Tuesday, May 05, 2015

List of resources on noncognitive skills

This is an ongoing list of resources for researchers interested in noncognitive skills.

Although there is disagreement on the definition of noncognitive skills, the term is generally used "to contrast a variety of behaviours, personality characteristics, and attitudes with academic skills, aptitudes, and attainment (p8 Gutman & Schoon, 2013). Noncognitive skills are sometimes called personality skills, soft skills, socioemotional skills and character. These are probably more sensible terms given that "few aspects of human behavior are devoid of cognition" (p3 Borghans et al., 2008). Nonetheless the term 'noncognitive' has survived as a useful way to bucket together individual psychological differences which are not captured by IQ tests (there is also disagreement on whether to use the term "skills" or "traits" but that is another issue).

Over the last fifteen years there has been growing interest in economics in the role noncognitive skills play in shaping socioeconomic outcomes such as educational attainment, employment, earnings, health and wellbeing. Almlund et al. (2011) show how decades of psychology research on individual psychological differences and later outcomes is beginning to be incorporated into formal economic models. Although there are a great many researchers across economics and psychology who have contributed to this literature, it is fair to single out the economist James Heckman (co-winner of the Economics Nobel in 2000) as having been extremely influential in bringing it to the attention of mainstream economists. Heckman has worked on many influential papers in this area and disseminates a lot of material aimed at non-academics on his website The Heckman Equation.

Below is a table from p12 of Heckman & Kautz (2013) which lists many different noncognitive skills using the framework of the Big Five personality traits.

Noncognitive Skills in the Classroom: New Perspectives on Educational Research by Rosen, Glennie, Dalton, Lennon & Bozick (2010)

Teaching Adolescents To Become Learners. The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance: A Critical Literature Review by Farrington, Roderick, Allensworth, Nagaoka, Keyes, Johnson & Beechum (2012). University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

The impact of non-cognitive skills on outcomes for young people: Literature review by Gutman & Schoon (2013). Institute of Education, UCL.

‘Non-cognitive’ skills: What are they and how can they be measured in the British cohort studies? Literature Review by Joshi (2014). Institute of Education, UCL.

Improving Outcome Measures Other Than Achievement by Moore, Lippman & Ryberg (2014).

Fostering and Measuring Skills: Improving Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Skills to Promote Lifetime Success by Kautz, Heckman, Diris, ter Weel & Borghans (2014). OECD report.

Addressing and Mitigating Vulnerability Across the Life Cycle: The Case for Investing in Early Childhood by Young (2014). UNDP Human Development Report Office Occasional Paper.

Developing Social-Emotional Skills for the Labor Market: The PRACTICE Model by Guerra, Modecki & Cunningham (2014). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper.

Social and emotional skills in childhood and their long-term effects on adult life by Goodman, Joshi, Nasim & Tyler (2015). Institute of Education, UCL.

Papers in academic journals

Economic, neurobiological, and behavioral perspectives on building America's future workforce by Knudsen, Heckman, Cameron, & Shonkoff (2006). PNAS.

Schools, Skills, and Synapses by Heckman (2008). Economic Inquiry.

The Economics and Psychology of Personality Traits by Borghans, Duckworth, Heckman & ter Weel (2008). Journal of Human Resources.

Estimating the Technology of Cognitive and Noncognitive Skill Formation by Cunha, Heckman & Schennach (2010). IZA Discussion Paper.

The Labor Market Returns to Cognitive and Noncognitive Ability: Evidence from the Swedish Enlistment by Lindqvist & Vestman (2011). American Economic Journal.

Personality Psychology and Economics by Almlund, Duckworth, Heckman & Kautz (2011). NBER working paper.

Fostering and Measuring Skills: Interventions That Improve Character and Cognition by Heckman & Kautz (2013). NBER working paper. 

PPT slides
Hard Evidence on Soft Skills by Heckman & Kautz (2011).

Noncognitive Skills and Socioemotional Learning by Heckman (2012).

The role of noncognitive skills in academic success by Payne and Kyllonen (2012).

Papers by members of the Stirling Behavioural Science Centre
Childhood self-control & unemployment by Daly, Delaney, Egan & Baumeister (2015). Psychological Science.

Childhood psychological distress and youth unemployment by Egan, Daly & Delaney (2015). Social Science & Medicine.

Personality change following unemployment by Boyce, Wood, Daly & Sedikides (in press). Journal of Applied Psychology.

Money, well-being, and loss aversion: Does a loss in income have a greater effect on well-being than an equivalent income gain? by Boyce, Wood, Banks, Clark & Brown (2013). Psychological Science.

Parental education, grade attainment and earnings expectations among university students by Delaney, Harmon & Redmond (2011). Economics of Education Review.

