Saturday, January 23, 2021

Weekly Series: Behavioural Science, Applied Psychology, and the Wider World

On Tuesday 26th January, we will begin a weekly series entitled "Behavioural Science, Applied Psychology, and the Wider World". The series brings together current LSE students and alumni with a range of people working in these areas across sectors globally. It is open for registration to people working in the field and intended for an audience of students, researchers, and professionals. The series currently has confirmed speakers from a range of bodies, including UN Innovation, the World Bank, BVA, OECD, and the Banking Standards Board. 

I will be giving the opening talk to outline the aims of the series. I will outline the development of the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science at LSE and speak about wider developments in behavioural science and the aims of the series. The history of behavioural science is deep rooted and the interactions between the disciplines of economics and psychology have given us many precedents to the current major increase in interest in this area. 

Considering this history is useful for understanding current developments. Having said that, something clearly new has emerged in the last decade in terms of widespread interest and professionalisation of an emerging transdisciplinary community of practice in the area. The map below from Faisal Naru gives one illustration of the proliferation of these concepts across policy. The Behavioural Economics guide issued each by Alain Samson also provides a useful snapshot of the range of people working in this area. Ingrid Paulin also put together a very useful spreadsheet of organisations that have developed capacity in this area. 

The series will first and foremost examine how behavioural science capacities are being built into real-world institutions across the globe. The sessions will take the form mostly of short talks and case-studies followed by Q+A interaction with the audience. The session will also include some dedicated networking sessions. At a high-level I hope the series will be inspirational for people thinking about the psychological and behavioural underpinnings of many of the major challenges of the 21st century. There are many concepts emerging in developing fields like behavioural public policy in areas like personalisation, ethics, administrative burden, psychologically-informed regulation, concepts of value, etc., that have the potential for major impact in practice. 

One area of particular interest for the series will be the development of ethical standards for applications in these area, and more generally the ethical considerations surrounding applications of behavioural science.  A reading lists for this is available here

We have included applied psychology in the title of the series and we hope to have interesting discussions about the interplay between applied psychology and emerging behavioural science literatures. Over time, it would be good to have contributions from across wider behavioural science areas, including anthropology. 

The current speaker listed is also somewhat tilted toward UK, European, and American applications, and we hope to have more speaker and panellists over time from around the world. 

Participants should also consider looking at the website of the recently formed Global Association for Applied Behavioural Science that provides opportunities for researchers and practitioners to develop their career in this area.

Most importantly, I hope the series develops with the discussions had each week. We are open to suggestions for topics and formats and I look forward to seeing it evolving. 

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Book: Behavioural Insights by Hallsworth and Kirkman

 "The behavioural insights approach applies evidence about human behaviour to practical problems". 

A new book "Behavioural Insights" by Michael Hallsworth and Elspeth Kirkman as part of the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series. Both authors have been key figures in the development of the Behavioural Insights Team and are in a strong position to put forward the basic ideas of the behavioural insights approach. The book will certainly be useful for students and general readers looking for a concise treatment to help them understand the basic concepts and also functions well as case study material, particularly given the high prominence of the BIT throughout the last decade. The book is divided into six main chapters. i) The first chapter "Introducing Behavioural Insights" provides an overview of the behavioural insights approach, which the authors see as applying evidence about human behaviour to key practical policy questions. In particular, the authors position a behavioural insights approach as providing a corrective to various types of rational choice approaches grounded in the idea that people make fully deliberative decisions around key choice areas. The chapter outlines the development of teams in the area and the wide impact that the approach has had across many international organisations ii) The second chapter outlines the history of the approach, in particular pointing to the heuristics and biases paradigm and the development of libertarian paternalism, as well as the activity that followed by the publication of Nudge. The chapter also includes an account of the development of cognitive and social psychology more generally. They also provide an account of the recent development of a behavioural insights eco-system with the development of a range of new agencies, field journals, and frameworks. iii) The third chapter "behavioural insights in practice" provides a number of case studies in the use of the approach throughout health, finance, and environmental applications iv) The fourth chapter "Applying Behavioural Insights" provides a framework for the application of the approach, working through the OECD BASIC toolkit for the application of behavioural science in the context of a particular application. v) The fifth chapter considers criticisms and limitations, in particular addressing issues of generalizability, ethics, measurement, longevity of effects, scale-up problems, replication crises, theoretical coherence, public acceptability, and others. This chapter would be a very useful reading to encourage students to engage in a deep level with intellectual challenges that have a major bearing on practice. vi) The sixth chapter provides thoughts on the future of the approach, outlining ideas of how the approach might normalise and become a mainstream, politically neutral, and robust feature of policy decision making. 

