Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Installation Theory: Lahlou

I hope to use the blog to point to books that will be of interest to people working within different traditions of psychology and behavioural science. Installation Theory: The Societal Construction and Regulation of Behaviour by my colleague Professor Saadi Lahlou will be of interest to several readers here outside the traditions in which the book itself is grounded. The concept of installations, described by Lahlou as the manner "in which, even though, they are creatures of free will, humans are induced to behave in an overall predictable and standardised manner". Through nine chapters, Lahlou develops the theoretical foundations of installations and examines how they operate in a range of environments to shape behaviour and outcomes in complex societies. Many readers here will be interested in comparing installation theory to the development of the literature on choice architecture emerging from behavioural economics and related literature, with one key demarcation pointed to by the author being that Installation theory is more grounded in social and cultural analyses than in the literature on cognitive psychology. The book contains several detailed case-studies ranging from applications in road safety to the evolution of science, and provides a detailed account of the mythological foundations of the theory in detailed ethnographic studies. Chapter 8 on "Redesigning Installations to Change Behaviour" would be useful for any student of behavioural change to read with a view to understanding how these ideas compare to other behavioural change frameworks. 
Installation Theory: The Societal Construction and Regulation of Behaviour provides researchers and practitioners with a simple and powerful framework to analyse and change behaviour. Informed by a wide range of empirical evidence, it includes an accessible synthesis of former theories (ecological psychology, activity theory, situated action, distributed cognition, social constructionism, actor-network theory and social representations). 'Installations' are the familiar, socially constructed, apparatuses which elicit, enable, scaffold and control - and make predictable most of our 'normal' behaviour; from shower-cabins or airport check-ins to family dinners, classes or hospitals. The book describes their threefold structure with a new model enabling systematic and practical analysis of their components. It details the mechanisms of their construction, resilience and evolution, illustrated with dozens of examples, from restaurants to nuclear plant operation. The book also provides a detailed analysis of the processes of creation and selection of innovations, proposing a model for the maintenance and evolution of social systems.
Proposes a new theory of social construction, based on massive empirical evidence obtained with a powerful technique of digital ethnography, from fields as diverse as family meals, road traffic, policing, nursing or piloting nuclear plants
Presents a synthesis of many theories of the determinants of behaviour in an original and easily applicable framework
Introduces a new unit of analysis, 'installations', which supercedes previous models in explanatory power for everyday situations

Saturday, June 27, 2020

LSE Public Lectures and Events 2020 - Behavioural Science and Policy

LSE run an incredible set of events that are available to view or listen to as podcast on this website. Some that might be particularly relevant to readers of this blog are available below but it is very much worth looking through the archive for other podcasts that will be of interest. I am currently discussing with many colleagues potential future events related to the ongoing work in the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science, including on topics such as the historical and ongoing development of behavioural science, disciplinary boundaries, ethical issues, emerging evidence structures, the role of behavioural science during crises, emerging forms of practice, professionalisation.

Assessing the Impact of COVID-19: from mortality to misery?: Speaker(s):Professor Paul Dolan, Dr Daisy Fancourt, Lord O'Donnell, Professor Carol Propper:  In the current crisis, government policies, such as physical distancing, are paying enormous attention to the mortality risks of COVID-19 to the exclusion of the wellbeing hits borne elsewhere (e.g. mental health, loneliness, domestic violence, child welfare, physical health, and addiction). Is this as it should be when lives are at stake? If not, what can be done to ensure that misery is placed on a more equal footing with mortality?

Behavioural Science in the Context of Great Uncertainty: Speaker(s):Professor Nick Chater, Professor Liam Delaney, Professor Paul Dolan, Professor Ulrike Hahn, Dr Grace Lordan: The impacts of COVID-19 and how we deal with them hinge on how politicians, firms and the public respond. What lessons can we learn from behavioural science about how we act in a time of crisis characterised by great uncertainty? What lessons can behavioural science learn about how it can be best placed to provide guidance in an uncertain world? Answers to these questions are crucial to not only mitigating the impacts of COVID-19 but also to dealing better with future crises, not only caused by viruses but also by other shocks.