Psychological and biological foundations of time preference by Delaney, Daly & Harmon (2009). Journal of the European Economic Association.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

How Paternalistic Should Policymakers be?

Below cross-posted from my irisheconomy.ie post: 

The literature on behavioural economics has set off a very interesting debate on the extent to which policy-makers should intervene to improve outcomes in cases where individuals are potentially harming themselves but not others.

A paper by Camerer et al in 2003 put forward the case for asymmetric paternalism whereby policy could potentially help individuals who are not making rational decisions, while not infringing on others. An example is pension auto-enrolment whereby individuals procrastinating on pensions decisions are helped in the process of saving while those who genuinely do not want to take out a pension are not forced to.

Sunstein and Thaler added the idea of Libertarian Paternalism to the literature whereby policy-makers strive to improve outcomes (paternalism) while also placing a high weight on freedom to choose (libertarianism). The now-famous book Nudge is an expression of this philosophy and has had a dramatic impact on policy-makers in the US, UK and to some extent Australia and is being discussed at least in the Irish policy environment.

A big debate is ensuing around Nudge with some claiming the philosophy is too interventionist (see Sunstein's Storr lectures for a list of these critiques and also his responses - see also a reading list I put together here).

Another line of argument is that Nudge artificially restricts the application of behavioural economics to non-mandated policy interventions. A recent Harvard Law Review piece by Bubb and Pildes examines three areas of policy (financial regulation, fuel pollution and consumer credit regulation) and makes the case that the behavioural evidence does not support soft-paternalist policies but rather a more interventionist approach. In particular they argue that there is a large tension between the evidence provided by behavioural economics and the political position being advocated by many of its adherents. In their view, the bounded rationality displayed by citizens leaves them far more open to exploitation and also far less likely to respond to soft-policies to improve their welfare. They cite an extremely interesting article by Lauren Willis in the University of Chicago Law Review, who argues that Nudges are insufficient in cases where large corporations have incentives to counteract them and she gives a detailed case-study from US financial regulation where financial companies quite easily ran around various default options embedded in consumer protection regulation. She argues that mandates and generally more active regulation is needed in many cases due to the degree of control that the regulated firms have over how to implement "nudges".

Sunstein's response to this is available here where he argues that it is important to respect people's freedom of choice and that it is unclear yet that nudges are ineffective in the face of counteracting moves by vested interests. He argues that, while in some cases mandates may turn out to be neccesary and more effective, this should at least partly be an empirical question and should not ignore the importance of autonomy.

This debate is important in the Irish context. There are many areas of policy where policy objectives lead to tensions between implementation of effective policies and the autonomy of individuals to choose. In cases where individual actions lead to costs to others then traditional economics and regulation is on more solid ground. But when there is active debate about how to reduce health-damaging diet and consumption patterns, promote greater pension coverage and other policies effectively aimed at improving individual welfare through changing their behaviour then this debate is very important and interesting. It also hits against the idea that behavioural economics is an attempt to individualise wider social and economic problems. In this debate, there is a clearly interesting tussle between the interests of large companies, the decisions of boundedly rational households and the political factors that lead to the mandates of regulators. It provides an interesting and realistic way of debating policy and regulation.

3rd May 2015 Behavioural Science Links

1. Enlightenment 2.0: Restoring sanity to our politics, our economy, and our lives (via Marginal Revolution)

2. NYT piece on the links between the APA and the CIA torture programme.

3. Andrew Gelman on the bad things that happen when we don't take measurement seriously.

4. Nature piece on the first results from Psychology's largest replication exercise. Everyone involved in empirical social science should follow this and related work. Mass replications are a relatively recent phenomenon in these areas and need a lot more discussion. It is great to see them but it is clearly not so simple to replicate complex psychology experiments from across decades. The conditions under which a psychology experiment can be replicated precisely are also worth discussing further,

5. A-level Economics will now include material on behavioural economics. Worth discussing for high-school economics programmes around the world.

6. BIT is recruiting again. I presented there in March and two of our MSc programme graduates from last year work there. I can testify to the very vibrant atmosphere there. It looks like a great place to work.

7. Roland Fryer was awarded the Bates Clarke medal, basically an Economics Nobel for under-40s. His work is available here. The award text is well worth reading and available here
Roland Fryer is an influential applied microeconomist whose work spans labor economics, the economics of education, and social problems and social interactions.  His innovative and creative research contributions have deepened our understanding of the sources, magnitude, and persistence of U.S. racial inequality.  He has made substantial progress in evaluating the policies that work and do not work to improve the educational outcomes and economic opportunities of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  His theoretical and empirical work on the “acting white” hypothesis of peer effects provides new insights into the difficulties of increasing the educational investments of minorities and the socially excluded.  Fryer is the leading economist working on the economics of race and education, and he has produced the most important work in recent years on combating the racial divide, one of America’s most profound and long-lasting social problems. He has mastered tools from many disciplines to tackle difficult research topics.  Fryer has developed and implemented compelling randomized field experiments in large U.S. urban school districts to evaluate education interventions.  He founded EdLabs (the Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University) in 2008 to facilitate such efforts and continues as its director.  He has incorporated insights from psychology to formulate a new model of discrimination based on categorization, and he has used detailed historical archival research to understand the origins and spread of the Ku Klux Klan.
8.  14th TIBER Symposium on Psychology and Economics, Tilburg - call for papers

