Friday, August 29, 2014

Links of the Week 29.8.14

1. Biography of the 5 co-authors of a recent Science paper on ebola who died from the disease

2. Courtemanche, Heutel & McAlvanah (2014), Impatience, Incentives and Obesity, The Economic Journal
Abstract: This article explores the relationship between time preferences, economic incentives and body mass index (BMI). We provide evidence of an interaction effect between time preference and food prices, with cheaper food leading to the largest weight gains among those exhibiting the most impatience. The interaction of changing economic incentives with heterogeneous discounting may help explain why increases in BMI have been concentrated amongst the distribution's right tail. We also model time-inconsistent preferences by computing individuals’ quasi-hyperbolic discounting parameters. Both long-run patience and present-bias predict BMI, suggesting obesity is partly attributable to both rational intertemporal tradeoffs and time inconsistency.

3. "Saving Horatio Alger" from the Brookings Institute (full of terrific graphs)

4. Teaching fish to walk from National Geographic (summary of a new Nature paper)

5. From 538: Is the polling industry in stasis or crisis?

6. Babcock, Congdon, Katz& Mullainathan (2010), Notes on Behavioral Economics and Labor Market Policy

7. This graph from from p40 of Autor (2014), Polanyi’s Paradox and the Shape of Employment Growth, showing the sharp decline in middle-income jobs over the last 20 years

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Using Large Publicly Available Datasets for Psychological & Social Science Research

Would your research benefit from being able to analyse already-collected data on psychological measures from thousands of different individuals at multiple time-points? 

There are now many publicly available datasets within the UK (such as those hosted by the UK Data Service) and across the world. These data have been collected with the primary purpose of enabling researchers to better understand how people function within the world around them. Although these data-sets are free to access and are commonly used within economics and epidemiology, they remain under-utilized in many disciplines in the social sciences, particularly psychology. This is unfortunate given that many of these datasets contain measures and scales relevant to cutting-edge psychological research, such as personality, well-being, attitudes, behaviour, physical health and mental health. One barrier to unlocking these datasets' potential is having the necessary skills to manage and analyse them. We at the Behavioural Science Centre, Stirling Management School, in conjunction with the Economic Social and Research Council (ESRC), are offering 2 training workshops specifically built around these datasets to equip you with the necessary skills, which includes an introduction to the statistical package Stata, to handle them.

Workshop 1: Introduction to data analysis of large publicly available datasets (2-3 December 2014) 
Participants will learn how to obtain and manage data, use the statistical program Stata, conduct basic analysis and interpret the results. This workshop requires that participants are comfortable with basic statistics prior to the course and will enable researchers to begin using untapped resources immediately. 

Workshop 2: Advanced techniques for large publicly available datasets (18-19 March 2015) 
Participants will learn advanced statistical methodology to enable them to get the most out of large publicly available datasets. This will include panel data techniques such as understanding and implementing fixed effect and difference-in-difference models, as well as how to implement instrumental variable estimations. This workshop will require that participants have a basic knowledge of handling large datasets and using the statistical program Stata. Attendance at workshop 1, although not a pre-requisite, would represent sufficient knowledge. 

Further details: Both courses will take place at Stirling Management School, University of Stirling. At our Behavioural Science Centre we have a number of researchers, including Prof Liam Delaney, Dr Michael Daly (early Career Award recipient, UK Society for Behavioural Medicine), and Prof Alex Wood and Dr Christopher Boyce (joint winners, best paper using GSOEP data resource 2012-2013), with substantial experience using and publishing with these types of datasets. Both workshops are aimed at PhD students but advanced Masters students and post-PhD researchers are welcome to apply. The University of Stirling is approximately 50 minutes by train from Edinburgh, 25 minutes from Glasgow and 5 hours from London. The course is funded by the ESRC and the cost to participants is £50 (in addition to accommodation and transport).