Using Behavioural Science for Inclusion in the City: Speaker(s):Dr Grace Lordan, Karina Robinson, Brenda Trenowden, Irshaad Ahmad, Richard Nesbitt, Teresa Parker: An inclusive workforce offers companies a distinct competitive advantage. Enhanced profits, innovation, growth, and employee wellbeing. Companies with a diverse and inclusive workforce respond better to the needs and demands of global clients and corporations. Yet creating an environment which is inclusive of all talent is not straightforward. This will be a panel discussion on ‘Inclusion in the City’, a report that gives practical insights from behavioural science research to the problems and solutions posed by people who understand the financial and services industry the best: its own talent. This event will also announce The Inclusion Initiative (@LSE_TII) at LSE. A new research programme that will create new partnerships between world-class academics, the finance and professional services sector and visionary business leaders. Leveraging insights from behavioural science TII aims to move participating firms towards an environment which is inclusive of all talent, to the benefit of bottom line.

The Carbon Conscious Consumer: going beyond nudges with nudge plus: Speaker(s):Professor Peter John, Professor Theresa M Marteau, Sanchayan Banerjee, Professor Gerry Stoker:  Recent advancements made by the UK's Committee on Climate Change (UKCCC) towards achieving the Paris Agreement goals by announcing their net zero emissions target shows the UK's commitment to tackling one of the most important challenges of the 21st century: the climate change dilemma. Can we sustain this behaviour change through old-school nudges only? Or is there a need for greater reflection on the part of individuals?

Can Behavioural Insights Shape Policy-making All Over the World?: Chair and Co-organiser: Professor Matteo Galizzi, Speaker(s): Professor Liam Delaney, Dr Barbara Fasolo, Dr Adam Oliver, Dr Jet Sanders. Insights from psychology and behavioural economics are shaping policy-making all over the world, and the LSE is helping to make this happening. In the last decade methods and insights from behavioural science have been increasingly applied to inform policy decision-making all over the world. The UK has led this global trend since 2010, when the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) - the ‘nudge unit’ - was set up within the Cabinet Office. Since then, behavioural units have been created in more than 200 public institutions – not only governments, but also international institutions (e.g. World Bank, WHO, OECD, EU), and national regulators (e.g. in the UK the Financial Conduct Authority - FCA; NEST; Public Health England - PHE) – as well as in many NGOs and non-profit companies. Since the very beginning, the LSE has been a key part of this fast-growing trend. On the teaching side, for example, the LSE Executive MSc in Behavioural Science is the world-first (and only) executive Master programme to have trained, to date, more than 250 leaders of such behavioural units across the world. On the research side, moreover, the LSE has behavioural expertise that has been regularly applied to policy projects for the betterment of society. This event will discuss these trends and the various research collaborations that behavioural scientists across all the LSE have been developing in a variety of policy domains by working together with numerous partner institutions.

Can we be happier?: Speaker(s):Professor Lord Layard: In this event about his new book, Richard Layard explores how teachers, managers, health professionals, couples, community leaders, economists, scientists, politicians, and we as individuals can create a happier world. Richard Layard is emeritus Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics and Political Science and currently heads the CEP's Wellbeing Research Programme. His new book is Can We Be Happier?

How change happens: How does social change happen? Why is it so hard to anticipate? A key reason is the existence of hidden preferences, which may or may not be unleashed. Cass R. Sunstein (@CassSunstein) is currently the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard. From 2009 to 2012, he was Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He is the founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy at Harvard Law School. His latest book is How Change Happens.