9. "Early intervention and child health: Evidence from a Dublin-based randomized controlled trial"

10. Which, the influential UK consumer group, is recruiting - "Principal Behavioural Insight researcher in the Which? policy division". Links here and here.

11. New paper on "On the misplaced politics of behavioral policy interventions".

12. HBR: "A short history of modern decision making, from John von Neumann to Daniel Kahneman"

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Call for papers: Stirling PhD Conference in Behavioural Science (25th of June 2015)

Call for papers: Stirling PhD Conference in Behavioural Science

25th of June 2015

Stirling Behavioural Science Centre (StirBSC)

The Stirling Behavioural Science Centre is pleased to announce its 2015 PhD Student Conference in Behavioural Science. The PhD conference will be held at the University of Stirling on the 25th of June 2015 and will be followed by our Workshop on Behavioural Science and Public Policy on June 26. Attendees to the PhD conference on June 25 are also welcome to attend the June 26 workshop.

The June 25 PhD conference aims to give PhD students in Behavioural Science the opportunity to meet other researchers, to present their work, and get feedback from peers and researchers in the field. The PhD conference will deal with all areas of behavioural science (or behavioural economics, economic psychology, judgement and decision making, depending on your terminological preference). Topics include, but are not limited to

  • Nudging and Behavioural Policies 
  • Evaluation of Behavioural Policies
  • Mechanisms of Behavioural Interventions
  • Inter-temporal Choice
  • Self-control
  • Risk Preferences
  • Social Preferences
  • Heuristics
  • Personality and Economics
  • Subjective Well-Being
  • Identity in Economics
  • Emotions and Decision Making 
  • Behavioural Medicine
  • Early Influences on Later Life Outcomes
  • Behavioural Science and the Labour Market
  • Research Methods in Behavioural Science 
Speakers will have 25 minutes to present followed by 20 minutes of discussion. Speakers have the opportunity to send their papers/slides to their discussant about 2 weeks before the conference in order to get more detailed feedback. Discussants who will be available to give feedback on the 25th are listed below. Further discussants will be added shortly.

Located in the heart of Scotland’s central belt, Stirling is a 45 minute journey from both Glasgow and Edinburgh airports. There will be no conference fee and a social dinner will be provided for attendees on the evening of June 25. 

For affordable accommodation in Stirling, we recommend booking.com and airbnb. Accommodation may fill up relatively soon due to graduation ceremonies taking place on the same day. In this case it is also feasible to stay in Edinburgh or Glasgow and take a 40 minute train to Stirling in the morning.

Important dates:

  • April 30th: Abstract submission deadline (up to 500 words).
  • May 7th: Notification of acceptance.
  • May 25th: Registration deadline.
  • June 10th: Submission of paper/more detailed abstract to the discussant.

We welcome you to submit an abstract for your paper using the link below. 


We look forward to welcoming you to Stirling. If you have questions, feel free to send an email to l.k.lades@stir.ac.uk.

We thankfully appreciate support from the ESRC. 

Other helpful links:

1. Stirling Behavioural Science Centre
2. How to get to Stirling
3. List of recent conferences run by Stirling Behavioural Science Centre
4. The Stirling Court Hotel on campus

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Links 29.4.15

1. Charlie Munger on academic economics' strengths and weaknesses from Farnam Street.

2. Lead Exposure and Behaviour: Effects on Antisocial and Risky Behavior Among Children and Adolescents (Reyes, 2015). NBER working paper.
Abstract: It is well known that exposure to lead has numerous adverse effects on behavior and development. Using data on two cohorts of children from the NLSY, this paper investigates the effect of early childhood lead exposure on behavior problems from childhood through early adulthood. I find large negative consequences of early childhood lead exposure, in the form of an unfolding series of adverse behavioral outcomes: behavior problems as a child, pregnancy and aggression as a teen, and criminal behavior as a young adult. At the levels of lead that were the norm in United States until the late 1980s, estimated elasticities of these behaviors with respect to lead range between 0.1 and 1.0.