How to apply: Participants are welcome to apply to attend one workshop or both. Please send a completed application form, including (1) a curriculum vitae, (2) a statement as to why you wish to attend and how it will benefit you and your research (suggested maximum 2 pages), and (3) a supporting statement from a supervisor or senior colleague, to

Monday, August 25, 2014

Daniel McFadden: Understanding better how people really make choices

"Brain science – or what economists called neuroeconomics – is perhaps the most live area. In particular it has identified reward structures and neurotransmitters in the brain, and the impact of choice problems on the brain in the presence of experimental treatments. He said:
“The hedonic treadmill we are on can be characterised as not the pursuit happiness but the happiness of pursuit. That’s what that people really care about.”
...The classical economic of choice is therefore far too simple as it does not capture what goes on in people’s brain when they make choices. “It is also much too static to capture the sensitivity and dynamics of the process,” he said.
However he said that welfare economists based on neurological measures of utility and brain functioning was coming. “But we are not there yet. Wait for it – but even better get involved in the types of research and the bridge between economics and other disciplines and play a role in making this come true.”"
See the bottom of this link for a video of his 30min talk

Sunday, August 24, 2014

September 19th ESRC Workshop on Early Life Influences on Later Life Health and Economic Outcomes

ESRC Workshop 3: Early Life Influences on Later Life Health and Economic Outcomes (19/9/14)

This is the third 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. There will be drinks and dinner after the days talks to which all attendees are welcome.

This workshop will address the ESRC’s priority objective of fostering research that capitalizes on the growing data resources available in the UK Data Archive and comparable international depositories. There is now an abundance of large databases, which assess detailed psychological, economic, and health measures in samples of tens of thousands of participants over several years or even decades.

The theme of the workshop is how the measurement of constructs such as childhood personality, well-being, intelligence and adverse conditions in early life can be used to understand the unfolding of economic, health and welfare outcomes throughout adulthood. The comparative benefits of contemporary measurement and retrospective accounts of early conditions will be addressed, studies utilizing this data presented, and limitations (e.g. recall, desirability biases) discussed.

Sign up to the workshop here


09:00-09:20: Registration

09:20-09:30: Welcome and workshop introduction

09:30-10:00: Fionnuala O'Reilly (Stirling University)
Associations between childhood self-regulation and adult socioeconomic status
Uncovering the childhood determinants of socioeconomic status (SES) in adulthood is an important social goal. In this paper, we utilised the British Cohort Study (N = 6,700) to examine the association between childhood self-regulation and a set of socioeconomic factors measured in adulthood, adjusting for a range of important potential confounding variables including childhood cognitive ability and parental SES. Specifically, we tested the association between self-regulation at age 10 and the cohort members' income, social class, educational attainment, home ownership and self-ratings of their financial position at age 30 and 42.

We found that higher self-regulation at age 10 had a substantial and significant association with better SES outcomes at both age 30 and 42. On average a 1 SD increase in childhood self-regulation was associated with a 0.13 SD increase in adult SES; an effect size comparable to that of a 1 SD increase in childhood cognitive ability (0.17 SD). On average 30% of the relationship between childhood self-regulation and adult SES was explained by educational attainment. Finally, we found that childhood self-regulation acts as a medium through which individuals may attain higher social standing, both inter-generationally and over the course of their own lives.

10:00-10:30: Dr. Michael Daly (Stirling University)
Poor childhood self-discipline predicts physiological dysregulation in midlife (with Liam Delaney).
Childhood self-discipline emerges early, is malleable, and could contribute substantially to a healthy life. The present study examined associations between self-discipline at ages 7 and 11 and physiological dysregulation in middle age. Participants were 6,878 British men and women born in March 1958 who took part in the National Child Development Study. Self-discipline was gauged using a 13-item teacher-rated scale from the Bristol Social Adjustment Guide assessing concentration (e.g. ‘cannot attend or concentrate for long’), perseverance (e.g. ‘can never stick at anything long’), restlessness and impulsive behaviour (e.g. ‘constantly needs petty correction’). Blood plasma samples and anthropometric data were collected and analysed using standard procedures at age 45. An overall physiological dysregulation index was derived from a set of 12 biological variables: systolic and diastolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, body mass index, waist/hip ratio, C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, Von Willebrand factor, glycosylated haemoglobin, tissue plasminogen activator, and peak flow (Cronbach’s α = .76).

