Monday, October 20, 2014

Nick Chater's online psychology course

Nick Chater, Professor of Behavioural Science at Warwick Business School, is currently teaching a MOOC called "The Mind is Flat: the Shocking Shallowness of Human Psychology". The current edition of the course started last week but you can still sign up for free.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

PhD Research at the Centre

Our research centre currently has 9 PhD students who are either taking a PhD in Economics or a PhD in Behavioural Science. The centre structure is such that PhD students, research fellows and faculty work closely together on a variety of research questions. Some of the PhD students are also directly integrated into the Economics and/or Management divisions of our School of Management. Our centre meets weekly followed by an external seminar. There are also regular workshops and training events and informal peer-learning sessions including a regular STATA users group meeting. Most of our students are located in Stirling with dedicated office-space but we also have some students who are working part-time and we are willing to discuss this option. A very detailed overview of how PhD research is conducted here is available on this web page and it is worth studying carefully if you are thinking of applying to work with us. Furthermore we strongly encourage people to look at the publications page of our webpage to ensure that the type of work we are doing is interesting to you (interesting enough that you are willing to spend 3 or 4 years of your career and beyond working on similar work!).

For those wishing to secure funding to conduct their PhD from September 2015, it is worth starting this process early as funding deadlines tend to be early in 2015. The key funder for social science PhDs in the UK is the ESRC. The website for the Scottish branch of this funding is available here.  For those wishing to apply, the relevant pathways for our group are Economics, Business/Management and Advanced Quantitative Social Science. Economics does not have a residency requirement but most of the pathways are limited to UK residents and you should check this carefully to make sure you are eligible. Given the limited availability of PhD funding in the UK, self-funding is another option.

PhD in Behavioural Science

Below you can find details of our PhD in Behavioural Science from the webpage of the Centre for Graduate Study in the School of Management. Further details of PhD study in Stirling Management School are provided on this webpage.

The PhD in Behavioural Science programme is aimed at students who want to work in the Behavioural Science Centre to conduct and publish world leading research at the interface between the social sciences (such as economics) and the behavioural sciences (such as psychology). This area - which encompasses behavioural economics - is a fast growing field within the social and behavioural sciences and this is one of the only PhD programmes within Europe to have this area as the primary focus. Completing this PhD involves becoming an interdisciplinary researcher, with advanced research skills in both economics and psychology, as well as an appreciation of how assumptions, methods, and theories differ between the two fields.

The PhD research may involve the analysis of large (N > 10,000) pre-existing longitudinal datasets, quantitative field surveys, experimental designs, randomized controlled trials, or a combination of these methods. Research can be desk based or involve our public, private, or third sector partners (such as the Scottish Government, local council, job centres, or consultancy business) normally with a focus on basic science research.

In addition to the individual supervision and structured training given to all students at Stirling Management School, students benefit from being a full member of the internationally leading Behavioural Science Centre, which has developed a genuine community of closely interacting and collaborating researchers. Members come from diverse backgrounds, with some having degrees exclusively from economics and others exclusively from psychology, but all share the same passion for researching at the interface between these two areas. There is a strong culture of joint socialising (including regular drinks and meals) and collaborating - projects normally have input from several centre members, all of whom are always willing to be a part of joint research. Collaboration and the research culture are promoted with a two hour centre meeting each week. The first 30 minutes is devoted to "business", where everyone is updated on recent relevant developments and participates in shared decision making as to the direction of the centre. The second 30 minutes is slot booked by a centre member (including our students) to use as they want - commonly to put up an early research idea for feedback, results for discussion, or present a preview of a conference talk in a supportive environment. The remaining hour is used for the weekly seminar, which has more substantial talk from centre members or more commonly presentations from invited researchers from across the UK, as well as occasionally from our partners in industry and government. In addition, we run regular workshops (including currently a £28,000 ESRC seminar series) which attract the key figures in the field. PhD students are an equal part of our community and are expected to enthusiastically participate in all aspects of centre life.

