Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Feb 27th 2015 ESRC Workshop on Biomarkers in Behavioural Science

This is the fifth Behavioural Science Workshop in a series of six that will take place in 2014/15. These workshops are funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The venue is the Court Room on the 4th Floor of the Cottrell Building at Stirling University

Increasingly detailed assessments of biological markers of human functioning are now an important component of large-scale government surveys in the social sciences (e.g. NCDS, Add Health). In contrast to measures of health perceptions, biological measures are cardinal in nature and attractive to economists as potential outcome measures, for instance in labour and health economics.  Yet, understanding of measures of inflammatory, metabolic, neuroendocrine and cardiovascular functioning which are commonly used in the medical community remains limited amongst many social scientists. To address this issue this workshop will include talks from researchers who are leading the integration of biological measures into economics and psychology. The workshop will address the structure of the primary biological measures examined in social surveys and the potential biological basis of economic decisions. 

Sign up to attend the workshop here.

The programme will be made available here in due course. 

Currently Confirmed Speakers 

Mr. Jovan Vojnovic (Stirling Behavioural Science Centre) 

Dr. Gabriella Conti (UCL) 

Professor Richard Layte (ESRI)

Professor Meena Kumari (Essex) 

Dr. Anna Phillips (Birmingham) 

Professor Ian Deary (Edinburgh) 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Mind, Society and Behaviour: new 236 page report from the World Bank

Christmas has come early for Behavioural Science nerds in the form of this 236 page report by the World Bank entitled "Mind, Society and Behaviour". This report will likely end up being a staple of reading lists in Behavioural Science masters programs everywhere. The overview and index are highlighted below:

Overview [p21-22]
"This Report aims to integrate recent findings on the psychological and social underpinnings of behavior to make them available for more systematic use by both researchers and practitioners in development communities. The Report draws on findings from many disciplines, including neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology, behavioral economics, sociology, political science, and anthropology. In ongoing research, these findings help explain decisions that individuals make in many aspects of development, including savings, investment, energy consumption, health, and child rearing. The findings also enhance the understanding of how collective behaviors - such as widespread trust or widespread corruption—develop and become entrenched in a society. The findings apply not only to individuals in developing countries but also to development professionals, who are themselves prone to error when decision-making contexts are complex.

From the hundreds of empirical papers on human decision making that form the basis of this Report, three principles stand out as providing the direction for new approaches to understanding behavior and designing and implementing development policy. First, people make most judgments and most choices automatically, not deliberatively: we call this “thinking automatically.” Second, how people act and think often depends on what others around them do and think: we call this “thinking socially.” Third, individuals in a given society share a common perspective on making sense of the world around them and understanding themselves: we call this “thinking with mental models.

The mind, society, and behavior framework points to new tools for achieving development objectives, as well as new means of increasing the effectiveness of existing interventions. It provides more entry points for policy and new tools that practitioners can draw on in their efforts to reduce poverty and increase shared prosperity. This Report discusses how taking the human factors more completely into account in decision making sheds light on a number of areas: the persistence of poverty, early childhood development, household finance, productivity, health, and climate change. The framework and many examples in the Report show how impediments to people’s ability to process information and the ways societies shape mindsets can be sources of development disadvantage but also can be changed."

Overview: Human decision making and development policy
5 Three principles of human decision making
13 Psychological and social perspectives on policy
18 The work of development professionals
21 References

24 Part 1: An expanded understanding of human behavior for economic development: A conceptual framework
25 Introduction
26 Chapter 1: Thinking automatically
26 Two systems of thinking
29 Biases in assessing information
34 Biases in assessing value
36 Choice architecture
37 Overcoming intention-action divides
38 Conclusion
38 Notes
39 References

42 Chapter 2: Thinking socially
43 Social preferences and their implications
49 The influence of social networks on individual decision making
51 The role of social norms in individual decision making
54 Conclusion
55 Notes
55 References
60 Spotlight 1: When corruption is the norm

62 Chapter 3: Thinking with mental models
63 Where mental models come from and why they matter
63 How mental models work and how we use them
65 The roots of mental models
67 The effects of making an identity salient
68 The staying power of mental models
70 Policies to improve the match of mental models with a decision context
72 Conclusion
72 Notes
73 References
76 Spotlight 2: Entertainment education

79 Part 2: Psychological and social perspectives on policy
80 Chapter 4: Poverty
81 Poverty consumes cognitive resources
84 Poverty creates poor frames
85 Social contexts of poverty can generate their own taxes
86 Implications for the design of antipoverty policies and programs
90 Looking ahead
91 References
94 Spotlight 3: How well do we understand the contexts of poverty?