Overall, this book is a very useful and concise introduction from two well-placed authors and will be very helpful for people interested in an overview of an area that is having increasing influence in public policy throughout the world. I would personally be interested in having more discussions about the historical routes, ethical foundations, and future directions for the behavioural insights approach, and its status as a field. The book provides a cogent target point for such discussions and I look forward to using it as a reading in seminars for the foreseeable future. Below are some background readings to consider if this book was being used as a target for a seminar or workshop. The authors also provide their own list of related readings at the end of the book. 

Background Readings 

Thaler and Sunstein: Nudge: Improving Decision about Health, Wealth, and Happiness 

MINDSPACE Behavioural Insights Framework 

OECD Basic Toolkit 

Links on Ethics and Behavioural Science 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Some recent papers on covid behaviour and response

Below in response to a promise to some readers that I would send a set of recent interesting papers on behavioural and social responses to covid.

This is a useful review by Drury and colleagues on Facilitating collective resilience in the public in emergencies: Twelve recommendations based on the social identity approach. John Drury has published a lot on social identity in emergencies.

This is a good overview from Michie and colleagues describing (very clear and simply) the importance of collective messaging/ social norms and avoidance of authoritarian or fear based messages.

Short BMJ blogpost by Reicher and Drury on collective resilience.

BPS blog post by Drury & Reicher: The psychology of physical distancing

Paper on Crowds and Collective Behaviour by Drury and Reicher

Collectively Coping with Coronavirus: Local Community Identification Predicts Giving Support and Lockdown Adherence During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Collective resilience in times of crisis: Lessons from the literature for socially effective responses to the pandemic

COVID‐19 in context: Why do people die in emergencies? It’s probably not because of collective psychology

Reicher and Stott: On order and disorder during the COVID‐19 pandemic

ESRI Motivating social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic: An online experiment


Crowds and Collective Behavior


Review and synthesis of the mass panic and disaster literature in relation to human behaviour 

Review of social influence literature focusing on compliance and conformity (Cialdini & Goldstein)


General COVID/ Behavioural Science reviews: 

Michie and West review: Applying principles of behaviour change to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission

Brug, J., Aro, A. R., & Richardus, J. H. (2009). Risk perceptions and behaviour: towards pandemic control of emerging infectious diseases.

Glik, D. C. (2007). Risk communication for public health emergencies. Annu. Rev. Public Health, 28, 33-54. 

World Health Organization. (2017). Communicating risk in public health emergencies: a WHO guideline for emergency risk communication (ERC) policy and practice. World Health Organization. Retrieved from: 

Lunn, P. D., Belton, C. A., Lavin, C., McGowan, F. P., Timmons, S., & Robertson, D. A. (2020). Using Behavioral Science to help fight the Coronavirus. Journal of Behavioral Public Administration, 3(1).

Van Bavel, J. J., Baicker, K., Boggio, P. S., Capraro, V., Cichocka, A., Cikara, M., ... & Drury, J. (2020). Using social and behavioural science to support COVID-19 pandemic response. Nature Human Behaviour, 1-12.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Funding Opportunities 2020/2021

Funding Opportunities 2020/2021

Leverhulme Trust: Research Fellowships


Key Dates

Closes: 12 November 2020, 4pm

Decision: April 2021

For experienced researchers in any discipline, to complete a piece of research

Research Fellowships are open to experienced researchers, particularly those who are or have been prevented by routine duties from completing a programme of original research. 

Value: The maximum value of a Fellowship is £60,000. 

