identify the most polarising political goals on the conservative vs. liberal spectrum in Slovenia and the UK.

Meet the Team

Jelka Stojanov
Jelka Stojanov
Supervisor, DPhil (PhD) Candidate in Experimental Psychology


University of Oxford, United Kingdom
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Mathias Houe Andersen
Mathias Houe Andersen
OSF & Data Analysis Responsible, MSc Student in Psychology


Aarhus University, Denmark
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Žiga Mekiš Recek
Žiga Mekiš Recek
OSF & Data Analysis Responsible, BSc Student in Psychology


University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
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Ali Hajian
Ali Hajian
Study Design Responsible, BSc Student in Psychology


University of Tehran, Iran
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Alexandra Symeonidou
Alexandra Symeonidou
Communications Officer, MSc Student in Clinical Psychology


Leiden University, Netherlands
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Tamara Arh
Tamara Arh
Project Coordinator, MSc in Health and Social Psychology
Ashleigh Messenger
Ashleigh Messenger
Project Coordinator, PhD Candidate in Psychology


University of Stirling, United Kingdom
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Team Bio

Our team consists of seven students from six countries who are a part of the Junior Researcher Programme. As a team, we care deeply about research that not only advances psychological science but also yields insights that could be helpful to practitioners and policymakers. We value transparency, openness, and reproducibility and these values guide every step of our research. Finally, we strive to create a friendly environment for learning and growth where all perspectives are welcome.

Jelka Stojanov

Jelka received her BA in Psychology from the University of Belgrade (Serbia) and is currently completing a DPhil (PhD) in Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford (UK). Her PhD research aims to understand the role of emotions in the context of intergroup relations and conflict, with a particular focus on empathy. Beyond her doctoral work, Jelka has worked in the non-governmental sector in Serbia and is a co-founder of the FutureGov Fellowship, a four-month development programme offering aspiring policy practitioners a pathway into the field of public sector innovation.

Mathias Houe Andersen

Mathias is a final-year undergraduate student in Psychology at Aarhus University (Denmark). Beyond his coursework, Mathias is instructing different courses spanning social, personality, cognitive and developmental psychology. Finally, he has an immense interest in cognitive research paradigms and data analysis which has motivated him to actively pursue and embrace opportunities to get involved in various research projects.

Žiga Mekiš Recek

Žiga is a final-year undergraduate student in Psychology at the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia). His academic interests lie primarily in the fields of cognitive and social psychology. Additionally, his curiosity about psychological research methods has encouraged him to take up the position of research methods TA at his department. Furthermore, Žiga's interests have led him to get involved in research projects focusing on decision-making and applications of psychological insights to policymaking.

Ali Hajian

Ali is a third-year undergraduate student in Psychology at the University of Tehran (Iran). Mainly interested in social psychology and having previously worked in several non-governmental organisations in Iran, he hopes to learn more about how behavioural insights can facilitate the way people come together and collaborate. As such collaborations are heavily mediated by various social factors such as identity, meta-beliefs, and the level of intra- and intercultural differences, Ali believes social psychology will continue to shape effective policymaking in the future. Finally, he also has an interest in individual-level psychology, primarily personality, clinical, and cognitive psychology.

Alexandra Symeonidou

Alexandra received her BSc in Psychology from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (Greece) and is currently an MSc student in Clinical Psychology at Leiden University (Netherlands). Her academic interests lie in the fields of clinical and counselling psychology alongside social, political, and community psychology. Beyond her coursework, Alexandra has interned in multiple mental health institutions where she gained experience with different psychotherapy approaches and provided psychological support to various populations. Parallelly, her interest in social, political, and community psychology research and applications has motivated her to actively pursue relevant research opportunities.

Tamara Arh

Tamara received her BSc in Biopsychology from UP Famnit (Slovenia) and her MSc in Health & Social Psychology at Maastricht University (Netherlands). Her main interests and work lie at the intersection of social and political psychology and public health. Being a human rights activist and educator, Tamara is actively exploring the psychological aspects of human rights violations and aims to use these insights to advance relevant policies.

Ashleigh Messenger

Ashleigh received her BSc (Hons) in Psychology from the University of Liverpool (UK) and her MSc in Psychological Research Methods from the University of Stirling (UK). She is due to start her PhD in Psychology at the University of Stirling in September 2022. She has keen interests in evolutionary psychology, scientific methodology, and science communication. Ashleigh’s PhD aims to study mate choice in captive animals and apply these findings to improve conservation efforts. Outside of her studies, Ashleigh has taught modules covering topics such as clinical and health psychology, social psychology, and brain and behaviour.

Additional Information

Suggested literature:

Dai, H., Saccardo, S., Han, M. A., Roh, L., Raja, N., Vangala, S., Modi, H., Pandya, S., Sloyan, M., & Croymans, D. M. (2021). Behavioural nudges increase COVID-19 vaccinations. Nature, 597(7876), 404–409.

Druckman, J. N., Klar, S., Krupnikov, Y., Levendusky, M., & Ryan, J. B. (2021). Affective polarization, local contexts and public opinion in America. Nature Human Behaviour, 5(1), 28–38.

Enders, A. M., & Armaly, M. T. (2019). The differential effects of actual and perceived polarization. Political Behavior, 41(3), 815–839.

Jarke, H., Ruggeri, K., & Varaday, G. (2020). Applying behavioural insights to policy: From evidence to practice.

Jung, J. Y., & Mellers, B. A. (2016). American attitudes toward nudges. Judgment and Decision Making, 11(1), 62-74.

Leets, L., Sprenger, A., Hartman, R., Kohn, N., Simon Thomas, J., Vu, C., Aguirre, S., & Wijesinghe, S. (2020). Effectiveness of nudges on small business tax compliance behavior. Journal of Behavioral Public Administration, 3(2).

Loibl, C., Sunstein, C. R., Rauber, J., & Reisch, L. A. (2018). Which Europeans like nudges? Approval and controversy in four European countries. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 52(3), 655–688.

Marcano-Olivier, M., Pearson, R., Ruparell, A., Horne, P. J., Viktor, S., & Erjavec, M. (2019). A low-cost behavioural nudge and choice architecture intervention targeting school lunches increases children’s consumption of fruit: A cluster randomised trial. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 16(1), 1-9.

OECD. (2017). Behavioural insights and public policy: Lessons from around the world. OECD Publishing.

Reisch, L. A., & Sunstein, C. R. (2016). Do Europeans like nudges?. Judgment and Decision Making, 11(4), 310-325.

Tannenbaum, D., Fox, C. R., & Rogers, T. (2017). On the misplaced politics of behavioural policy interventions. Nature Human Behaviour, 1(7), 1–7.

Thaler, R., & Sunstein, C. R. (2008). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Yale University Press.

Westfall, J., Van Boven, L., Chambers, J. R., & Judd, C. M. (2015). Perceiving political polarization in the United States: Party identity strength and attitude extremity exacerbate the perceived partisan divide. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 10(2), 145–158.

Project Backers

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  • 101%Funded
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  • $46.25Average Donation
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