98 Chapter 5: Early childhood development
99 Richer and poorer children differ greatly in school readiness
100 Children need multiple cognitive and noncognitive skills to succeed in school
101 Poverty in infancy and early childhood can impede early brain development
101 Parents are crucial in supporting the development of children’s capacities for learning
103 Parents’ beliefs and caregiving practices differ across groups, with consequences for children’s developmental outcomes
104 Designing interventions that focus on and improve parental competence
108 Conclusion
108 Notes
109 References

112 Chapter 6: Household finance
113 The human decision maker in finance
117 Policies to improve the quality of household financial decisions
123 Conclusion
123 Notes
123 References

128 Chapter 7: Productivity
129 Improving effort among employees
134 Recruiting high-performance employees
135 Improving the performance of small businesses
136 Increasing technology adoption in agriculture
139 Using these insights in policy design
140 Notes
140 References
144 Spotlight 4: Using ethnography to understand the workplace

146 Chapter 8: Health
146 Changing health behaviors in the face of psychological biases and social influences
149 Psychological and social approaches to changing health behavior
151 Improving follow-through and habit formation
153 Encouraging health care providers to do the right things for others
155 Conclusion
155 Notes
156 References

160 Chapter 9: Climate change
161 Cognitive obstacles inhibit action on climate change
167 Psychological and social insights for motivating conservation
171 Conclusion
171 Notes
171 References
176 Spotlight 5: Promoting water conservation in Colombia

179 Part 3: Improving the work of development professionals
180 Chapter 10: The biases of development professionals
181 Complexity
182 Confirmation bias
185 Sunk cost bias
186 The effects of context on judgment and decision making
189 Conclusion
190 Notes
190 References

192 Chapter 11: Adaptive design, adaptive interventions
194 Diagnosing psychological and social obstacles
195 Designing an intervention
198 Experimenting during implementation
199 Conclusion: Learning and adapting
199 References
202 Spotlight 6: Why should governments shape individual choices?

205 Index

Understanding Confidence Intervals with an interactive visualization (from rpsychologist)

Another beautiful piece of work by Kristoffer Magnusson, who has previously created visualizations to aid understanding of Cohen's d, statistical power and significance testing and correlations.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Research Assistant position in Behavioural Science Centre

Post Details

Full time, fixed term contract for 1 year 
Grade 6 (spine point 22) £24,775
Closing date: midnight on 1 February 2015

The Post

A highly motivated researcher with a strong background in psychology and/or economics is required to work on an ESRC funded project on self-control and health. This exciting ESRC Future Leaders project focuses on how childhood self-control contributes to patterns of health behaviour, health problems, social mobility, and health inequalities over the lifespan. The project lead is Dr. Michael Daly along with Professor Liam Delaney as internal collaborator and several international collaborators on this topic including Professor Roy Baumeister. 

This post will be based in the Behavioural Science Centre in the Stirling Management School. The Behavioural Science Centre is an interdisciplinary research centre which brings together approaches from psychology and economics to address key questions in society including how to better understand and foster health and well-being. Your primary responsibilities will involve assisting in data analysis and in the preparation of literature reviews in collaboration with the PI and internal and international collaborators. You will also be involved in the preparation of data access applications, preparing and distributing online surveys, and the preparation of presentations and dissemination of findings.

Applicants should have completed an honours degree or master’s degree in a relevant area. Expertise in analysis of large scale survey data or other complex datasets and evidence of strong academic writing skills would be an advantage.

Description of Duties

Job Purpose

To set up and run analyses on several existing data sources following pre-specified data protocols, with particular responsibility for data cleaning, coding, and management. In addition, be responsible for preparing literature reviews and distributing surveys to validate questionnaire items for this interdisciplinary project. This post represents an excellent opportunity for a talented and enthusiastic researcher to become embedded in a productive team and contribute to publications focused on how self-control may foster social mobility, health and well-being.

