Thursday, June 20, 2013

Summary of Edinburgh Summer School

Professors (1) Liam Delaney, (2) Michael Daly and (3) Alex Wood of the Stirling Behavioural Science Centre gave a summer school session at Edinburgh University on June 18th. This is a brief summary of the first two talks. Alex has some information similar to his presentation on his blog. Useful links for each topic are listed at the bottom of the post.

(1) Liam spoke on the topic of "Behavioural Science and Public Policy: concepts, methods and policy applications". He gave an overview of the literature on introductory topics such as rationality, judgment under uncertainty, loss aversion, heuristics and biases as well as key economic concepts like inter-temporal choice, wellbeing and utility. At each stage behavioral research was examined showing situations where the assumptions of neo-classical economics do not hold up or lead to sub-optimal outcomes.

Following the break Liam moved on to the public policy implications of these findings, manifested through behavioural economics. Since the publication of the book Nudge in 2008 there has been a rapid growth of interest in this field among policy-makers, particularly in the U.S., U.K. and Australia. The talk concluded with a review of the concept of Libertarian Paternalism and a discussion on the current debate about the ethicality of nudging

(2) Michael spoke after lunch on "Behaviour change, Applications, & Innovations in Measurement".
The theme of Michael's talk was essentially that there are behavioural economists talking about nudges, who are accorded a lot of attention by policy-makers although the definition of what a nudge really is can be a little fuzzy. On the other side there are psychologists, predominantly health psychologists, who have decades of research on Behavioural Change Interventions (BCIs), arguably with a much more rigorous taxonomy. On this latter point Michael quoted the recent work of Susan Michie and her COM-B system as a framework for understanding behaviour. 

The capabilities tab has been best examined in recent years by James Heckman, for example in his work The Case for Investing in Disadvantaged Young Children. Motivation refers to the reflective and automatic processes. Opportunity refers to things like environmental design. Michael pointed out that "nudges" focus almost exclusively on opportunity as a point of intervention. BCIs seem to include more ambitious and expensive interventions such as Heckman's recommendations about investing in children to teach them non-cognitive skills.

It remains a challenge to integrate these different perspectives. Although behavioural economics and health psychology have reached similar policy conclusions, the theoretical foundations and intervention frameworks do not map neatly on to each other.

Useful Links
(1) Behavioural Science and Public Policy: concepts, methods and policy applications
Prospect Theory
Heuristics and Biases
The Endowment Effect
How are Preferences Revealed
Time discounting and time preference: A critical review
Procrastination, deadlines, and performance: Self-control by precommitment
Separate neural systems value immediate and delayed monetary rewards
Behavioural Policy Readings

(2) Behaviour change, Applications, & Innovations in Measurement
A taxonomy of behavior change techniques used in interventions
The behaviour change wheel
Changing Human Behavior to Prevent Disease: The Importance of Targeting Automatic Processes
A Practitioner's Guide to Nudging 

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