Duration: Fellowships are tenable for between 3 and 24 months.

Application details: 

The BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grants 

Available to support primary research in the humanities and social sciences. These awards, up to £10,000 in value and tenable for up to 24 months, are provided to cover the cost of the expenses arising from a defined research project. 

Earliest start date: 1 Apr 2021

Scheme opens date: 9 Sep 2020

Deadline date: 11 Nov 2020 - 17:00 GMT

Duration of award: Up to 24 months

ESRC/UKRI: Research Grants (Open Call)


The ESRC Research Grants (open call) invites proposals from eligible individuals and research teams for standard research projects, large-scale surveys and other infrastructure projects and for methodological developments. The call offers researchers considerable flexibility to focus on any subject area or topic providing that it falls within ESRC’s remit. Proposals can draw from the wider sciences, but the social sciences must represent more than 50 per cent of the research focus and effort. We particularly encourage ambitious and novel research proposals addressing new concepts and techniques and those with the potential for significant scientific or societal and economic impact. We are also keen to encourage fresh ideas from new researchers and appropriate proposals are welcomed from those with limited research experience. Our funding decisions are based on a number of criteria including quality, timeliness, potential impact and value for money. The call is for applications ranging from £350,000 to £1 million (100 per cent full economic cost (fEC)) for a period of up to five years. You can submit proposals to the call at any time – there are no fixed closing dates.

ESRC: Secondary Data Analysis Initiative (SDAI) - open call

Fact Sheet

The Secondary Data Analysis Initiative aims to deliver high-quality high-impact research through utilising existing data resources created by the ESRC and other agencies in order to address some of the most pressing challenges facing society. Proposals are welcome at any time. Funding is provided for up to 24 months with an overall limit of £300,000 (100% fEC) per grant.

Call specification -- see page 11 for eligible data sets

ESRC: New investigator Grant 


The call is open to high-quality early career researchers from anywhere in the world who have the support of an eligible UK research organisation. Grants ranging from £100,000 to £300,000 full Economic Cost (fEC) can be awarded.

AHRC: Research, Development and Engagement Fellowship Scheme – Early Career Researchers

Open- No deadline

The early career route of the Research, Development and Engagement Fellowship scheme provides funding for periods of between 6 and 24 months. Proposals with a full economic cost of between £50,000 and £250,000 may be submitted.

AHRC: Research Grants - Early Careers

The early career route provides grants for projects with a full economic cost (fEC) between £50,000 and £250,000 for a varying duration up to a limit of 60 months.

Open - No Deadline

AHRC: Research, Development and Engagement Fellowship Scheme – Early Career Researchers

AHRC’s Research, Development and Engagement Fellowship Scheme is designed to support arts and humanities researchers at all career stages, enabling each Fellow to undertake ambitious, innovative research and to develop as researchers, thus enhancing their careers.

The scheme has two routes:

The early career route of the Research, Development and Engagement Fellowship scheme provides funding for periods of between 6 and 24 months. Proposals with a full economic cost of between £50,000 and £250,000 may be submitted.

Open - No Deadline

AHRC: Standard route of the Research, Development and Engagement Fellowship

The standard route of the Research, Development and Engagement Fellowship scheme provides funding for periods of between 6 and 18 months. Proposals with a full economic cost of between £50,000 and £300,000 may be submitted.

ESCR: UKRI-SBE lead agency opportunity

The Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate (SBE) of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) are pleased to announce their continued support of international collaboration under the SBE-UKRI Lead Agency Opportunity. The goal of this activity is to promote transatlantic collaborative research by reducing some of the barriers to conducting international research that researchers may encounter. The SBE-UKRI Lead Agency Opportunity allows US and UK researchers to submit a single collaborative proposal that will undergo a single review process.

UKRI: Future Leaders Fellowships

Future Leaders Fellowships is a £900 million fund that is helping to establish the careers of world-class research and innovation leaders across UK business and academia.