Higher levels of self-discipline were significantly associated with lower physiological dysregulation (B = -.073, SE = .013; β = -.073; t = -5.80, p < .001), after controlling for sex, intelligence at age 11, and socioeconomic status at birth. This association was relatively unaffected  by further adjustment for a large set of childhood controls (B = -.068, SE = .017; β = -.068; t = -5.30, p < .001) including parental characteristics (e.g. age, mother’s education), family difficulties (e.g. housing, financial), aspects of the home environment (e.g. region, crowding), conditions at birth (e.g. birth weight, breast feeding), physician assessed medical conditions (e.g. asthma, emotional maladjustment, diabetes) and relative weight at age 7. By adjusting for a broad set of important covariates in a large-scale representative cohort these analyses provide robust evidence that childhood self-discipline is associated with long-run health effects that cannot be attributed to other psychological factors like intelligence or emotional problems or to initial health or environmental conditions.

10:30-11:00: COFFEE

11:00-11:45: Professor Markus Jokela (University of Helsinki)
Adolescent verbal ability and health outcomes in the British Household Panel Survey

11:45-12:30: Dr. Iris Kesternich (Munich)
Early-life circumstances predict measures of trust attitudes among adults
(with Maximiiana Hörl, Jim Smith & Joachim Winter).
Trust in strangers plays a decisive role in economic interactions, and at the same time it shows substantial heterogeneity across individuals. The sources of this individual-level variation are largely unknown. This paper investigates whether a major shock experienced in childhood can permanently shape preferences for trust. We relate a measure of trust in strangers available for a nationally representative sample of the German population to exposure to a hunger episode after the Second World War. We collected data on caloric rations that vary by month and across regions to capture exposure to hunger. We find that trust is significantly diminished for those more affected by the hunger episode.

12:30-13:00: LUNCH

13:30-14:15: Mark Egan (Stirling University)
Childhood psychological distress and youth unemployment: evidence from three cohort studies
(with Michael Daly & Liam Delaney)
The effect of childhood mental health on later unemployment has not yet been established. This presentation reviews recent work examining whether childhood psychological distress places young people at high risk of subsequent unemployment and whether the presence of economic recession strengthens this relationship. We investigate these relationships using three nationally-representative cohort studies - 19,377 individuals from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE) and the National Child Development Study (NCDS) in Britain and 6,474 individuals from the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1997 (NLSY97) in the United States - with a combined total of 3.8m observations. Distress was measured using the General Health Questionnaire at age 14 in the LSYPE, via a teacher-rated measure of depression at age 7 and 11 in the NCDS and with the Mental Health Inventory at age 16-20 in the NLSY97.

There are two main findings. Firstly, children with higher levels of distress went on to experience higher levels of youth unemployment in all cohorts examined. These effects were large, statistically significant and could not be accounted for by early environmental factors, intelligence, or personality characteristics. Secondly, analyses of the 1980 recession in the UK and the 2007 recession in the United States reveals that children with higher levels of distress were disproportionately more likely to become unemployed during the fallout of these economic downturns. These findings point to a previously neglected contribution of childhood mental health to youth unemployment which may be particularly pronounced during times of economic recession. Our findings also suggest a further economic benefit to enhancing the provision of mental health services early in life.

14:15-15:00: Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve (UCL)
Estimating the influence of life satisfaction and positive affect on later income using sibling fixed-effects (with Andrew Oswald)
The question of whether there is a connection between income and psychological well-being is a long-studied issue across the social, psychological, and behavioral sciences. Much research has found that richer people tend to be happier. However, relatively little attention has been paid to whether happier individuals perform better financially in the first place. This possibility of reverse causality is arguably understudied. Using data from a large US representative panel, we show that adolescents and young adults who report higher life satisfaction or positive affect grow up to earn significantly higher levels of income later in life. We focus on earnings approximately one decade after the person’s well-being is measured; we exploit the availability of sibling clusters to introduce family fixed effects; we account for the human capacity to imagine later socioeconomic outcomes and to anticipate the resulting feelings in current well-being.