Students are part of the Division of Economics, where the centre is based, which runs additional seminars and social events. Depending on the student's background and the precise research, students may be said to graduate with a PhD in behavioural science, social science, economics, psychology or another related area that accurately describes the work and skills set developed.

Potential students are very strongly recommended to carefully review the centre website, blog, and particularly the Centre Director’s informal guide to a PhD, as well as the other pages at the links below. For interesting modules to attend whilst taking the PhD, the MSc in Behavioural Science may be particularly relevant.

Useful links:
The Behavioral Science Centre webpage
Centre Director Professor Alex Wood's Informal PhD Guide
The Centre's blog, details can be found here about the work we do, plus details on our seminars and workshops
The Centre's Twitter Feed
MSc in Behavioural Science
Example thesis from centre member Dr Christopher Boyce

If you are interested in joining the centre as a PhD student you are recommended to first approach the Director, Professor Alex Wood. You are also welcome to contact at any stage the relevant Postgraduate Research Tutor Dr David Comerford . Other helpful individuals include;

MRes in Business and Management Programme Director – Dr Scott Hurrell.

Administrator – Lisa Reid.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Life-satisfaction correlates very well with more well established measures of societal progress

In a previous post about life-satisfaction I mentioned that the five most satisfied countries in Europe according to the life-satisfaction measure from the 2012 European Social Survey were also the top five in the 2013 Legatum Prosperity Index, although the five countries were in a different order. I thought that consistency was fairly remarkable considering that the ESS measure presumably took about 5 seconds to administer, whereas the Legatum Index uses 89 different variables to create its ranking. I wondered how well this very simple life-satisfaction measure would correlate with other established measures of societal progress. The results are below.

I used data from several places: (1) life-satisfaction ("How satisfied are you with life as a whole" scored 0-10) and trust in others ("Most people can be trusted or you can't be too careful" scored 0-10; I included this since higher trust correlates with more happiness) from the 2012 European Social Survey, (2) average $ GDP per capita over 2009-13 from the World Bank, (3) life expectancy as of 2013 from the World Health Organization and (4) country rankings from the Legatum Prosperity Index. I used all 27 countries in the EES but excluded Kosovo from the Legatum ranking and life expectancy analysis because I couldn't find data for it. I also excluded a country labelled "IS" because I couldn't find what country this code corresponded to in the ESS data dictionary.

The results are pretty clear: higher life satisfaction correlates with a better ranking on the Legatum Index (R = 0.84), higher GDP per capita (R = 0.81, 0.83 for ln GDP), more trust in others (R = 0.76) and higher life expectancy (R = 0.72). For such a simple measure I find those amazingly strong associations. 

The Stata code I used is below:
use "C:\File Location\ESS6e02.dta", clear
rename idno id
rename cntry c
rename stflife ls
rename ppltrst t
drop if ls > 10 | t > 10 | age == 999  | c == "IS" 
keep id c ls t

*Collapsing the variables by country will automatically convert trust and life-satisfaction scores into their country averages
collapse t ls, by(c)

*Average GDP per capita in $ over 2009-13 taken from World Bank
gen gdppc = 4652 if c == "AL"
replace gdppc = 45387 if c == "BE"
replace gdppc = 7296 if c == "BG"
replace gdppc = 80477 if c == "CH"
replace gdppc = 25249 if c == "CY"
replace gdppc = 18861 if c == "CZ"
replace gdppc = 45085 if c == "DE"
replace gdppc = 58894 if c == "DK"
replace gdppc = 18478 if c == "EE"
replace gdppc = 29118 if c == "ES"
replace gdppc = 47219 if c == "FI"
replace gdppc = 41421 if c == "FR"
replace gdppc = 39337 if c == "GB"
replace gdppc = 13134 if c == "HU"
replace gdppc = 47400 if c == "IE"
replace gdppc = 36151 if c == "IL"
replace gdppc = 34619 if c == "IT"
replace gdppc = 15538 if c == "LT"
replace gdppc = 47617 if c == "NL"
replace gdppc = 100819 if c == "NO"
replace gdppc = 13432 if c == "PL"
replace gdppc = 21035 if c == "PT"
replace gdppc = 14612 if c == "RU"
replace gdppc = 58269 if c == "SE"
replace gdppc = 22729 if c == "SI"
replace gdppc = 17689 if c == "SK"
replace gdppc = 3900 if c == "UA"
replace gdppc = 3816 if c == "XK"

gen lngdppc = ln(gdppc)