Description of Duties
Assist in data analysis of large scale population survey datasets.
Conduct literature reviews focused on key areas of the project.
Assist in development of a validation study to be conducted with teachers and parents.
Assist in development of external presentations of the research findings.
Assist in organising seminars and workshops relating to the project.
Assist in development of on-going funding applications to continue the project.
Assist in drafting and submission of journal articles relating to the findings.
Assist in reporting on the outcomes of the project.
Actively engage in the intellectual life of the Behavioural Science Centre including initiating journal clubs, making suggestions on the work of other researchers, participating in seminars and making suggestions for social media outputs.

Essential Criteria
An Honours degree, or equivalent professional qualification.
Strong intrinsic interest in research in a relevant area (e.g. Behavioural Science, Behavioural Medicine, Behavioural Economics, Health Economics)
High level proficiency in STATA and/or SPSS.
Ability and willingness to contribute to the intellectual life of the Behavioural Science Centre including participating in seminars, journal clubs, group discussions and related activity.
Excellent written and oral communication skills.
Ability to work individually and autonomously as well as potential to work as part of a team.
Ability to manage time and work to deadlines.
Commitment to academic research and professional development.

Desirable Criteria
Postgraduate training in Psychology or Economics with a strong emphasis on statistics.
Specific knowledge of techniques for multilevel and panel data analysis.
Existing experience directly in the area of statistical analysis of determinants of health and well-being.
Evidence of active engagement with the area of behavioural science including student publications, internship experience and social media activity.
Proven ability in preparing high quality original research papers for publication.
Experience of preparing research funding applications.

Apply for this position here.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

ESRC PhD Studentships Scottish Social Science

The deadline for applying for PhD funding from the ESRC is rapidly approaching. The link to apply to do it is here. For those wishing to apply to work with us in Stirling please see details of our current projects, publications and staff. Illustrative ongoing projects are below (with associated centre faculty in parentheses) but we welcome proposals from across our areas of expertise. We welcome applications from Economics, Advanced Quantitative Methods and Business/Management. We offer a PhD in Economics and a PhD in Behavioural Science both based in the Stirling School of Management. Those intending applying should get in touch with me as soon as possible. You should also check the residency requirements and other criteria to ensure you are eligible. 

Self-Control and Health (Michael Daly and Liam Delaney) 

Self-control enables people to delay gratification and control impulses. A strong capacity for self-control has been linked with nearly all aspects of healthy living: avoiding high fat and sugar foods, engaging in exercise, and staying clear of addictive substances. The proposed programme of research will provide scientific evidence detailing whether and how individual differences in childhood self-control contribute to the emergence of patterns of health behaviour and health problems over the lifespan. This project will capitalize on the existence of several large population-representative samples which track over 10,000 individuals for between 15 and 50 years with data recorded on multiple occasions from early life into adulthood. These incredible data resources include detailed measures of child temperament that will be used to gauge how childhood self-control shapes the uptake, maintenance and decline of smoking, drinking, physical activity, and substance use from adolescence through to middle age. Furthermore, this project will track how early life self-control links to later health outcomes (e.g. body mass index, biomarkers of inflammation and cardiovascular risk) and will begin to unpick the complex interrelationships between self-control, socioeconomic status, and the development of health.

The Rank Principle in Social and Cognitive Comparison (Alex Wood) 

In everyday life, attitudes are formed and decisions are made on the basis of judgements. Am I satisfied with my wage? Does the UK accept too many asylum seekers? What length of prison sentence is appropriate for a given crime? What is the appropriate and fair level of taxation? It has long been known that such judgements are, typically, highly relative. The judgement that is reached or the decision that is made may be strongly determined by the context of options that is presented. For example, individuals' opinions about their wages are determined by comparing their own wage with that of others around them - a reference group effect. People's opinions about levels of immigration or the "fair" level of taxation can be strongly influenced by the information they are given about immigration or taxation levels in other European countries. The proposed research will develop and test a new rank-based approach to everyday judgement and decision-making. According to this approach, decisions are influenced by the rank-ordered position of an option in a distribution. For example, most people think that there are more very wealthy people in the UK (e.g. earning more than 100K) than there really are. We have found that individuals' satisfaction with their income is determined by where they perceive themselves to be in this assumed wage distribution, rather than by their position in the true UK wage distribution. In this interdisciplinary project, we will extend existing rank-based models to judgements about a variety of socially and politically important quantities.

Well-Being, Decision-Making and Unemployment in Europe  (Liam Delaney and Michael Daly) 

The aim of this three year project is to develop and test a model of unemployment, taking into account interactions between unemployment, well-being and inter-temporal decision making. The project will focus in particular on youth unemployment. Youth unemployment rates across Europe are currently at alarmingly high rates and traditional employment activation models are having very little success in a context of sluggish labour demand. Understanding, how the current rates of unemployment will lead to long-term unemployment and scarring among young people in Europe and potential responses is a key task for research and policy. The project utilises existing secondary datasets, such as the European Social Survey (ESS) to examine the linkages between well-being, unemployment and decision-making from the disciplinary perspectives of economics, epidemiology and psychology.

Individual Differences in the Impact of Socio-Economic Events on Health and Well-Being (Alex Wood and Christopher Boyce) 

People's well-being, consisting of, for example, their health, happiness and overall satisfaction with life, is influenced by a wide variety of life events (e.g., income increases, marriage, and unemployment) as well as changes in the society in which they live (e.g., changes in national income and how equally that income is distributed). Our programme of research will show (a) the type of person who loses or gains the most well-being when these events take place, and (b) the psychological reasons as to why people's well-being changes after such events. Showing why, and for whom, socioeconomic events can have a large impact on well-being is important for understanding basic questions such as why some people are happier or more depressed than others. Such research can also help in understanding the impact of policy (for example, who will suffer the most if society becomes more unequal). We use already collected datasets which provide tens of thousands of people's responses, over several years, to questionnaires about themselves and their levels of well-being.

These well-being responses, as well as detailed medical information about their biological functioning, can be linked to specific events that people have encountered in their lives. We use these datasets to ask five key research questions, each with both theoretical and policy implications;

1. Do well-being reactions to socio-economic events (such as marriage or unemployment) depend on a person's personality prior to the event occurring? If so, this would suggest that certain people have predictably stronger or weaker reactions depending on their existing psychological characteristics, indicating who may need the most support following life events.

2. Whilst personality by definition represents quite stable psychological characteristics, here we ask whether personality changes in predictable and meaningful ways following life events. If personality is something that changes, then this suggests some potential for policy discussions and applied research to focus on how to create the conditions that allow for positive personality development.

3. Is a person's health and well-being influenced by their level of income, or rather by how their income ranks amongst other people (e.g., those in the same community)? If the latter is the case, then this has implications for understanding why the relationship between income and well-being exists, and may offer specific solutions as to how to reduce the negative effects of having a low income.

4. Does losing one pound of income have a proportionally greater impact on well-being than gaining one pound of income? Although intuitively "yes", calculations of the impact of income on well-being currently assume that income gains and losses impact equally on a person or a nation's well-being. This question has relevance to policies that prioritise the avoidance of income losses over stimulating income gains.

5. Do people have lower levels of well-being in less equal societies? Here, we explore whether the influence of positive and negative life events on well-being are different depending upon the level of inequality in a society, and whether this occurs due to low feelings of basic fairness and trust. This would contribute to debates as to the relative costs of allowing income to become more unequally distributed. The integration within our programme is the focus on showing how psychological characteristics are important for understanding how socio-economic circumstances influence well-being across these five broad areas. Our aim in answering these questions is to:

(a) contribute new answers to old theoretical questions in several fields

(b) encourage interdisciplinary collaboration in understanding the impact on well-being of socio-economic events

(c) feed into important policy debates

(d) suggest an increased role for psychologists to work alongside other social scientists in informing policy in this area.

Links 7.12.14

1. Israel et al. (2014), Credit scores, cardiovascular disease risk, and human capital, PNAS.
Abstract: Credit scores are the most widely used instruments to assess whether or not a person is a financial risk. ...we test if the same factors that lead to poor credit scores also lead to poor health. Following the Dunedin (New Zealand) Longitudinal Study cohort of 1,037 study members, we examined the association between credit scores and cardiovascular disease risk and the underlying factors that account for this association. We find that credit scores are negatively correlated with cardiovascular disease risk... Individual differences in human capital factors—educational attainment, cognitive ability, and self-control—predicted both credit scores and cardiovascular disease risk and accounted for 45% of the correlation between credit scores and cardiovascular disease risk. Tracing human capital factors back to their childhood antecedents revealed that the characteristic attitudes, behaviors, and competencies children develop in their first decade of life account for a significant portion (22%) of the link between credit scores and cardiovascular disease risk at midlife.

2. Three terrific posts from The Growth Economics Blog reviewing the literature on  institutions and economic development.

3. Cohn et al (2014), Business culture and dishonesty in the banking industry, Nature
Abstract: Trust in others’ honesty is a key component of the long-term performance of firms, industries, and even whole countries. However, in recent years, numerous scandals involving fraud have undermined confidence in the financial industry. ...Here we show that employees of a large, international bank behave, on average, honestly in a control condition. However, when their professional identity as bank employees is rendered salient, a significant proportion of them become dishonest. This effect is specific to bank employees because control experiments with employees from other industries and with students show that they do not become more dishonest when their professional identity or bank-related items are rendered salient. Our results thus suggest that the prevailing business culture in the banking industry weakens and undermines the honesty norm, implying that measures to re-establish an honest culture are very important.

4. What Works? Evidence for decision makers: A new report from the UK government looking at what works (and doesn't) across many different interventions in health care, education, crime reduction and other major policy domains.

5. Diener, Oishi & Park (2014), An Incomplete List of Eminent Psychologists of the Modern Era, Archives of Scientific Psychology.

6. From the Behavioural Science Centre YouTube channel:

Friday, December 05, 2014

PhD Scholarships

See below from Dr. Michael Pluess: 

The psychology department at Queen Mary University of London is recruiting motivated and talented candidates to compete for ESRC funded PhD studentships through the ESRC Doctoral Training Centre held jointly between Queen Mary and Goldsmiths, University of London. Candidates that want to apply for these studentships must have completed (or expect to complete by 1st Oct 2015) an ESRC-approved Masters course and meet UK residency requirements as set out by the ESRC ( We (Dr Michael Pluess and Dr Janelle Jones) offer the following research projects:

Project 1: Life Course Predictors of Psychological Well-Being: A Positive Developmental Perspective

Much of the existing research in developmental psychology has been and is being conducted from a perspective of developmental psychopathology. As a consequence, a lot is known today about the development of maladaptive outcomes, or when things “go wrong”, but it is less clear how development looks like when everything “goes right”. Yet focusing on the development of positive outcomes and competence is of great importance in order to foster and promote well-being across the life-course. This project aims at investigating positive development and predictors of psychological well-being across early childhood through to adulthood using a selection of large-scale longitudinal data sets (secondary data analysis).

Project 2: Biomarkers of Subjective Vitality

Subjective Vitality, “a state of feeling alive and alert” (Ryan & Deci, 2001) is an important aspect of eudaimonic well-being. However, its precise contribution to psychological and physical health and well-being is not well understood. The aim of the current project is to examine how subjective vitality might be implicated in these outcomes, with a particular focus on identifying biomarkers of vitality.
Using existing data from large-scale longitudinal studies (i.e., secondary data analysis), this project will examine the (bi-)directional relationship(s) between subjective vitality, biomarkers measured in the blood (e.g., C-reactive protein) and various psychological and physical health well-being indicators (e.g., emotionality, lung function).

Project 3: Social Groups, Resilience, Health & Well-being

Stress is a pervasive feature of modern life. This is particularly troubling given the negative implications of stress for mental and physical health and well-being (e.g. depression, anxiety, sleep disruption, illness, premature aging) and for decision making and behaviour (e.g. poor performance, smoking, excessive drinking). The focus of the present research is on how social connections contribute to stress management and reduction under different circumstances. We already know that people who report having many (versus only a few) social connections exhibit lower levels of depression, anxiety, and psychological distress and make fewer negative self-evaluations. This PhD project will seek to identify and test the psychological and/or biological mechanism(s) through which social connections can promote resilience, health and well-being when facing stressors.

Interested applicants must send a cover letter to Dr Pluess ( and Dr Jones ( outlining their suitability for the selected project at latest by December 20th 2014. Applicants should also include a statement of motivation and CV, which should include the contact details of at least two academic referees.

Kind regards,
Michael Pluess