The study’s results are robust to the inclusion of controls such as education, intelligence quotient, physical health, height, self-esteem, and later happiness. We consider how psychological well-being may influence income. Sobel–Goodman mediation tests reveal direct and indirect effects that carry the influence from happiness to income. Significant mediating pathways include a higher probability of obtaining a college degree, getting hired and promoted, having higher degrees of optimism and extraversion, and less neuroticism.

15:00-15:30: COFFEE

15:30-16:15: Professor Alissa Goodman (Institute of Education)

16:15-17:00: Panel discussion

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Small BIG

Steve Martin, Noah Goldstein and Robert Cialdini have a new book coming out later this month called 'The Small BIG' and their publisher was kind enough to send me an advance copy. This is the second collaboration by the three co-authors after they published 'Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion' in 2007. Robert Cialdini, aside from being a highly-cited social psychologist within academia, is also the author of the 1984 book 'Influence' which continues to be very popular among both lay audiences and nerds like myself. Their latest book is in a similar mould of describing how persuasion techniques, contextual factors and environment cues can be used to influence others in business and social situations.

When it comes to popular science books I generally take a chicken wing approach of gobbling up the science and skimming the popular aspects as efficiently as possible; in other words my copies of 'Predictably Irrational', 'Blink', Freakonomics' and so on are full of underlined passages and notes next to where the academic papers are referenced. When I want to look up something which I found particularly interesting in one of these books, I thumb through and quickly find the relevant study using this method.

With that said I found 'The Small BIG' refreshingly direct in its presentation. The book is made up of 52 main chapters, each around 4 pages in length and providing a "small" psychological insight that can have a potentially large effect on behaviour (hence the book title). The chapter titles follow the same structure, such as "How can a small change in venue lead to big differences in your negotiations", "What small big can be used to make defaults more effective?" and "What small big could help motivate others (and yourself) to complete a task".

All the chapters draw on the authors' obviously deep knowledge of the social psychology literature in order to relate real-life tips and applications. For example, the chapter "What small big could ensure you're dressed for success?" cites a paper which found that wearing a stethoscope led a nurse's health messages to be recalled more successfully (Castledine 1996), and an older study (Lefkowitz et al. 1955) which found that people were considerably more likely to follow a man (illegally) crossing the street on a red light when he wore a suit compared to casual clothes. Another chapter examining order effects (i.e. the order in which you present options may influence people's reaction to them) cites a paper which found that people perceived "580 [hours of tv] for $285.90" as a better deal than "$285.90 for 580 hours" (Bagchi & Davis 2012). Interestingly this effect disappeared when consumers were presented with a computationally easier choice ("600 hours for $300").The authors then suggest how these kind of findings might apply in a business context, such as framing sales orders by item-first rather than price.

To give a final example, the authors discuss the findings of a recent paper examining how people perceive opportunity cost (Frederick et al. 2009), one of the most fundamental insights of economic thought and a concept which can really change your life if you deeply internalize it. That paper conducted an experiment wherein one group were offered the chance to purchase a DVD for $15 with the options "Buy the DVD" or "Not buy the DVD". The second group were offered the same product but with the options "Buy the DVD" or "Keep the $15 for other purchases". This subtle reframing led to a reduction in purchase rates in the second group from 75 to 55 percent, a finding which sales professionals could take either way in terms of highlighting or underplaying the opportunity cost of following their communications (e.g. look at the phrase used 20 seconds into this De Beers advertisement).

With 117 references in the 52 chapters, I found this book a very effective way to dive into the persuasion/influence literature and I learned of many new studies by reading it.