Hume's Treatise of Human Nature and Behavioural Economics

I posted before on a remarkable quotation from the Treatise of Human Nature and this post updates on this with some more detail. I have regularly posted some interesting quotes from the history of economics and psychology on twitter and will use this blog to introduce readers to several interesting threads in this regard. The quote below from Hume captures beautifully one of the core areas of behavioural economics, namely present bias and the role of various mechanisms to promote future-oriented and otherwise productive decision-making. 
"In reflecting on any action, which I am to perform a twelve-month hence, I always resolve to prefer the greater good, whether at that time it will be more contiguous or remote; nor does any difference in that particular make a difference in my present intentions and resolutions. My distance from the final determination makes all those minute differences vanish, nor am I affected by any thing, but the general and more discernible qualities of good and evil. But on my nearer approach, those circumstances, which I at first over-looked, begin to appear, and have an influence on my conduct and affections. A new inclination to the present good springs up, and makes it difficult for me to adhere inflexibly to my first purpose and resolution. This natural infirmity I may very much regret, and I may endeavour, by all possible means, to free my self from it. I may have recourse to study and reflection within myself; to the advice of friends; to frequent meditation, and repeated resolution: And having experienced how ineffectual all these are, I may embrace with pleasure any other expedient, by which I may impose a restraint upon myself, and guard against this weakness."
As I noted in the previous post, the Scottish Enlightenment is a historical antecedent to the development of a wide range of modern thought. Ashraf, Camerer and Loewenstein's "Adam Smith, Behavioral Economist" provides an account of the ideas of one of the era's main figures. As well as Smith, over the years I have become increasingly struck by how much of the philosophical essence of the modern behavioural turn in economics is captured in Hume's Treatise of Human Nature.

The Treatise is divided into three books: "Of the Understanding", "Of the Passions", and "Of Morals". The final sentence of the introduction already gives a sense of the grounded empiricism that characterises his approach and has such an affinity with current emerging literatures.
"We must therefore glean up our experiments in this science from a cautious observation of human life, and take them as they appear in the common course of the world, by men's behaviour in company, in affairs, and in their pleasures. Where experiments of this kind are judiciously collected and compared, we may hope to establish on them a science which will not be inferior in certainty, and will be much superior in utility to any other of human comprehension."
Book 1 examines how people make sense of the world and establish causal connections and other relationships. It is one of the founding documents of modern cognitive science and, by implication, the type of behavioural economics work that grew from the cognitive revolution. The difficulty in establishing causal ordering in the world and the necessity for humans to attempt to do this based on their limited experiences is of course at the essence of behavioural accounts of how people make economic decisions. Furthermore, the extent to which decisions are influenced by the interplay of reasoning and emotions is core to the Treatise, with the second book dealing in detail with the role of "passions" in human decision making. As with Smith's "Theory of Moral Sentiments", Hume deals with a variety of human emotions and their effects. The call by Jon Elster to bring emotions back into the heart of the study of human decision making finds a philosophical home in this book.

