Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Launch of What Works Centre for Wellbeing

Via ESRC website - full details available here 
A new centre is being set up to gather and share evidence on what works to improve wellbeing. The independent What Works Centre for Wellbeing is the latest addition to the What Works Network, launched by the Government last year to improve public services through evidence-based policy. 
Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Public Health England and other partners, including government departments, the centre will become operational next spring, when grants will be awarded to universities to research the impact that different interventions and services have on wellbeing. 
The initial focus of research will be on the themes of work, communities and culture. The results will help government, councils, health and wellbeing boards, charities and businesses make decisions and choices informed by what the evidence says really matters for the wellbeing of people, communities and the nation as a whole. 
To mark the launch of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills published complementary research on employee wellbeing, what workplace factors influence it and how wellbeing affects performance.

Irish Government Economic Evaluation Service on Behavioural Economics

The Irish Civil Service established an economic evaluation service in 2012 "to enhance the role of economics and value for money analysis in public policy making". Interestingly, they have recently published a document on the role of behavioural economics in policy-making in Ireland. This is available on this link.

The Impact of Text Message Reminders on Adherence to Antimalarial Treatment in Northern Ghana: A Randomized Trial

The Impact of Text Message Reminders on Adherence to Antimalarial Treatment in Northern Ghana: A Randomized Trial

Julia R. G. Raifman 1, Heather E. Lanthorn 2, Slawa Rokicki 3, G√ľnther Fink 1

1 Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, United States of America, 2 Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, United States of America, 3 Department of Health Policy, Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Cambridge, MA, United States

PLoS ONE 9(10): e109032. doi:10.1371/journal.pone



Low rates of adherence to artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) regimens increase the risk of treatment failure and may lead to drug resistance, threatening the sustainability of current anti-malarial efforts. We assessed the impact of text message reminders on adherence to ACT regimens.


Health workers at hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and other stationary ACT distributors in Tamale, Ghana provided flyers advertising free mobile health information to individuals receiving malaria treatment. The messaging system automatically randomized self-enrolled individuals to the control group or the treatment group with equal probability; those in the treatment group were further randomly assigned to receive a simple text message reminder or the simple reminder plus an additional statement about adherence in 12-hour intervals. The main outcome was self-reported adherence based on follow-up interviews occurring three days after treatment initiation. We estimated the impact of the messages on treatment completion using logistic regression.


1140 individuals enrolled in both the study and the text reminder system. Among individuals in the control group, 61.5% took the full course of treatment. The simple text message reminders increased the odds of adherence (adjusted OR 1.45, 95% CI [1.03 to 2.04], p-value 0.028). Receiving an additional message did not result in a significant change in adherence (adjusted OR 0.77, 95% CI [0.50 to 1.20], p-value 0.252).


The results of this study suggest that a simple text message reminder can increase adherence to antimalarial treatment and that additional information included in messages does not have a significant impact on completion of ACT treatment. Further research is needed to develop the most effective text message content and frequency.

Trial Registration NCT01722734

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

November 21st ESRC Workshop on Preferences and Personality

ESRC Workshop 4: Preferences and Personality (21/11/14)

This is the fourth 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 Maclaren Suite in the Stirling Highland Hotel. There will be drinks and dinner after the days talks to which all attendees are welcome.

One of the major challenges in economics is understanding the statistical properties of measures of time, risk, and social preferences and evaluating the validity of such measures. This workshop will focus on empirical research examining economic preferences in laboratory and real-world settings

Speakers will address the reliability of traditional preference measures, their structure across demographic characteristics, innovations in measurement, and links between preference estimates and objective economic and biological measures. We have invited speakers who are engaged in the theoretical and empirical mapping of preference measures to personality traits which have been shown to have substantial predictive validity for important life outcomes (e.g. income, disease morbidity and mortality, employment). Taken together, this workshop will enhance cross-talk and expand the common conceptual ground that exists between personality psychologists and economists interested in the assessment of preferences in the UK and Europe. Furthermore, it will cultivate frontier thinking regarding the future data-collection priorities for social science in the UK and further afield.

Sign up to attend the workshop here


09:15-10:00: Professor Alex Wood (Stirling Behavioural Science Centre)

Integrating personality psychology and economics

10:00-10:30: Bernardo Fonseca Nunes (Stirling Behavioural Science Centre)
Transition to retirement and home production: personality explains heterogeneous changes in housework at retirement
Abstract: Previous studies on home-production at retirement do not consider the role of individual personality traits on the time retirees devote to housework. Here we examine whether personality determines the heterogeneous changes on the time individuals devote to housework due to a transition to retirement from the labour market. We use British longitudinal data which included individuals’ personality measures, and responses about the amount of hours spent per week on housework tasks. We find a positive change in housework hours for male and female retirees. Personality traits are shown to be more relevant on the explanation of housework changes at retirement than consumption expenditures, household income, and gender.

10:30-11:00: COFFEE

11:00-11:45: Dr. Hannah Schildberg-H√∂risch (University of Bonn)
How does parental socio-economic status shape a child’s personality?
(with Thomas Deckers, Armin Falk, Fabian Kosse).
Abstract: We show that socio-economic status (SES) is a powerful predictor of many facets of a child's personality. The facets of personality we investigate encompass time preferences, risk preferences, and altruism, as well as crystallized and fluid IQ. We measure a family's SES by the mother's and father's average years of education and household income. Our results show that children from families with higher SES are more patient, tend to be less likely to be risk seeking and more altruistic, and score higher on IQ tests. About 20 to 40% of this relationship can be explained by dimensions of a child's environment that are shown to differ by SES: parenting style, quantity and quality of time parents spend with their children, the mother's IQ and economic preferences, a child's initial conditions at birth, and family structure. Moreover, we use panel data to show that the relationship between SES and personality is fairly stable over time at age 7 to 10. 

Personality profiles that vary systematically with SES offer an explanation for social immobility. In a companion study, we present evidence on a randomly assigned variation in life-circumstances, providing children with a mentor for the duration of one year. Our data reveal a significant increase in altruism in the treatment relative to the control group. These findings thus provide evidence in favor of a causal effect of social environment on the formation of altruism. Moreover, we show that enriching life-circumstances bears the potential to close the observed developmental gap in altruism between low and high SES children.

11:45-12:15: Dr. Christopher Boyce (Stirling Behavioural Science Centre) 
Individual differences in loss aversion: Does personality predict how life satisfaction responds to losses versus gains in income? (with Alex Wood). 
Abstract: Loss aversion is generally regarded as a pervasive bias occurring regardless of context or decision-maker. No studies have examined the relationship between personality and loss aversion. Here, using data from Germany (N = 18,039), we examine whether the effect of income losses (versus income gains) on life satisfaction differ by personality. We show that, although there are no personality differences in how gains relate to life satisfaction, when experiencing an income reduction people higher on conscientiousness (versus those lower) exhibited larger declines in life satisfaction. Similarly, those lower on openness (versus those higher) experienced larger life satisfaction falls. Our results suggest; (a) important individual differences in loss aversion, (b) personality interacts with socio-economic events to influence life satisfaction, (c) some personality traits may promote resilience in this context, and (d) income relates to life satisfaction only for individuals that experience income losses, and have high conscientiousness or low openness.

12:15-13:00: Dr. Bart Golsteyn (University of Maastricht)
Risk attitudes across the life course
Abstract: This paper investigates how risk attitudes change over the life course. Even with panel data that span several years, age patterns are generally difficult to identify separately from cohort or calendar period effects. We provide first evidence on the age profile of risk attitudes all the way from early adulthood until old age, in large representative panel data sets from the Netherlands and Germany, using a proxy variable approach to achieve identification. The main result is that willingness to take risks decreases over the life course, linearly until approximately age 65 after which the slope becomes flatter.

13:00-14:00: LUNCH

14:00-14:45: Dr. Elisa Cavatorta (King's London) 
Measuring ambiguity preferences (with David Schroeder Birkbeck).

Abstract: Ambiguity preferences are important in explaining human decision-making in many areas in economics and finance. To measure ambiguity preferences, the experimental economics literature advocates using incentivized laboratory experiments. However, in many circumstances, carrying out complex lab-experiments is not feasible. In this paper, we evaluate the ability of thought experiments and attitudinal questions to generate a behaviourally valid measure of ambiguity preferences. We find that a small set of thought experiments and attitudinal questions can serve as an alternative measure when carrying out laboratory experiments is impractical. Our results can be useful in many situations that require measuring ambiguity preferences in an easily implementable and cost-effective way, such as large surveys, field experiments, or everyday business and finance applications.

14:45-15:30: Professor Marjon Van Pol (University of Aberdeen)
Measuring time preferences: insights from the health context
Abstract: There is a relatively large empirical literature on individual time preferences for health outcomes.  This interest has been stimulated by policy concerns around health behaviours such as obesity and smoking and by the debate on the appropriate discount rate in the case of health outcomes.  It could be argued that the literature on time preferences for health has been more innovative in terms of elicitation methodologies used and methodological questions that have been examined.  This presentation will reflect on a range of measurement issues that have been observed in the context of time preferences for health including framing effects, decision heuristics and negative time preferences.  Measurement issues will be demonstrated using a number of case studies.  General lessons for the elicitation of time preferences will be drawn out.  The presentation will finish with a discussion around predictive validity: does type of outcome in time preferences tasks matter for the predictive validity of life outcomes such as health?

15:30-16:00: COFFEE

16:00-16:45: Professor Sule Alan (University of Essex) 
Good Things Come to Those Who (Are Taught How to) Wait: Results from a Randomized Educational Intervention
Abstract: We report results from a randomized evaluation of a unique educational intervention targeted at elementary school children in 3rd and 4th-grade in Turkey. The program, which lasts eight weeks, uses case studies to discuss issues related to forward looking behavior, improve the ability to imagine future-selves and evaluate different contingencies arising from different actions, supplemented by classroom activities supervised by trained teachers. We find that treated students make more patient intertemporal choices in incentivized experimental tasks. The effect is stronger for students who are identified as present-biased in the baseline. Furthermore, using official school administrative records, we find that treated children are significantly less likely to receive a low “behavioral grade”. These results are persistent one year after the intervention, replicate well in a different sample, and are robust across different experimental preference elicitation methods

16:45-17:30: Professor Eamonn Ferguson (Nottingham) 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

If you ever need to explain the availability heuristic... opinion polls about controversial topics to reality. From Ipsos MORI:

"A new survey by Ipsos MORI for the Royal Statistical Society and King’s College London highlights how wrong the British public can be on the make-up of the population and the scale of key social policy issues.  The top ten misperceptions are:
1.       Teenage pregnancy: on average, we think teenage pregnancy is 25 times higher than official estimates:  we think that 15% of girls under 16 get pregnant each year, when official figures suggest it is around 0.6%[i]
2.       Crime: 58% do not believe that crime is falling, when the Crime Survey for England and Wales shows that incidents of crime were 19% lower in 2012 than in 2006/07 and 53% lower than in 1995[ii].  51% think violent crime is rising, when it has fallen from almost 2.5 million incidents in 2006/07 to under 2 million in 2012[iii].
3.       Job-seekers allowance: 29% of people think we spend more on JSA than pensions, when in fact we spend 15 times more on pensions (£4.9bn vs £74.2bn)[iv].
4.       Benefit fraud: people estimate that 34 times more benefit money is claimed fraudulently than official estimates: the public think that £24 out of every £100 spent on benefits is claimed fraudulently, compared with official estimates of £0.70 per £100[v].
5.       Foreign aid: 26% of people think foreign aid is one of the top 2-3 items government spends most money on, when it actually made up 1.1% of expenditure (£7.9bn) in the 2011/12 financial year.  More people select this as a top item of expenditure than pensions (which cost nearly ten times as much, £74bn) and education in the UK (£51.5bn)[vi].
6.       Religion: we greatly overestimate the proportion of the population who are Muslims: on average we say 24%, compared with 5% in England and Wales.  And we underestimate the proportion of Christians: we estimate 34% on average, compared with the actual proportion of 59% in England and Wales[vii].
7.       Immigration and ethnicity: the public think that 31% of the population are immigrants, when the official figures are 13%[viii]. Even estimates that attempt to account for illegal immigration suggest a figure closer to 15%.  There are similar misperceptions on ethnicity: the average estimate is that Black and Asian people make up 30% of the population, when it is actually 11% (or 14% if we include mixed and other non-white ethnic groups)[ix].
8.       Age: we think the population is much older than it actually is – the average estimate is that 36% of the population are 65+, when only 16% are[x].
9.       Benefit bill: people are most likely to think that capping benefits at £26,000 per household will save most money from a list provided (33% pick this option), over twice the level that select raising the pension age to 66 for both men and women or stopping child benefit when someone in the household earns £50k+.  In fact, capping household benefits is estimated to save £290m[xi], compared with £5bn[xii] for raising the pension age and £1.7bn[xiii] for stopping child benefit for wealthier households.
10.   Voting: we underestimate the proportion of people who voted in the last general election – our average guess is 43%, when 65% of the electorate actually did (51% of the whole population)[xiv]
These misperceptions present clear issues for informed public debate and policy-making, which will be discussed at an event being run by the Royal Statistical Society, King’s College London and Ipsos MORI today, as part of the International Year of Statistics."
Any other good examples of this? I'm sure there's decades of American polling data to draw on.