*Inverted Legatum Prosperity "Europe only" rankings where 1 = lowest, 27 = highest, taken from
gen legatumrank = 1 if c == "AL"
replace legatumrank = 18 if c == "BE"
replace legatumrank = 4 if c == "BG"
replace legatumrank = 26 if c == "CH"
replace legatumrank = 9 if c == "CY"
replace legatumrank = 13 if c == "CZ"
replace legatumrank = 20 if c == "DE"
replace legatumrank = 24 if c == "DK"
replace legatumrank = 10 if c == "EE"
replace legatumrank = 16 if c == "ES"
replace legatumrank = 23 if c == "FI"
replace legatumrank = 17 if c == "FR"
replace legatumrank = 19 if c == "GB"
replace legatumrank = 6 if c == "HU"
replace legatumrank = 21 if c == "IE"
replace legatumrank = 7 if c == "IL"
replace legatumrank = 12 if c == "IT"
replace legatumrank = 5 if c == "LT"
replace legatumrank = 22 if c == "NL"
replace legatumrank = 27 if c == "NO"
replace legatumrank = 11 if c == "PL"
replace legatumrank = 14 if c == "PT"
replace legatumrank = 3 if c == "RU"
replace legatumrank = 25 if c == "SE"
replace legatumrank = 15 if c == "SI"
replace legatumrank = 8 if c == "SK"
replace legatumrank = 2 if c == "UA"

*Life expectancy from WHO
gen lifeexp = 74 if c == "AL"
replace lifeexp = 81 if c == "BE"
replace lifeexp = 74.5 if c == "BG"
replace lifeexp = 82.8 if c == "CH"
replace lifeexp = 81.2 if c == "CY"
replace lifeexp = 78 if c == "CZ"
replace lifeexp = 81 if c == "DE"
replace lifeexp = 79.5 if c == "DK"
replace lifeexp = 76.1 if c == "EE"
replace lifeexp = 82.5 if c == "ES"
replace lifeexp = 79.6 if c == "FI"
replace lifeexp = 82.3 if c == "FR"
replace lifeexp = 81 if c == "GB"
replace lifeexp = 75 if c == "HU"
replace lifeexp = 81.4 if c == "IE"
replace lifeexp = 82.1 if c == "IL"
replace lifeexp = 83.1 if c == "IT"
replace lifeexp = 75.9 if c == "LT"
replace lifeexp = 81.5 if c == "NL"
replace lifeexp = 81.9 if c == "NO"
replace lifeexp = 77.5 if c == "PL"
replace lifeexp = 80 if c == "PT"
replace lifeexp = 70.5 if c == "RU"
replace lifeexp = 83 if c == "SE"
replace lifeexp = 80 if c == "SI"
replace lifeexp = 77 if c == "SK"
replace lifeexp = 71 if c == "UA"

pwcorr ls t lngdp legatum lifeexp, sig

scatter ls legatum, mlabel(c) || lfit ls legatum
scatter ls lngdppc, mlabel(c) || lfit ls lngdppc
scatter ls t, mlabel(c) || lfit ls t
scatter ls lifeexp, mlabel(c) || lfit ls lifeexp

Friday, October 17, 2014

7th Irish Economics and Psychology Conference in Dublin 31.10.14

The seventh annual one day conference on Economics and Psychology, co-organised by researchers from UCD, ESRI and NUIM, will be held on October 31st in the UCD Geary Institute. The purpose of these sessions is to develop the link between Economics, Psychology and cognate disciplines in Ireland. A special theme of these events is the implications of behavioural economics for public policy though the workshops have covered work across all areas of intersection of Economics and Psychology. Programmes from the previous six events are here. We welcome students, academics, policy-makers, industry representatives and others with an interest in this area. Registration is free but you should sign up on the link below if you are attending. Questions about the event can be addressed to

Sign up to attend here


09.00-09.20: Registration

09:20-09:30: Introduction

09:30-10:00: Dr. Michael Daly (Stirling)
Time preferences predict inflammation in later life
Prominent economic and psychological models suggest that impatient individuals with high discount rates invest less in their health leading to adverse physiological consequences (Grossman, 1972; Hall & Fong, 2007). The aim of this study is to test, for the first time, whether time discount rates elicited from an incentivised experiment become biologically embedded via changes in C-reactive protein (CRP) and fibrinogen levels over time. The sample was drawn from the population-based English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Those who completed a preference module and provided blood plasma samples at two time-points for analysis were included in the study (n=427; Age=63.6 (SD=5.7); 52.8% Female). Discount rates were calculated from a set of 12 choices between smaller sooner and larger later rewards (e.g. £25 in two weeks or £30 in one month) where the participant won the value of a randomly selected choice (median reward £28). Our results indicate a substantial relationship between high discount rates and high levels of inflammation two years later as gauged by CRP (β=.18; p<.001) and fibrinogen (β=.1; p<.05) in analyses which adjusted for age, gender, marital status, wealth and prior inflammation levels. This pattern was robust to the inclusion of controls for BMI, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, other long-term illnesses, smoking, physical activity, and alcohol consumption. Further adjustment for cognitive functioning and the Big Five personality traits did not affect the associations observed. This study provides strong evidence that incentivised elicited discount rates robustly predict longitudinal changes in inflammation in a national sample.

10:00-10:30: Marek Bohacek (ESRI)
The Integration of Visual, Numeric and Categorical Information in Judgements of Value
Pete Lunn, Marek Bohacek*, & Jason Somerville, ESRI and Trinity College Dublin
We investigate how accurately consumers can integrate information about multiple product attributes into judgements of value, while manipulating the nature of the attributes. Using a 2AFC “objective valuation” (OV) task, we compare performance in multi-attribute judgements when attribute magnitudes are provided as visual cues, numeric magnitudes, or between two and four categories of quality. Across three experiments with different products, we find no improvement in the accuracy of judgements when attribute magnitudes are provided as numbers, rather than as visual cues. We do find small improvements when an attribute consists of just two categories (good versus bad), or when categories are correlated with the likelihood of obtaining a surplus relative to a price. Overall, our results suggest that: (1) precise numeric attribute scales do not improve multi-attribute judgement; (2) it is the difficulty of integrating information from incommensurate attribute scales determines performance in multi-attribute judgement.
10:30-11:00: Coffee

11:00-11:45:  Prof. Rowena Pecchenino (NUIM)
The Economic Consequences of Despair
This paper examines despair, the total loss of hope, from the perspectives of many disciplines to characterize the despairing individual, his motivations, and his capacity for decision-making.  It then examines the extent to which economics has recognized despair and whether economics should incorporate despair into its theoretical and policy analyses, and, if so, how.

11:45-12:30: Dr. Pete Lunn (ESRI)
Do Consumers Value Products they are Familiar with more Accurately? (with Marek Bohacek & Féidhlim McGowan).
We investigate how the precision of consumer valuations is affected by familiarity with the product. Using a within-subject design, we compare performance in a 2AFC "objective valuation" task across four products: houses, contracts for broadband services, and two unfamiliar computer-generated products. Participants decide whether each product, with a given set of attributes at a particular price, represents good or bad value. The value of the familiar products is objectively defined by two statistical models relating attributes to prices in the market. The same models also determine the mathematical relationship between attributes and prices of the two unfamiliar products, allowing us to identify the effect due to familiarity. Data collection is to be completed by end-September. We will present an initial analysis of the experimental data at the conference.

12:30 - 13:30: Lunch

13:30-14:00: Prof. Liam Delaney (Stirling)
Behavioural Economics and Irish Public Policy 
This presentation will outline the relevance of the last ten years of behavioural economics and behavioural science for research across a number of domains including pensions policy, financial regulation, education, health and consumer policy.

14:00-14:45: Dr. Edel Walsh, (School of Economics, University College Cork)
An Examination of Life Satisfaction in Ireland: Evidence from the European Social Survey 5 (2010)
The aim of this research is to establish the most significant factors affecting life satisfaction, at an individual level, in Ireland during the recent economic recession. The global financial crisis significantly impacted the Irish economy and by 2010 Ireland was experiencing its third consecutive year of negative growth. During the period 2007 to 2010 the level and rate of unemployment increased substantially in Ireland with an average unemployment rate of 13.8 per cent being reported in 2010. In addition, unemployment affected men more than women and in particular the 20-24 year age group. Given the well-established link between life satisfaction, income and unemployment, the economic conditions in Ireland in 2010 make it an interesting case to study. The data used in this analysis were obtained from the Irish component of the European Social Survey 5 (2010).

Using both OLS and ordered probit models the determinants of life satisfaction are estimated. The paper also tests if there are significant gender differences in the results but find no significant differences in the determinants of male and female life satisfaction in Ireland at that time. The main findings suggest that unemployment has a statistically significant effect on reducing life satisfaction. Income is found to have a significant, but modest effect on improving life satisfaction. The results also suggest that being young (24 or younger) or old (over 65) and having social connections have the largest positive effects on life satisfaction. Other findings suggest that having children positively impacts on one’s life satisfaction. Living in a rural area of Ireland is a positive factor affecting an individual’s satisfaction with their life. Further significant results indicate that life satisfaction is largely, negatively influenced by marital status (being divorced or separated) and suffering from a disability. The overall findings are important in the context of the current policy focus on well-being in Ireland.

14:45-15:30pm: Dr. Ronan Lyons (Trinity College Dublin & Spatial Economics Research Centre, LSE)
What house price equation do households use? Insights from the Irish housing market, 2003-2014
Housing is the most important good in the typical household’s consumption basket and the largest asset in its portfolio. Given this, and given that expectations about house prices act as a demand shifter, the measurement of house price expectations is a topic of importance for economic policy. This research attempts to answer two related questions. Firstly, to what extent are expectations backward-looking, rather than based on perceptions of future fundamentals? And secondly, how do households believe that changes in fundamentals will affect house prices? These questions are answered combining national surveys (2003-2008), national and local surveys (2011-2014) and an experimental survey, drawing on methods from the willingness-to-pay literature.

15:30-16:00: Coffee 

16:00-17:00:  Prof. Ruth Byrne (TCD)
The Cognitive Science of the Human Imagination
The human imagination remains one of the last uncharted terrains of the mind. In everyday imaginative thought, people often create alternatives to reality and imagine how events might have turned out ‘if only’ something had been different. People engage in such flights of the imagination for more than entertainment – psychological experiments show that the alternatives to reality that people create ensure that they learn the causes of outcomes and how to prevent them in the future; they contribute to the experience of emotions such as regret, guilt, relief and hope; and they underlie social ascriptions of blame, responsibility, and fault. The loss of these imaginative thoughts following certain sorts of brain injury has devastating consequences for normal cognition.

New discoveries suggest that, just as experiments have shown that rational thought is more imaginative than previously supposed, so too imaginative thought is more rational than previously supposed.  Cognitive scientists have established that people tend to change the same sorts of things in their ‘if only’ thoughts, such as events within their control, actions rather than inactions, exceptions rather than usual events. These ‘fault-lines’ in the human imagination provide important clues about its logic and its limitations, and indicate that imaginative thoughts are guided by the same principles that underlie rational thoughts.