To some extent the relation of Hume to modern behavioural economics and behavioural science could be seen as coming through the implications he had for the psychological literatures that emerged from philosophy in the 20th century. For example, to the extent that Hume's work is the philosophical antecedent to cognition research, then he obviously affected behavioural work through this. But I think, the third book of the Treatise, from where I found the original quote shown above, has a more direct link. In this book, Hume moves from describing human nature to discussions of what we should do. In particular, he examines the role of government, law and institutions in pushing people toward the common and longer-term good. The style of reasoning is almost directly related to modern behavioural theories of commitment devices and related mechanisms of policy. Section VIII "Of the origin of government" shows this most closely. As well as the quote above that motivated this post, see also below (and apologies for the length). The passage below directly precedes the first quote above. It is a remarkable argument for the limits of individual decision making and the importance of wider deliberative action to promote both common interests and long-term welfare. In total, the interplay in Hume of reason and emotions in influencing decisions, the problems of limited understanding of the world, our tendency toward short-termism, and the role of institutions as co-ordinating mechanisms, as well as his belief in the importance of grounded empiricism, makes his work in my view the most cogent philosophical antecedent to current behavioural economics and behavioural science and policy work. This was my motivation for using "Back to Hume" as the title of recent lectures.
"Nothing is more certain, than that men are, in a great measure, governed by interest, and that even when they extend their concern beyond themselves, it is not to any great distance; nor is it usual for them, in common life, to look farther than their nearest friends and acquaintance. It is no less certain, that it is impossible for men to consult, their interest in so effectual a manner, as by an universal and inflexible observance of the rules of justice, by which alone they can preserve society, and keep themselves from falling into that wretched and savage condition, which is commonly represented as the state of nature. And as this interest, which all men have in the upholding of society, and the observation of the rules of justice, is great, so is it palpable and evident, even to the most rude and uncultivated of human race; and it is almost impossible for any one, who has had experience of society, to be mistaken in this particular. Since, therefore, men are so sincerely attached to their interest, and their interest is so much concerned in the observance of justice, and this interest is so certain and avowed; it may be asked, how any disorder can ever arise in society, and what principle there is in human nature so powerful as to overcome so strong a passion, or so violent as to obscure so clear a knowledge?
It has been observed, in treating of the passions, that men are mightily governed by the imagination, and proportion their affections more to the light, under which any object appears to them, than to its real and intrinsic value. What strikes upon them with a strong and lively idea commonly prevails above what lies in a more obscure light; and it must be a great superiority of value, that is able to compensate this advantage. Now as every thing, that is contiguous to us, either in space or time, strikes upon us with such an idea, it has a proportional effect on the will and passions, and commonly operates with more force than any object, that lies in a more distant and obscure light. Though we may be fully convinced, that the latter object excels the former, we are not able to regulate our actions by this judgment; but yield to the sollicitations of our passions, which always plead in favour of whatever is near and contiguous.
This is the reason why men so often act in contradiction to their known interest; and in particular why they prefer any trivial advantage, that is present, to the maintenance of order in society, which so much depends on the observance of justice. The consequences of every breach of equity seem to lie very remote, and are not able to counter-ballance any immediate advantage, that may be reaped from it. They are, however, never the less real for being remote; and as all men are, in some degree, subject to the same weakness, it necessarily happens, that the violations of equity must become very frequent in society, and the commerce of men, by that means, be rendered very dangerous and uncertain. You have the same propension, that I have, in favour of what is contiguous above what is remote. You are, therefore, naturally carried to commit acts of injustice as well as me. Your example both pushes me forward in this way by imitation, and also affords me a new reason for any breach of equity, by shewing me, that I should be the cully of my integrity, if I alone should impose on myself a severe restraint amidst the licentiousness of others.
This quality, therefore, of human nature, not only is very dangerous to society, but also seems, on a cursory view, to be incapable of any remedy. The remedy can only come from the consent of men; and if men be incapable of themselves to prefer remote to contiguous, they will never consent to any thing, which would oblige them to such a choice, and contradict, in so sensible a manner, their natural principles and propensities. Whoever chuses the means, chuses also the end; and if it be impossible for us to prefer what is remote, it is equally impossible for us to submit to any necessity, which would oblige us to such a method of acting.
But here it is observable, that this infirmity of human nature becomes a remedy to itself, and that we provide against our negligence about remote objects, merely because we are naturally inclined to that negligence. When we consider any objects at a distance, all their minute distinctions vanish, and we always give the preference to whatever is in itself preferable, without considering its situation and circumstances. This gives rise to what in an improper sense we call reason, which is a principle, that is often contradictory to those propensities that display themselves upon the approach of the object."

Friday, June 26, 2020

Brief note for prospective Phd students

I will taking over the role of head of the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science at LSE from September 1st. Details of the Department are available on the links on the side-bar. Below are some points that might be helpful for prospective PhD students who want to work with me in the next few years.

i) The PhD programme at PBS is a PhD in Psychological and Behavioural Science. It will be suited to people with a range of backgrounds in psychology, economics, and cognate disciplines. I am open to supervising students from September 2021.

ii) When researching a PhD, it is important to examine a range of funding opportunities. For LSE, both Departmental funding and wider funding through bodies such as the ESRC are important to explore.

iii) When considering a PhD, it is important to find a supervisor who is working and publishing in an area that you are very interested in pursuing for a 3-4 period. The main areas that I can potentially supervise are below. Obviously I am not restricted to supervision on these questions and have supervised students on a range of topics but it is always worth trying to find a match between your own areas of interest and where your supervisor is working. It is also worth looking carefully at other members of the faculty to see if there are other potential members of your supervisory panel. Having three panel members that can support different aspects of your work is the best way to make sure that you have full support during the course of your PhD. It may also be possible to have a panel that includes other faculty members across LSE and it is worth looking across the School if you have interests that might benefit from interdisciplinary panels. In some circumstances, it might be possible to have a panel member from another institution.

a) I am happy to speak to students about the broad area of well-being and public policy, including such questions as the determinants of well-being and mental health, and the extent to which mental health is an important component in understanding how to design general public policy in areas such as regulation and public service design.

b) As can be seen from a number of the recent posts on the blog, I have been working a lot in the last year on the development of behavioural public policy as a discipline, including ethical issues in public policy and trust in behavioural science and behavioural scientists. I am happy to speak to students who are interested in the ethical issues in employing behavioural science and in trust in behavioural science, in particular students who are interested in studying these questions from an empirical perspective. A recent post on this blog provides an extensive reading list on this area, including details of my recent work on the topic. I would be happy to speak to students interested in how such work might be studied in relation to questions such as public trust in behavioural science. I am heavily involved in a large project on the trust in expertise called PERITIA and have given a brief description of this project here. There will be various opportunities to work on this project as PhD students or researchers over the next few years and I recommend anyone interested in working with me on these topics to examine that website.

c) Along with several colleagues, I have been working on the use of diary methods and related naturalistic monitoring tools as a method for evaluating behavioural public policies. A recent review paper I wrote with Leonhard Lades and Lucie Martin "Informing behavioural policies with data from everyday life" published in Behavioural Public Policy is a useful one to read to get some background to this area of research.

iv) I hope to develop this blog further to help people who are interested in working with me on various projects to get a very good sense of the type of projects and areas that I could supervise either as a primary supervisor or part of a PhD panel. I will add material to this post over the year to help people do background research on potential opportunities.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

SHAPE: Social Sciences, Humanities, and the Arts for People and the Economy

The British Academy recently launched a new initiative to promote the role of social sciences, arts, and humanities.  Details of the initiative are available on the following website and spelt out below. Many recent UK science policy documents, consistent with other countries, have pointed to the importance of investing in STEM disciplines to drive innovation and there is clearly an important rationale to keep a wider set of factors in mind when thinking about SHAPE disciplines in terms of key components of human welfare. The recent developments with covid is a prime example of the importance of considering social and economic aspects of large-scale problems and the limits of purely technological and medical approaches to dealing with such complex processes. The extent to which any acronym is useful is obviously an open question but I am certainly supportive of the goals of this initiative and will be following it as it progresses throughout the next few years.
SHAPE is a new collective name for those subjects that help us understand ourselves, others and the human world around us. They provide us with the methods and forms of expression we need to build better, deeper, more colourful and more valuable lives for all. 
Academic and business leaders believe the future lies in recognising and capturing the value of SHAPE disciplines themselves, as well as how they work together with STEM to build a better functioning future.
The extraordinary times we’re all currently living through show us just how crucial SHAPE subjects are in keeping life running, care going, communities together, the economy working, the environment sustainable and people’s spirits lifted.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Journals in Behavioural Science and Policy

There have been various streams of interaction between economics, psychology, and policy over the centuries. The development of the disciplines of psychology and economics in the 19th and 20th centuries saw the development of specialist journals in each field, including the key general journals (as well as textbooks) that cemented these disciplines as separate areas of inquiry. Work at the intersection of economics and psychology is evident in these journals throughout the middle of the twentieth century where the separation of the disciplines was most rigid but did not appear in a very systematic fashion before the 1960s. After the pioneering work of scholars such as Herbert Simon and a wide range of scholars in judgment and decision-making, and experimental economics, a number of journals began to appear in the 1970s and 1980s with an emphasis on the intersection of economics and psychology. Below are two of the key field journals that have traditionally been key outlets for scholars interested in behavioural and psychological aspects of economics. While much of the key work cited in fields such as behavioural economics continued to be published in the core economics, psychology, and management journals, as well as general science journals, the existence of dedicated interdisciplinary journals provided key outlets to develop a range of literatures.
JEBO: The Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization is devoted to theoretical and empirical research concerning economic decision, organization and behavior and to economic change in all its aspects. Its specific purposes are to foster an improved understanding of how human cognitive, computational and informational characteristics influence the working of economic organizations and market economies and how an economy's structural features lead to various types of micro and macro behavior, to changing patterns of development and to institutional evolution. Research with these purposes that explore the interrelations of economics with other disciplines such as biology, psychology, law, anthropology, sociology, finance, marketing, political science, and mathematics is particularly welcome. The journal is eclectic as to research method; systematic observation and careful description, simulation modeling and mathematical analysis are all within its purview. Empirical work, including controlled laboratory experimentation that probes close to the core of the issues in theoretical dispute is encouraged.
Journal of Economic Psychology:  The Journal aims to present research that will improve understanding of behavioral, in particular psychological, aspects of economic phenomena and processes. The Journal seeks to be a channel for the increased interest in using behavioral science methods for the study of economic behavior, and so to contribute to better solutions of societal problems, by stimulating new approaches and new theorizing about economic affairs. Economic psychology as a discipline studies the psychological mechanisms that underlie economic behavior. It deals with preferences, judgments, choices, economic interaction, and factors influencing these, as well as the consequences of judgements and decisions for economic processes and phenomena. This includes the impact of economic institutions upon human behavior and well-being. Studies in economic psychology may relate to different levels of aggregation, from the household and the individual consumer to the macro level of whole nations. Economic behavior in connection with inflation, unemployment, taxation, economic development, as well as consumer information and economic behavior in the market place are thus among the fields of interest. The journal also encourages submissions dealing with social interaction in economic contexts, like bargaining, negotiation, or group decision-making. The Journal of Economic Psychology contains: (a) novel reports of empirical (including: experimental) research on economic behavior; (b) replications studies; (c) assessments of the state of the art in economic psychology; (d) articles providing a theoretical perspective or a frame of reference for the study of economic behavior; (e) articles explaining the implications of theoretical developments for practical applications; (f) book reviews; (g) announcements of meetings, conferences and seminars. Special issues of the Journal may be devoted to themes of particular interest. Once per year an open call for proposals for a special issue is announced. The Journal will encourage exchange of information between researchers and practitioners by being a forum for discussion and debate of issues in both theoretical and applied research. The journal is published under the auspices of the International Association for Research in Economic Psychology The aim of the Association is to promote interdisciplinary work relating to economic behavior.
A later journal that also publishes a significant amount of work in these areas is Judgment and Decision-Making.
This is the journal of the Society for Judgment and Decision Making (SJDM) and the European Association for Decision Making (EADM). It is open access, published on the World Wide Web, at least every two months. The study of judgment and decision making (JDM) concerns normative, descriptive and prescriptive analysis of human judgments and decisions. These topics may be studied from theoretical or applied perspectives, with the use of experiments, surveys, analysis of existing data, and other necessary approaches. Contributions to the journal will fall within these bounds and reflect issues central to JDM, including, but not limited to those in this list. The field of JDM is inter-disciplinary, so the journal covers relevant content from several fields, including cognitive psychology, experimental economics, and experimental philosophy. We expect contributions to be accessible to readers in at least these fields.
In the last few years, a number of new journals have emerged specifically at the intersection of economics, psychology, and policy. These journals reflect an increasing interest in policy applications of behavioural research literatures. The development of these journals potentially represents a very positive development for people with particular interests in policy applications in these areas and a key route to develop the foundations of these fields. The extent to which publication in these journals will be weighted in the various processes that determine career advancement in our fields is obviously an important question and one to think about if you are building an academic career in these areas.
Behavioral Science & Policy is an international, peer-reviewed journal that features short, accessible articles describing actionable policy applications of behavioral scientific research that serves the public interest. Articles submitted to BSP undergo a dual-review process. Leading Scholars from specific disciplinary areas review articles to assess their scientific rigor; at the same time, experts in relevant policy areas evaluate them for relevance and feasibility of implementation. Manuscripts that pass this dual-review are edited to ensure their accessibility to scientists, policy makers, and lay readers. BSP is not limited to a particular point of view or political ideology. BSP is a publication of the Behavioral Science & Policy Association and the Brookings Institution Press.
Journal of Behavioral Public Administration (JBPA) is a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary open access journal that focuses on behavioral and experimental research in public administration, broadly defined. JBPA encourages submissions of both basic scholarly and applied work conducted by academics or practitioners.
Behavioural Public Policy is an interdisciplinary and international peer-reviewed journal devoted to behavioural research and its relevance to public policy. The study of human behaviour is important within many disciplinary specialties and in recent years the findings from this field have begun to be applied to policy concerns in a substantive and sustained way. BPP seeks to be multidisciplinary and therefore welcomes articles from economists, psychologists, philosophers, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, primatologists, evolutionary biologists, legal scholars and others, so long as their work relates the study of human behaviour directly to a policy concern. BPP focuses on high-quality research which has international relevance and which is framed such that the arguments are accessible to a multidisciplinary audience of academics and policy makers.
Journal of Behavioural Economics for Policy: Behavioral economics is the integration of economic theory and other related disciplines including but not limited to psychology, neuro-science, finance, biology, sociology, anthropology, political science, and law. Behavioral economics is inherently interdisciplinary. The purpose of this interdisciplinary research is to better understand human behavior. Our unique focus is the implications of behavioral economics for public policy, and a framework for policy makers. Every aspect of behavioral economics and all aspects of public policy are within our purview. We welcome contributions to all fields of knowledge listed above, and beyond, provided they show the public policy implications of behavioral economics. We are open to a wide range of methodological approaches, provided they lead to scientifically grounded conclusions. Experiments, surveys, meta-analyses, case studies, simulation-based analyses, economic and social theory, randomized control trials, and literature reviews (to name but a few common approaches) are all welcome. Arguments may be based on a variety of theoretical frameworks, including those which do not assume fully rational behavior. Empirical results should be both theoretically grounded and both economically and statistically significant. However, the math and the tables and graphs showing statistical results should be placed in an appendix. We welcome replications of existing papers, and are particularly open to “non-results”, which may be of great practical and scientific value yet are less likely to reach the audience of most academic journals.
Similarly, the Nature group of journals launched the journal Nature Human Behaviour, which has become a significant outlet for publication at work at the intersection of economics, psychology, and policy. The development of a general-interest journal in this broad area is potentially very significant for the development of interdisciplinary work in these fields.
Nature Human Behaviour publishes research of outstanding significance into any aspect of human behaviour: its psychological, biological, and social bases, as well as its origins, development, and disorders. The journal aims to enhance the visibility of research into human behaviour, strengthening its societal reach and impact.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Irish National Public Health Emergency Team Behavioural Change Sub-group

The purpose of this post is to briefly provide some background information on the role of behavioural science research in the Irish response to covid. 

The Irish response to covid was co-ordinated by the National Public Health Emergency Response Team (NPHET). The structure of the overall NPHET group is below. It reflects the key role of the WHO and ECDC in setting the framework for the overall response. It also reflects the core medical and public health elements of the response.

Relevant to this blog, the response included a subgroup on behavioural change roughly equivalent to the SPI-B group in the UK. The composition of the group is below, and includes academics with backgrounds in behavioural economics, experimental approaches to public policy, social psychology, and health psychology, as well as public servants with experience of rolling out national behavioural change campaigns. The website linked above provides details of the minutes of the meetings, as well as access to papers arising from the group. 

The remit of the group, progressed through weekly meetings and ongoing research throughout the time period, is below. 

One of the key components of the behavioural response was the work of the ESRI Behavioural Research Unit led by Professor Pete Lunn. Their initial review paper provided a rapid framework for incorporating behavioural literature in the response. Further papers from their group examined a range of questions on issues such as how to best communicate the importance of physical distancing and develop decision aids to support self-isolation, as well as several other relevant topics. 

The role of behavioural science in managing systemic risks has been discussed across many forums over the course of the pandemic. My own role was mainly to input on any relevant literature nationally and internationally, input into ongoing survey work, and respond to requests for information along with the rest of the team on ongoing policy issues. I hope to integrate the experience gained into upcoming lectures and discussions on the role of behavioural science in systemic risk and am currently co-ordinating a reading group with students and colleagues on this area. A set of reading lists we maintained at the Geary Institute throughout the period is available here. 

The emergence of the covid pandemic in Ireland in late February led to an unprecedented need to change human behaviour across the whole population in a very short period of time. Recommendations from the ECDC and WHO stress the need for physical distancing, hand hygiene, cough and sneeze etiquette, and a range of other measures intended to slow down the spread of the virus and give time for the acute care system and other capacities to develop. In such a context, understanding human behaviour is vital.
A number of disciplines are relevant for studying how people respond to such policies. There are clearly economic issues in how different groups will respond to the incentives involved – the role of the government in replacing income to those being asked to stay away from their workplace is clearly of relevance. The discipline of behavioural economics has stressed that people may also be heavily impacted by how these incentives are communicated and designed in terms of complexity, something that has been particularly relevant. As well as incentives, people’s understanding of the restrictions and their reaction to communication is also clearly important. Disciplines such as health psychology and behavioural medicine examine in detail how people behave with regard to their health. Such disciplines are highly relevant for how to design health communications and understand the wider determinants of health behaviours. Social psychology has been particularly useful in understanding collective action and how people’s behaviour is shaped by their expectations of others and by norms more generally.  The phrase “behavioural science” can sometimes be confusing but it provides a useful way of summarising the fact that many disciplines relevant to human behaviour work on these questions in overlapping but often subtly different ways.
The Irish public health emergency team NPHET has drawn from the behavioural sciences in a number of ways. In particular, the behavioural change subgroup draws from expertise from the ESRI Behavioural Research Unit, the UCD Geary Institute, UL Department of Psychology, NUIG Health Behaviour Change group, as well as experts in behavioural change from across the Irish government. Such input has included providing recommendations on health communications, alterations to physical choice architecture, and understanding of public behaviours.
As part of the Geary Institute contribution, we have been compiling resources from the behavioural sciences relevant to covid. We have gathered these into two open google documents: Useful Resources on COVID and Behavioural Science and Behavioural Science and Covid Resources: Part 2.
The first document provides a wide range of general resources on behavioural science and covid, including some of the key behavioural models, and the first early review papers. It provides links to some of the core frameworks in behavioural science applications, such as the Behavioural Change Wheel. The review by Lunn et al (2020) in the Journal of Behavioural Policy Administration provides a particularly useful resource summarising the key themes in the application of behavioural science to covid response. We also provide links to ongoing survey research programmes in this area.
The second document provides key literature across some of the key questions that will be addressed on infection control policies from a behavioural perspective. We include resources across a range of topics relevant to ongoing policies in these areas, including mental health effects, covid health literacy, physical distancing supports, public attitudes, stigma, ancillary behaviours, healthcare utilisation, and other topics. It is clear that the evolving situation creates a huge demand for evidence across a range of emerging issues. We will use this document to keep track of useful papers emerging but each of these areas will require very detailed consideration well beyond what can be summarised in such a list.
These documents are intended to act as a useful source of information for our policy research community. They are not intended to act as recommendations or be prescriptive. We welcome suggestions and we will be updating the second document continuously throughout the next few months to point to useful research being conducted in Ireland and throughout the world.