Future Leaders Fellowships support applicants from diverse career paths, including those returning from a career break or following time in other roles. We also encourage applications from those wishing to work part-time. Our assessors will take into account time spent outside an active research or innovation environment, whether through career breaks, flexible working or time spent working in other roles.

The objectives of the Future Leaders Fellowships are:

  • to develop, retain, attract and sustain research and innovation talent in the UK.

  • to foster new research and innovation career paths including those at the academic/business and interdisciplinary boundaries, and facilitate movement of people between sectors.

  • to provide sustained funding and resources for the best early career researchers and innovators.

  • to provide long-term, flexible funding to tackle difficult and novel challenges, and support adventurous, ambitious programmes.

ESRC/UKRI: Research and innovation ideas to address COVID-19

ESRC intends to fund new research projects as part of the UK Research and Innovation response to the current COVID-19 pandemic. Proposals are invited for short to medium-term economic and social research activity aimed at addressing and mitigating the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The impact of COVID-19 is vast and varied, complex and evolving. From major disruptions to the global economy through to the dislocation of normal personal relationships, no country, business, community, family or individual has escaped its impacts. In addition to the direct health impacts of the virus, the economic, social, demographic, environmental, psychological, behavioural, political and institutional responses to, and consequences of, the pandemic have been, and will continue to be, profound. The social sciences, individually or working with other disciplines, have a key role to play in understanding, addressing and mitigating the unfolding impacts of the pandemic.

Project length: Up to 18 months

Open- no deadline

UKRI/AHRC: Research and innovation ideas to address Covid-19

The AHRC welcomes applications to the UKRI open call for research and innovation ideas to address the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts. 

Of the priority areas and research questions outlined, the following may be of particular interest: 

Policy and behavioural change:  What behavioural responses are most effective – singly and in combination – at reducing infection? Which behavioural responses are most effective in different risk environments at work, at home, during transport, etc (work in this area should include consideration of the viral load)?

Ethical, Regulatory and Human Rights issues in responses to COVID-19 : Ethics of prioritization of COVID-related healthcare decisions and interventions. Data and AI ethics in relation to COVID-19 public health measures e.g. tracing apps.  Ethical dimensions of (un)equal impacts of COVID-related decision-making. Ethical dimensions of pandemic response and policing activities. Tensions between collective actions/obligations and individual and human rights 

Communication and Public Health during the pandemic: Design and the effective communication of official health guidance. Identifying and creating trusted public health information sources. Communicating a diversity of COVID-19 experiences

Open - No Deadline

AHRC-FAPESP Collaborative Funding Guidelines

The UK Research Councils, in partnership with the São Paulo Research Foundation, invites applications for its collaborative research grants. These enable transnational British and Brazilian teams to apply for funding for collaborative research projects. UK-based researchers must hold a doctoral degree or equivalent, be actively engaged in postdoctoral research and be employed by, or be scheduled to join, the research organisation before submitting the proposal.

Brazil-based researchers must be formally associated with institutions within the São Paulo state. Projects may last for up to 60 months. Standard route grants are worth between £50,000 and £1 million and early-career grants are worth between £50,000 and £250,000 at 80% full economic cost. The São Paulo Research Foundation will provide equivalent to £1m for Brazilian researchers. The overall proposed budget should not exceed £2m..

European Research Council

Starting Grants: For promising early-career researchers with 2 to 7 years experience after PhD. Grants up to 1.5€ million for 5 years

Open: 12-01-2021 Deadline: 09-03-2021

Consolidator Grants: Grants up to 2€ million for 5 years. For excellent researchers with 7 to 12 years experience after PhD

Open: 21-01-2021 Deadline: 20-04-2021

Advanced Grants: Grants up to €2.5 million for 5 years. For established research leaders with a recognised track record of research achievements

Open: 20-05-2021 Deadline: 31-08-2021

Proof of Concept: Lump Sum Grant of €150.000. For existing ERC grant holders to bring their research ideas closer to market

Open: 14-01-2021 Deadlines: 16-03-2021, 17-06-2021, 20-10-2021

*Please note that the dates are subject to the adoption of Horizon Europe and the ERC Work Programme 2021

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Global Association for Applied Behavioural Scientists

 A number of academics and practitioners launched a new organisation on Tuesday September 1st aimed at developing professional practice in applied behavioural science. The website of the organisation is here. Details of how to register to become a member are available here. The twitter account is available here. I have been involved in the development of this association, in particular with regard to developing the code of conduct and membership criteria, and am currently a non-executive director. I hope it provides a forum for development of good practice in what has become over time a large international area of practice. In particular, I hope it will provide outlets for career development for people who have pursued qualifications and professional experience in this area. 


The Global Association of Applied Behavioural Scientists (GAABS) is the world’s first independent organisation representing the interests of applied behavioural scientists, primarily working in the private sector. 

GAABS has a clear scientific, social and non-commercial purpose.  

Membership is open to both individuals and organisations working in applied behavioural science.


Membership offers access to a global network connecting individuals and teams with others who share similar interests and values.

Membership is regarded as a commitment to maintaining the highest standards of technical skills, knowledge, ethical conduct and practice.

GAABS provides proof of membership in the form of a certificate, membership card and entry on the Association’s register. Members have the right to use GAABS logo as a signal of affiliation.


Applied behavioural science is a rapidly growing and currently unregulated field. Although other associations exist, none function as a professional body that directly serves the interests of bona fide practitioners. 

Consequently, the needs of professional practitioners and those that commission services are currently under-represented. A need exists to:

safeguard and maintain the quality and standards of applied behavioural scientists; 

represent the legitimate interests of current and future members; 

promote the discipline’s most important insights and applications.


GAABS' Founding Members, Executive Board, Partners and Advisors include some of the world’s foremost academics and leading practitioners; including Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman, eminent Harvard Professor Jennifer Lerner, and world-renowned influence researcher Robert Cialdini. As a Member of GAABS you will,

be part of a prestigious community and build alliances with peers to shape the future of applied behavioural science;

be able to grow, exchange and realise ideas on a worldwide platform;

get access to exclusive events, conferences and educational programmes (in person or virtual) hosted by GAABS’ member organisations;

benefit from exclusive access to information and complimentary subscription to subject-related academic journals and magazines;

enhance your professional profile with a quality label from GAABS.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Irish Times Article on Covid and Communication

Below is the text of an article published in today's Irish Times by Pete Lunn and I on the importance of clear communication at this stage of the pandemic response in Ireland. We had been asked to draft an article prior to a very high profile case in Ireland where a number of senior public figures were found to be present at an indoor function that was widely seen to be not adherent to rules about gatherings that several of the attendees had been involved in drafting. In general, the sharpness of the Irish government communication response to covid has been affected by several things in the last month or so, including a change of government and key personnel, as well as a number of very high profile cases of non-compliance. Having said that, overall public adherence and broad support for public health measures remains very high, and we have seen, for example, dramatic increases in adherence to the use of the face coverings over the last two months. Details of some of the research referred to in the article are available on the following webpage

High-profile people must lead by example in pandemic

Public’s behaviour needs clear guidance and belief Covid-19 rules apply equally to all

The problem with clichés is that many of them are true. So while you may now roll your eyes if someone says “we’re in this together”, it does not alter the truth of the statement. The most essential fact about fighting this virus is that success depends on the behaviour of all of us, collectively.

Behavioural scientists have spent decades studying how people behave when they try to solve problems collectively. They have established key principles that have proved useful for understanding people’s response to this pandemic from the beginning.

Here is one principle: most of us will make sacrifices for the common good provided we can clearly see why and how what we are being asked to do is best for everybody. Here is another: we will make sacrifices for the common good over extended periods provided we see that others are committed to doing it too.

And one more: most of us will withdraw co-operation and actively protest if we see rules unfairly applied to us and not others. All three principles are backed by large volumes of scientific evidence.

A particular challenge is that any exceptions made to general rules require strong arguments as to why the exception applies

Now we can make some inferences about managing this ongoing crisis. First, it is not inevitable that people will simply tire of making the effort and give up. Second, if communication about what we are trying to achieve and how we achieve it is not clear, we will be less likely to do it. Third, if highly visible people do not pull their weight, the rest of us will make less effort. Fourth, if rules are bent for some groups more than others, public co-operation may diminish.

One might draw the dots to recent events, but there is surely no need.

The above logic seems simple and in many ways it is. But when it comes to the nitty gritty of designing public health guidelines to fight the virus, things get more complicated.

Perceived contradictions

Take the claim that it is contradictory to allow only six people at indoor social events but far more children in a classroom. To someone who now needs to cancel a planned event, that might seem unfair. Similarly, parents and teachers may wonder why more people are permitted in a classroom than a function room. Official communication has to explain why it makes sense and is in all our interests.

That means we have to be honest and strongly communicate the purpose of the guidelines. They do not tell us what is and is not safe – all social interaction involves risk. Rather, the guidelines are decisions about what risks we are willing to accept in pursuit of our goal of getting infections back down. If we take higher risks in some areas, then to keep the virus under control we must take lower risks in others.

Following the high-profile rule-breaking, mixed messages and special pleading, the conversation must return to how we can all help each other

So it is not contradictory to take higher risk to get schools open than to hold social events. It is a sensible decision if society thinks that reopening schools is a bigger priority than holding social events. Economic and Social Research Institute research suggests most people in Ireland agree with this.

Fairness to children is the very reason we should pull together by sticking to smaller social gatherings, so we can try to get infection rates back down yet still reopen our schools. That is the logic that needs to land.

Such messages are more complex than the simple rules employed earlier in the pandemic, but getting them across is vital to the overall response. A particular challenge is that any exceptions made to general rules require strong arguments as to why the exception applies. If it looks like the authorities are giving undue weight to politically connected special interests, people will rightly perceive unfairness and co-operation will decline. This is not politics as usual.

Adoption of masks

We can maintain co-operation and compliance if the logic behind the guidelines is straightforwardly articulated. We can even obtain consensus and increase it. The story of wearing masks demonstrates this.

After initial uncertainty about the benefits, once it was agreed and explained how and why they were important, the large majority switched from not wearing them to wearing them in a matter of weeks. Most of this behavioural change preceded enforcement measures and took place while case numbers were falling.

The media will always highlight non-compliance, especially outrageous non-compliance. But we need also to keep acknowledging the extraordinary efforts most people are making. Fighting this virus by adapting our behaviour for an extended period is daunting and tiresome, but less so when we see our fellow citizens and leaders front up.

Some behavioural science can help here too. It is possible to embed long-term habits that reduce feelings of sacrifice and imposition. At one time people viewed wearing seat belts and brushing their teeth that way, now these are habitual.

Evidence shows that we need to continue to adapt physical spaces to make it as simple and easy as possible to prevent infection, and to lead by example in setting social standards. If we do this, good habits around handwashing, greetings, personal space and living more of our life outdoors need not inevitably wear off.

Following the high-profile rule-breaking, mixed messages and special pleading, the conversation must return to how we can all help each other. We need clearly communicated guidelines that we can collectively follow to get infections back down, designed to be as fair as possible by prioritising what is most important to us all. Meanwhile, we need to keep adapting our social and work environments, to support each other and reduce the pain.

Prof Pete Lunn, head of Behavioural Research Unit, ESRI; and Prof Liam Delaney, head of department of psychological and behavioural science, London School of Economics.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Gary King Harvard Quantitative Methods Course

Throughout my early career, I always found the materials provided online by Professor Gary King at Harvard exceptionally useful. He is a remarkable educator and his website is one of the most valuable resources in social science. Even by his own standards, he has outdone himself here by providing all the pre-recordings of his upcoming Harvard Quants Methods course as a youtube playlist here. This is a tremendous resource that works through core quantitative methods across 19 lectures. The lectures will be very useful for anyone with a grounding in statistics who is looking for an introductory graduate or perhaps even an upper-undergraduate overview of quantitative methods for social, behavioural, and political science.  The final lecture on anchoring vignettes might be of particular interest to some of the readers here and, once again, I cannot recommend his website on this method highly enough. Bravo Professor King.