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Addressing inequalities with behavioral science: a taxonomy of positive deviance

In: Research Handbook on Nudges and Society


  • Kai Ruggeri
  • Valentina Cafarelli


Behavioral scientists are increasingly interested in solving major social issues like economic inequality. Unfortunately, results of interventions aimed specifically at supporting the most vulnerable or excluded in society have been disappointing or even harmful. Despite those setbacks, the accumulation of evidence from nudges, boosts, and other behavioral interventions aimed at various forms of inequality provides considerable insight into possible ways forward. This chapter focuses on one proposed framework that has only recently received consideration, known as positive deviance. Under positive deviance approaches, we observe individuals who faced particularly disadvantaged circumstances yet experienced outcomes above the average of the population (or at least substantively better than the norm for their group). For example, individuals born into low-income homes that have above-average wealth as adults or low-income adults that consistently get flu shots every year. Both of those outcomes tend to be uncommon in these communities. However, there is currently no standardized approach within behavioral sciences to classify a positive deviant nor semantics around what qualifies as positive deviance generally or how to leverage such behaviors as an intervention tool. This chapter presents a taxonomy of definitions, thresholds, domains, behaviors, and outcomes for behavioral scientists to use in addressing inequalities for the good of entire populations.

Suggested Citation

  • Kai Ruggeri & Valentina Cafarelli, 2023. "Addressing inequalities with behavioral science: a taxonomy of positive deviance," Chapters, in: Cass R. Sunstein & Lucia A. Reisch (ed.), Research Handbook on Nudges and Society, chapter 14, pages 242-262, Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • Handle: RePEc:elg:eechap:22035_14

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