Sunday, July 13, 2014

Comparative Behavioural Science and Policy Research

Many of the literatures and policy applications that inspire me come from US and European institutions often conducted on US/European samples and often directed at issues in those countries. A big question for the evolving area of behavioural science and policy is the extent to which concepts in this domain are culturally bound. Obviously this debate has played out in psychology in various ways before. A well-cited paper by Jarnett (2008) examined the implications of too much psychology research being focused on America. Henrich et al (2010) examined the implications of psychology participants being WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic).

With regards to behavioural science, below are some themes I am developing for a lecture I will be adding to my MSc Behavioural Science course. Comments and suggestions welcome. I will update with a series of posts on applications of this area in different parts of the world in due course. The key question is how ideas from behavioural science interact with different types of country governing systems and cultures.

To the extent that cultural comparisons can be conducted there are clear coordination problems. Poorer countries may not have the money or expertise to conduct this type of research. Richer countries may not find it politically feasible to fund research in other countries and various historical issues can render cooperation difficult.

World Bank and philanthropic programmes not specifically tied to national policy priorities are one clear area where behavioural insights are being made more global in nature. The JPAL lab that evolved from MIT is doing a lot of work around the world evaluating behavioural interventions in different contexts and their work is very valuable in this regard.

A number of individual scientists and other groups have started to extend behavioural results across cultures e.g Becker and Falk have recently written about aspects of preferences). There is obviously also a long literature on universality of loss aversion and a number of recent studies have been replicating various behavioural findings in developing country contexts.

The international comparability of measures used routinely in this area including subjective well-being measures is a key issue. Gary King's vignettes work and website is a good illustration of this.

The extent to which public attitudes to behavioural interventions differ across countries is an important area for this type of research. It would also be interesting to measure the attitudes of policymakers in different countries to the type of applications and concepts emerging.

Large international replication projects are emerging attempting to replicate key studies across many international labs. It will be interesting to see if these can become testing grounds for international comparisons.

Large scale web-surveys and aging studies are being established in many countries. The extent to which these might act as comparative labs is an exciting prospect. Also global research exercises like the Gallup World Poll offer exciting opportunities for comparative research.

Addenda to original post: 

One prominent attempt to quantify and understand cultural effects is that of Hofstede. Useful website on this here. A prominent model of personal values that is used in several global surveys is the Schwartz personal values scale outlined by the author here.

1 comment:

Liam Delaney said...

Thanks to Seamus Power on twitter for link to the Joe Henrich (co-author of the WEIRD paper referenced above) lab. Fascinating cross-cultural work