3. What’s the most important thing in statistics that’s not in the textbooks?  from Andrew Gelman..

4. The deadline for abstract submissions for the Behavioural Science workshop for Phd students is tomorrow.

5. Economic, neurobiological, and behavioral perspectives on building America’s future workforce (Knudsen et al., 2006). PNAS.
Abstract: A growing proportion of the U.S. workforce will have been raised in disadvantaged environments that are associated with relatively high proportions of individuals with diminished cognitive and social skills. A cross-disciplinary examination of research in economics, developmental psychology, and neurobiology reveals a striking convergence on a set of common principles that account for the potent effects of early environment on the capacity for human skill development. Central to these principles are the findings that early experiences have a uniquely powerful influence on the development of cognitive and social skills and on brain architecture and neurochemistry, that both skill development and brain maturation are hierarchical processes in which higher level functions depend on, and build on, lower level functions, and that the capacity for change in the foundations of human skill development and neural circuitry is highest earlier in life and decreases over time. These findings lead to the conclusion that the most efficient strategy for strengthening the future workforce, both economically and neurobiologically, and improving its quality of life is to invest in the environments of disadvantaged children during the early childhood years.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Economic Burden of Non-Communicable Diseases

The global burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) is expected to increase in the coming decades as the total global population rises along with the proportion of the population in older age groups. The overall impact of chronic disease on population health in developing countries will be substantial, particularly for conditions such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Many low and middle income countries are in the midst of an epidemiological transition, with the dominant cause of mortality shifting from infectious disease to NCDs, and a rise in the average age at death. In some cases, urbanisation and rapid economic development have brought behavioural and lifestyle changes, leading to a rise in the prevalence of NCD risk factors such as smoking, poor diet, and sedentary lifestyles. Globally, NCDs are responsible for 66 percent of all mortality, and account for 54 percent of healthy life years lost, as measured by Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs). 

There is a substantial amount of existing evidence on the impact of NCDs on individual wellbeing, however there is less evidence on the economic effect of chronic disease on society as a whole. NCDs can impact on growth in a number of ways, including through reduced reductions in effective labour supply (including productivity, early retirement, and morality), diversion of productive savings towards medical expenditure, and reduced government capacity to invest in infrastructure or education. 

In a recent report for the World Economic Forum (Economics of Non-Communicable Diseases in Indonesia, Bloom, D. E., Chen S., McGovern M., Prettner K., Candeias V., Bernaert A. and Cristin S., World Economic Forum, 2015), we estimate the economic burden of NCDs in Indonesia over the period 2012-2030 to be $ 4.47 trillion. 

Summaries of the report are available here:

Details of the methodology are provided in our earlier paper:

Bloom, David E., et al. "The macroeconomic impact of non-communicable diseases in China and India: Estimates, projections, and comparisons." The Journal of the Economics of Ageing 4 (2014): 100-111. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212828X14000206
See also our non-technical summary:

Bloom, D.E., Cafiero-Fonseca, E.T., McGovern, M.E., Prettner, K. (2014): "China and India's Decent into Chronic Disease: Killing Themselves Slowly." The Milken Institute Review, Q2, 2014. http://assets1c.milkeninstitute.org/assets/Publication/MIReview/PDF/24-33MR62.pdf  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Workshop on "The Behavioural Science of Self-Control" (December 4, 2015)

On December 4th 2015, we will host a workshop on “The Behavioural Science of Self-Control: Integrating Economic and Psychological Perspectives”. The workshop is funded by the Scottish Institute for Research in Economics (SIRE).

Self-control is an important human capacity that prevents people from acting on impulses. It has been identified as a key variable in both economics and psychology. This workshop aims to bring together researchers from both disciplines in order to discuss different perspectives on self-control, overcome artificial disciplinary boundaries, and integrate perspectives into a more coherent behavioural science of self-control. 

Figure 1: The Behavioural Science of Self-Control
In economics, self-control is often defined as the ability to stick to prior plans and thus have dynamically consistent time preferences. The methods typically used in economics to analyse self-control problems are mathematical formalisations, secondary data, and incentivised delay discounting questions in experiments or large scale surveys. In psychology, self-control is defined as the ability to regulate one's behaviours, emotions, and thoughts. Psychologists typically use scales in surveys and experimental manipulations to analyse self-control (see Figure 1).

We would like to explore possibilities to combine theoretical and methodological approaches from economics and psychology in novel ways in order to generate new hypotheses, find new ways to test existing hypothesis, compare different theoretical and methodological approaches, figure out new ways to formalise self-control problems, and take the first step toward a behavioural science of self-control. Themes that might be discussed at the workshop include:
  • Different measurements of self-control in economics and psychology.
  • The roles of temptation and willpower in economics and psychology.
  • Economic and psychological consequences of different degrees of self-control.
  • The effectiveness of interventions to improve self-control.
  • The mathematical formalisation of insights from self-control research.

Below are the speakers who have already agreed to participate including their tentative presentation titles: