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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Behavioral Economics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Behavioral Economics. Show all posts

Thursday, July 14, 2022

What nudge theory got wrong

Tim Harford
The Financial Times
Originally posted 

Here is an excerpt:

Chater and Loewenstein argue that behavioural scientists naturally fall into the habit of seeing problems in the same way. Why don’t people have enough retirement savings? Because they are impatient and find it hard to save rather than spend. Why are so many greenhouse gases being emitted? Because it’s complex and tedious to switch to a green electricity tariff. If your problem is basically that fallible individuals are making bad choices, behavioural science is an excellent solution.

If, however, the real problem is not individual but systemic, then nudges are at best limited, and at worst, a harmful diversion. Historians such as Finis Dunaway now argue that the Crying Indian campaign was a deliberate attempt by corporate interests to change the subject. Is behavioural public policy, accidentally or deliberately, a similar distraction?

A look at climate change policy suggests it might be. Behavioural scientists themselves are clear enough that nudging is no real substitute for a carbon price — Thaler and Sunstein say as much in Nudge. Politicians, by contrast, have preferred to bypass the carbon price and move straight to the pain-free nudging.

Nudge enthusiast David Cameron, in a speech given shortly before he became prime minister, declared that “the best way to get someone to cut their electricity bill” was to cleverly reformat the bill itself. This is politics as the art of avoiding difficult decisions. No behavioural scientist would suggest that it was close to sufficient. Yet they must be careful not to become enablers of the One Weird Trick approach to making policy.


Behavioural science has a laudable focus on rigorous evidence, yet even this can backfire. It is much easier to produce a quick randomised trial of bill reformatting than it is to evaluate anything systemic. These small quick wins are only worth having if they lead us towards, rather than away from, more difficult victories.

Another problem is that empirically tested, behaviourally rigorous bad policy can be bad policy nonetheless. For example, it has become fashionable to argue that people should be placed on an organ donor registry by default, because this dramatically expands the number of people registered as donors. But, as Thaler and Sunstein themselves keep having to explain, this is a bad idea. Most organ donation happens only after consultation with a grieving family — and default-bloated donor registries do not help families work out what their loved one might have wanted.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Opt-out choice framing attenuates gender differences in the decision to compete in the laboratory and in the field

J. C. He, S. K. Kang, N. Lacetera
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 
Oct 2021, 118 (42) e2108337118


Research shows that women are less likely to enter competitions than men. This disparity may translate into a gender imbalance in holding leadership positions or ascending in organizations. We provide both laboratory and field experimental evidence that this difference can be attenuated with a default nudge—changing the choice to enter a competitive task from a default in which applicants must actively choose to compete to a default in which applicants are automatically enrolled in competition but can choose to opt out. Changing the default affects the perception of prevailing social norms about gender and competition as well as perceptions of the performance or ability threshold at which to apply. We do not find associated negative effects for performance or wellbeing. These results suggest that organizations could make use of opt-out promotion schemes to reduce the gender gap in competition and support the ascension of women to leadership positions.


How can we close the gender gap in high-level positions in organizations? Interventions such as unconscious bias training or the “lean in” approach have been largely ineffective. This article suggests, and experimentally tests, a “nudge” intervention, altering the choice architecture around the decision to apply for top positions from an “opt in” to an “opt out” default. Evidence from the laboratory and the field shows that a choice architecture in which applicants must opt out from competition reduces gender differences in competition. Opt-out framing thus seems to remove some of the bias inherent in current promotion systems, which favor those who are overconfident or like to compete. Importantly, we show that such an intervention is feasible and effective in the field.

From the Discussion

A practical implication of our studies is that organizations could attenuate the gender gap in competitions by moving from a default, in which applicants must opt in to apply, to a default whereby those who pass a performance and qualification threshold are automatically considered but can choose to opt out. Examples include promotions in organizations, participation into start-up pitch competitions, and innovation or creativity contests. Future work could examine similar interventions that circumvent the self-nomination aspect of opt-in schemes for competitive selection processes. For instance, rather than self-nomination, peer-nomination could attenuate the gender gap. The results of Study 2 also suggest that manipulating or nudging social norms could result in a similar effect.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

The globalizability of temporal discounting

Ruggeri, K., Panin, A., et al. (2021, October 1). 


Economic inequality is associated with extreme rates of temporal discounting, which is a behavioral pattern where individuals choose smaller, immediate financial gains over larger, delayed gains. Such patterns may feed into rising global inequality, yet it is unclear if they are a function of choice preferences or norms, or rather absence of sufficient resources to meet immediate needs. It is also not clear if these reflect true differences in choice patterns between income groups. We test temporal discounting and five intertemporal choice anomalies using local currencies and value standards in 61 countries. Across a diverse sample of 13,629 participants, we found highly consistent rates of choice anomalies. Individuals with lower incomes were not significantly different, but economic inequality and broader financial circumstances impact population choice patterns.

Technical Abstract

Economic inequality is associated with extreme rates of temporal discounting, which is a behavioral pattern  where  individuals  choose  smaller,  immediate  financial  gains  over larger, delayed gains. Such patterns may feed into rising global inequality, yet it is unclear if  they are a function of choice preferences or norms, or rather absence of sufficient resources to meet immediate needs. It is also not clear if these reflect true differences in choice  patterns  between  income  groups.  We  test  temporal  discounting and  five intertemporal choice anomalies using local currencies and value standards in 61 countries. Across a diverse sample of 13,629 participants, we found highly consistent rates choice anomalies. Individuals with lower incomes were not significantly different, but economic inequality and broader financial circumstances impact population choice patterns.

Bottom line: This research refutes the perspective that low-income individuals are poor decision-makers.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Nudgeability: Mapping Conditions of Susceptibility to Nudge Influence

de Ridder, D., Kroese, F., & van Gestel, L. (2021). 
Perspectives on psychological science 
Advance online publication. 


Nudges are behavioral interventions to subtly steer citizens' choices toward "desirable" options. An important topic of debate concerns the legitimacy of nudging as a policy instrument, and there is a focus on issues relating to nudge transparency, the role of preexisting preferences people may have, and the premise that nudges primarily affect people when they are in "irrational" modes of thinking. Empirical insights into how these factors affect the extent to which people are susceptible to nudge influence (i.e., "nudgeable") are lacking in the debate. This article introduces the new concept of nudgeability and makes a first attempt to synthesize the evidence on when people are responsive to nudges. We find that nudge effects do not hinge on transparency or modes of thinking but that personal preferences moderate effects such that people cannot be nudged into something they do not want. We conclude that, in view of these findings, concerns about nudging legitimacy should be softened and that future research should attend to these and other conditions of nudgeability.

From the General Discussion

Finally, returning to the debates on nudging legitimacy that we addressed at the beginning of this article, it seems that concerns should be softened insofar as nudges do impose choice without respecting basic ethical requirements for good public policy. More than a decade ago, philosopher Luc Bovens (2009) formulated the following four principles for nudging to be legitimate: A nudge should allow people to act in line with their overall preferences; a nudge should not induce a change in preferences that would not hold under nonnudge conditions; a nudge should not lead to “infantilization,” such that people are no longer capable of making autonomous decisions; and a nudge should be transparent so that people have control over being in a nudge situation. With the findings from our review in mind, it seems that these legitimacy requirements are fulfilled. Nudges do allow people to act in line with their overall preferences, nudges allow for making autonomous decisions insofar as nudge effects do not depend on being in a System 1 mode of thinking, and making the nudge transparent does not compromise nudge effects.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

The Dynamics of Inattention in the (Baseball) Field

J. E. Archsmith, et al. 
IZA Institute of Labor Economics
June 2021


Recent theoretical and empirical work characterizes attention as a limited resource that decision-makers strategically allocate. There has been less research on the dynamic interdependence of attention: how paying attention now may affect performance later. In this paper, we exploit high-frequency data on decision-making by Major League Baseball umpires to examine this. We find that umpires not only apply greater effort to higher stakes decisions, but also that effort applied to earlier decisions increases errors later. These findings are consistent with the umpire having a depletable ‘budget’ of attention. There is no such dynamic interdependence after breaks during the game (at the end of each inning) suggesting that even short rest periods can replenish attention budgets. We also find that an expectation of higher stakes future decisions leads to reduced attention to current decisions, consistent with forward-looking behavior by umpires aware of attention scarcity.


Conventional economic models embody agents able to make perfect, optimising decisions.  An important strand of recent efforts to increase the behavioral realism of models has been to acknowledge that attention is not costless---the effort required to attend to decisions and execute them well can be costly and cognitively tiring---and incorporate that in models. Models of “strategic inattention”, predicated on rational agents adjusting their behavior to account for attention being either limited and/or costly, are increasingly mainstream (for examples Caplin and Dean, 2015; Sims, 2003; Falkinger, 2011).

While the idea of costly attention is intuitively appealing, rigorous evidence characterizing its implications in real settings remains limited and primarily focuses on static effects in cross sectional data. This paper adds to and extends this evidence. Studying the quality of decisions made by a panel of professional decision-makers with strong incentives to get these decisions right, we show that MLB umpires systematically vary the effort they apply to individual decisions: applying greater attention to those associated with higher stakes. This is consistent with established theoretical models of strategic inattention. Our data-rich setting, in which the same umpire is called upon to issue a long series of decisions, allows for careful study of the dynamics of inattention and delivers our most novel results.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Win–Win Denial: The Psychological Underpinnings of Zero-Sum Thinking

Johnson, S. G. B., Zhang, J., & Keil, F. 
(2020, April 30).


A core proposition in economics is that voluntary exchanges benefit both parties. We show that people often deny the mutually beneficial nature of exchange, instead espousing the belief that one or both parties fail to benefit from the exchange. Across 4 studies (and 8 further studies in the Supplementary Materials), participants read about simple exchanges of goods and services, judging whether each party to the transaction was better off or worse off afterwards. These studies revealed that win–win denial is pervasive, with buyers consistently seen as less likely to benefit from transactions than sellers. Several potential psychological mechanisms underlying win–win denial are considered, with the most important influences being mercantilist theories of value (confusing wealth for money) and theory of mind limits (failing to observe that people do not arbitrarily enter exchanges). We argue that these results have widespread implications for politics and society.


From the Discussion

Is Win–Win Denial Rational?

The conclusion that voluntary transactions benefit both parties rests on assumptions, and can therefore admit exceptions when these assumptions do not hold.  Voluntary trades are mutually beneficial when the parties are performing rational, selfish cost–benefit calculations and when there are no critical asymmetries in information (e.g., fraud).  There are several ways that violations of these assumptions could lead a transaction not to be win–win.  Consumers  could have inconsistent preferences over time, such that something believed to be beneficial at one time proves non-beneficial later on (e.g., liking a shirt when one buys it in the store, but growing weary of it after a couple months). Consumers could have self-control failures, making an impulse purchase that proved unwise in the longer  term.  Consumers could  have other-regarding  preferences, buying something that benefits someone else but not oneself. Finally, the consumer could be deceived by a seller who knows that the product will not satisfy their preferences (e.g., a crooked used-car salesman).

These  are  of  course  more  than  theoretical  possibilities—many demonstrations of human irrationality have been demonstrated in lab and field studies (Frederick et al., 2009; Loewenstein & Prelec, 1992; Malmandier & Tate, 2005 among many others). The key question is whether the real-world prevalence of irrationality and fraud is sufficient to justify the conclusion that ordinary consumer transactions—like those tested here—are so riddled with incompetence that our participants were right to deny that transactions are typically win–win. We respond to this challenge with four points. 

First, an empirical point. It is not just the magnitude of win–win denial of interest here, but how this magnitude responds to our experimental manipulations. It is hard to see how the effects of time-framing or cueing participants to buyers’ reasons would produce the effects that they do, independent of the mechanisms we have proposed for win–win denial (namely mercantilism and theory of mind). It is especially difficult to see why people would claim that barters make neither party better-off if the issue is exploitation. Thus, even if the magnitude of the effects is reasonable in some conditions of some of our experiments because people’s intuitions are attuned to the (allegedly) large extent of market failures, some of the patterns we see and the differences in these patterns across conditions seem to necessitate the mechanisms we propose.

Second, a sanity check. We tested intuitions about a range of typical consumer transactions in our items, finding consistent effects across items (see Part A of the Supplementary Materials). Is it really that plausible that people are impulsively hiring plumbers or that their hair stylists are routinely fraudsters? If such ordinary transactions are actually making consumers worse-off, it is very difficult to see how the rise of market economies has brought prosperity to much of the world—indeed, if win–win denial correctly  describes most consumer transactions, one should predict a negative relationship between well-being and economic activity (contradicting the large association between subjective well-being and per capita income across countries; Stevenson & Wolfers, 2013). In our view, one can acknowledge occasional consumer irrationalities, while not thereby concluding that all or most market activity is irrational, which, we submit, would fly in the face both of economic science and common sense. Actually, to claim that consumers are consistently irrational threatens paradox: The more one thinks that consumers are irrational in general,  the more  one  must  believe that participants in the current experiments are (rationally) attuned to their own irrationality.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Cooperative phenotype predicts economic conservatism, policy views, and political party support

Claessens, S., and others.
(2020, July 29).


Decades of research suggest that our political differences are best captured by two dimensions of political ideology: economic and social conservatism. The dual evolutionary framework of political ideology predicts that these dimensions should be related to variation in general preferences for cooperation and group conformity. Here, we show that, controlling for a host of demographic covariates, a general cooperative preference captured by a suite of incentivised economic games (the "cooperative phenotype") is indeed negatively correlated with two widely-used measures of economic conservatism - Social Dominance Orientation and Schwartz's altruistic vs. self-enhancement values. The cooperative phenotype also predicts political party support and economically progressive views on political issues like income redistribution, welfare, taxation, and environmentalism. By contrast, a second "norm-enforcing punishment" dimension of economic game behaviour, expected to be a proxy for social conservatism and group conformity, showed no reliable relationship with political ideology. These findings reveal how general social preferences that evolved to help us navigate the challenges of group living continue to shape our political differences even today.

From the Discussion

As predicted by the dual evolutionary framework of political ideology we found that the cooperative phenotype captured by our economic games negatively covaried with two widely-used measures of economic conservatism: Social Dominance Orientation and Schwartz’s altruistic vs. self-enhancement values. This builds upon previous studies identifying negative correlations between SDO and cooperative behaviour and between altruistic values and cooperative behaviour. The small-to-medium effect size for the relationship between SDO and the general cooperative preference (semi-partial r = 0.24) is comparable to the effect size found in a recent meta-analysis of personality traits and economic game behaviour. Our results suggest that previous correlations between measures of economic conservatism and gameplay have emerged because of an underlying relationship between economic conservatism and a general cooperative preference, rather than because of idiosyncratic features of particular conservatism measures or particular games.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Cognitive Barriers to Reducing Income Inequality

Jackson, J. C., & Payne, K. (2020).
Social Psychological and Personality Science. 


As economic inequality grows, more people stand to benefit from wealth redistribution. Yet in many countries, increasing inequality has not produced growing support for redistribution, and people often appear to vote against their economic interest. Here we suggest that two cognitive tendencies contribute to these paradoxical voting patterns. First, people gauge their income through social comparison, and those comparisons are usually made to similar others. Second, people are insensitive to large numbers, which leads them to underestimate the gap between themselves and the very wealthy. These two tendencies can help explain why subjective income is normally distributed (therefore most people think they are middle class) and partly explain why many people who would benefit from redistribution oppose it. We support our model’s assumptions using survey data, a controlled experiment, and agent-based modeling. Our model sheds light on the cognitive barriers to reducing inequality.

General Discussion

These findings emphasize a new perspective on inequality. In addition to institutional drivers of inequality, our studies outline several cognitive constraints on people’s calculation of their support for wealth redistribution. By relying partly on subjective income to determine whether redistribution is in their interest, people leave themselves open to the effects of selective social comparison and insensitivity to large numbers. These cognitive tendencies help explain why most people believe they are middle class, occupying the middle of a bell-shaped distribution of SES, despite the extreme skew present in actual income distributions.

Both of these problems can potentially be mitigated. Accessible resources that help people learn whether they will benefit from wealth redistribution could help people select economic policies that are in their best interest. On a larger scale, reducing residential segregation or otherwise increasing inter-group contact across social class lines could facilitate more representative social comparisons, and more accurate judgments of economic self-interest. 

Attitudes about redistribution are not the only influences on people’s voting decisions and contribute to rising inequality. Institutional factors like gerrymandering may distort voting outcomes, and social factors such as moral and intergroup values may lead people to vote against their economic interests in favor of symbolic or group interests.

A pdf can be found here.

Italics added.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Nudging Humans

Brett M. Frischmann
Villanova University - School of Law
Originally published August 1, 2019


Behavioral data can and should inform the design of private and public choice architectures. Choice architects should steer people toward outcomes that make them better off (according to their own interests, not the choice architects’) but leave it to the people being nudged to choose for themselves. Libertarian paternalism can and should provide ethical constraints on choice architects. These are the foundational principles of nudging, the ascendant social engineering agenda pioneered by Nobel Prize winning economist Richard Thaler and Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein.

The foundation bears tremendous weight. Nudging permeates private and public institutions worldwide. It creeps into the design of an incredible number of human-computer interfaces and affects billions of choices daily. Yet the foundation has deep cracks.

This critique of nudging exposes those hidden fissures. It aims at the underlying theory and agenda, rather than one nudge or another, because that is where micro meets macro, where dynamic longitudinal impacts on individuals and society need to be considered. Nudging theorists and practitioners need to better account for the longitudinal effects of nudging on the humans being nudged, including malleable beliefs and preferences as well as various capabilities essential to human flourishing. The article develops two novel and powerful criticisms of nudging, one focused on nudge creep and another based on normative myopia. It explores these fundamental flaws in the nudge agenda theoretically and through various examples and case studies, including electronic contracting, activity tracking in schools, and geolocation tracking controls on an iPhone.

The paper is here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Not lost in translation: Successfully replicating Prospect Theory in 19 countries

Kai Ruggeri and others
OSF Preprints
Originally posted August 21, 2019


Kahneman and Tversky’s 1979 article on Prospect Theory is one of the most influential papers across all of the behavioural sciences. The study tested a series of binary financial (risky) choices, ultimately concluding that judgments formed under uncertainty deviate significantly from those presumed by expected utility theory, which was the prevailing theoretical construct at the time. In the forty years since publication, this study has had a remarkable impact on science, policy, and other real-world applications. At the same time, a number of critiques have been raised about its conclusions and subsequent constructs that were founded on it, such as loss aversion. In an era where such presumed canonical theories have increasingly drawn scrutiny for inability to replicate, we attempted a multinational study of N = 4,099 participants from 19 countries and 13 languages. The same methods and procedures were used as in the original paper, adjusting only currencies to make them relative to current values, and requiring all participants to respond to all items. Overall, we found that results replicated for 94% of the 17 choice items tested. At most, results from the 1979 study were attenuated in our findings, which is most likely due to a more robust sample. Twelve of the 13 theoretical contrasts presented by Kahneman and Tversky also replicated, with a further 89% replication rate of the total contrasts possible when separating by location, up to 100% replication in some countries. We conclude that the principles of Prospect Theory replicate beyond any reasonable thresholds, and provide a number of important insights about replications, attenuation, and implications for the study of human decision-making at population-level.

The research is here.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Increasing altruistic and cooperative behaviour with simple moral nudges

Valerio Capraro, Glorianna Jagfeld,
Rana Klein, Mathijs Mul & Iris van de Pol
Published Online August 15, 2019

The conflict between pro-self and pro-social behaviour is at the core of many key problems of our time, as, for example, the reduction of air pollution and the redistribution of scarce resources. For the well-being of our societies, it is thus crucial to find mechanisms to promote pro-social choices over egoistic ones. Particularly important, because cheap and easy to implement, are those mechanisms that can change people’s behaviour without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives, the so-called “nudges”. Previous research has found that moral nudges (e.g., making norms salient) can promote pro-social behaviour. However, little is known about whether their effect persists over time and spills across context. This question is key in light of research showing that pro-social actions are often followed by selfish actions, thus suggesting that some moral manipulations may backfire. Here we present a class of simple moral nudges that have a great positive impact on pro-sociality. In Studies 1–4 (total N =  1,400), we use economic games to demonstrate that asking subjects to self-report “what they think is the morally right thing to do” does not only increase pro-sociality in the choice immediately after, but also in subsequent choices, and even when the social context changes. In Study 5, we explore whether moral nudges promote charity donations to humanitarian organisations in a large (N =  1,800) crowdfunding campaign. We find that, in this context, moral nudges increase donations by about 44 percent.

The research is here.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Nova Scotia to become 1st in North America with presumed consent for organ donation

Michael Gorman
Originally posted April 2, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Premier Stephen McNeil said the bill fills a need within the province, noting Nova Scotia has some of the highest per capita rates of willing donors in the country.

"That doesn't always translate into the actual act of giving," he said.

"We know that there are many ways that we can continue to improve the system that we have."

McNeil pledged to put the necessary services in place to allow the province's donor program to live up to the promise of the legislation.

"We know that in many parts of our province — including the one I live in, which is a rural part of Nova Scotia — we have work to do," he said.

"I will make sure that the work that is required to build the system and supports around this will happen."

The bill will not be proclaimed right away.

Health Minister Randy Delorey said government officials would spend 12-18 months educating the public about the change and working on getting health-care workers the support they need to enhance the program.

Even with the change, Delorey said, people should continue making their wishes known to loved ones, so there can be no question about intentions.

The info is here.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Ethics of Paternalism

Ingrid M. Paulin, Jenna Clark, & Julie O'Brien
Scientific American
Originally published on December 21, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Choosing what to do and which approach to take requires making a decision about paternalism, or influencing someone’s behavior for their own good. Every time someone designs policies, products or services, they make a decision about paternalism, whether they are aware of it or not. They will inevitably influence how people behave; there's no such thing as a neutral choice.

Arguments about paternalism have traditionally focused on the extreme ends of the spectrum; you either let people have complete autonomy, or you completely restrict undesirable behaviors. In reality, however, there are many options in between, and there are few guidelines about how one should navigate the complex moral landscape of influence to decide which approach is justified in a given situation.

Traditional economists may argue for more autonomy on the grounds that people will always behave in line with their own best interest. In their view, people have stable preferences and are always weighing the costs and benefits of every option before making decisions. Because they know their preferences better than do others, they should be able to act autonomously to maximize their own positive outcomes.

The info is here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Nudge or Grudge? Choice Architecture and Parental Decision‐Making

Jennifer Blumenthal‐Barby and Douglas J. Opel
The Hastings Center Report
Originally published March 28, 2018


Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein define a nudge as “any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people's behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.” Much has been written about the ethics of nudging competent adult patients. Less has been written about the ethics of nudging surrogates’ decision‐making and how the ethical considerations and arguments in that context might differ. Even less has been written about nudging surrogate decision‐making in the context of pediatrics, despite fundamental differences that exist between the pediatric and adult contexts. Yet, as the field of behavioral economics matures and its insights become more established and well‐known, nudges will become more crafted, sophisticated, intentional, and targeted. Thus, the time is now for reflection and ethical analysis regarding the appropriateness of nudges in pediatrics.

We argue that there is an even stronger ethical justification for nudging in parental decision‐making than with competent adult patients deciding for themselves. We give three main reasons in support of this: (1) child patients do not have autonomy that can be violated (a concern with some nudges), and nudging need not violate parental decision‐making authority; (2) nudging can help fulfill pediatric clinicians’ obligations to ensure parental decisions are in the child's interests, particularly in contexts where there is high certainty that a recommended intervention is low risk and of high benefit; and (3) nudging can relieve parents’ decisional burden regarding what is best for their child, particularly with decisions that have implications for public health.

The info is here.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Shouldn’t We Make It Easy to Use Behavioral Science for Good?

Manasee Desai
Originally posted September 4, 2018

The evidence showing that applied behavioral science is a powerful tool for creating social good is growing rapidly. As a result, it’s become much more common for the world’s problem solvers to apply a behavioral lens to their work. Yet this approach can still feel distant to the people trying urgently to improve lives on a daily basis—those working for governments, nonprofits, and other organizations that directly tackle some of the most challenging and pervasive problems facing us today.

All too often, effective strategies for change are either locked behind paywalls or buried in inaccessible, jargon-laden articles. And because of the sheer volume of behavioral solutions being tested now, even people working in the fields that compose the behavioral sciences—like me, for instance—cannot possibly stay on top of every new intervention or application happening across countless fields and countries. This means missed opportunities to apply and scale effective interventions and to do more good in the world.

As a field, figuring out how to effectively report and communicate what we’ve learned from our research and interventions is our own “last mile” problem.

While there is no silver bullet for the problems the world faces, the behavioral science community should (and can) come together to make our battle-tested solutions available to problem solvers, right at their fingertips. Expanding the adoption of behavioral design for social good requires freeing solutions from dense journals and cost-prohibitive paywalls. It also requires distilling complex designs into simpler steps—uniting a community that is passionate about social impact and making the world a better place with applied behavioral science.

That is the aim of the Behavioral Evidence Hub (B-Hub), a curated, open-source digital collection of behavioral interventions proven to impact real-world problems.

The info is here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Understanding Moral Preferences Using Sentiment Analysis

Capraro, Valerio and Vanzo, Andrea
(May 28, 2018).


Behavioral scientists have shown that people are not solely motivated by the economic consequences of the available actions, but they also care about the actions themselves. Several models have been proposed to formalize this preference for "doing the right thing". However, a common limitation of these models is their lack of predictive power: given a set of instructions of a decision problem, they lack to make clear predictions of people's behavior. Here, we show that, at least in simple cases, the overall qualitative pattern of behavior can be predicted reasonably well using a Computational Linguistics technique, known as Sentiment Analysis. The intuition is that people are reluctant to make actions that evoke negative emotions, and are eager to make actions that stimulate positive emotions. To show this point, we conduct an economic experiment in which decision-makers either get 50 cents, and another person gets nothing, or the opposite, the other person gets 50 cents and the decision maker gets nothing. We experimentally manipulate the wording describing the available actions using six words, from very negative (e.g., stealing) to very positive (e.g., donating) connotations. In agreement with our theory, we show that sentiment polarity has a U-shaped effect on pro-sociality. We also propose a utility function that can qualitatively predict the observed behavior, as well as previously reported framing effects. Our results suggest that building bridges from behavioral sciences to Computational Linguistics can help improve our understanding of human decision making.

The research is here.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Not Noble Savages After All: Limits to Early Altruism

Karen Wynn, Paul Bloom, Ashley Jordan, Julia Marshall, Mark Sheskin
Current Directions in Psychological Science 
Vol 27, Issue 1, pp. 3 - 8
First Published December 22, 2017


Many scholars draw on evidence from evolutionary biology, behavioral economics, and infant research to argue that humans are “noble savages,” endowed with indiscriminate kindness. We believe this is mistaken. While there is evidence for an early-emerging moral sense—even infants recognize and favor instances of fairness and kindness among third parties—altruistic behaviors are selective from the start. Babies and young children favor people who have been kind to them in the past and favor familiar individuals over strangers. They hold strong biases for in-group over out-group members and for themselves over others, and indeed are more unequivocally selfish than older children and adults. Much of what is most impressive about adult morality arises not through inborn capacities but through a fraught developmental process that involves exposure to culture and the exercise of rationality.

The article is here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Psychology of Clinical Decision Making: Implications for Medication Use

Jerry Avorn
February 22, 2018
N Engl J Med 2018; 378:689-691

Here is an excerpt:

The key problem is medicine’s ongoing assumption that clinicians and patients are, in general, rational decision makers. In reality, we are all influenced by seemingly irrational preferences in making choices about reward, risk, time, and trade-offs that are quite different from what would be predicted by bloodless, if precise, quantitative calculations. Although we physicians sometimes resist the syllogism, if all humans are prone to irrational decision making, and all clinicians are human, then these insights must have important implications for patient care and health policy. There have been some isolated innovative applications of that understanding in medicine, but despite a growing number of publications about the psychology of decision making, most medical care — at the bedside and the systems level — is still based on a “rational actor” understanding of how we make decisions.

The choices we make about prescription drugs provide one example of how much further medicine could go in taking advantage of a more nuanced understanding of decision making under conditions of uncertainty — a description that could define the profession itself. We persist in assuming that clinicians can obtain comprehensive information about the comparative worth (clinical as well as economic) of alternative drug choices for a given condition, assimilate and evaluate all the findings, and synthesize them to make the best drug choices for our patients. Leaving aside the access problem — the necessary comparative effectiveness research often doesn’t exist — actual drug-utilization data make it clear that real-world prescribing choices are in fact based heavily on various “irrational” biases, many of which have been described by behavioral economists and other decision theorists.

The article is here.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Why It's OK Behavioral Economics Failed To Prevent Heart Attacks

Peter Ubel
Originally published January 31, 2018

Here are two excerpts:

To increase the chance people will take these important pills, a team out of the University of Pennsylvania created a behavioral economic incentive. The intervention was multipronged. It included enrolling patients in lotteries, which gave them a chance to win money every day they took their pills. It encouraged patients to enlist a friend to help them stay on track taking their pills, a friend who would get notified every time they skipped their medications for a few days in a row.

But the intervention failed — it neither increased adherence to medications nor reduced hospitalizations for heart attacks. These results are shown in the figure below, which, despite appearances, shows two lines, representing the intervention group and the control group, respectively; the lines practically merge into one...


Sometimes behavioral economics is criticized for being over-hyped, for being touted as the answer to all our behavioral problems. I’ve been one of those critics. But my beef isn’t with behavioral economists — my research frequently draws upon insights from that field. My issue is with people who think of behavioral economics as some kind of magic wand we can wave over stubbornly harmful behavior. Changing people’s behavior is hard to do, especially without resorting to draconian measures.

We need to keep experimenting with ways to help people take care of their health.

The article is here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Should Governments Invest More in Nudging?

Shlomo Benartzi, John Beshears, Katherine L. Milkman, and others
Psychological Science 
Vol 28, Issue 8, pp. 1041 - 1055
First Published June 5, 2017


Governments are increasingly adopting behavioral science techniques for changing individual behavior in pursuit of policy objectives. The types of “nudge” interventions that governments are now adopting alter people’s decisions without coercion or significant changes to economic incentives. We calculated ratios of impact to cost for nudge interventions and for traditional policy tools, such as tax incentives and other financial inducements, and we found that nudge interventions often compare favorably with traditional interventions. We conclude that nudging is a valuable approach that should be used more often in conjunction with traditional policies, but more calculations are needed to
determine the relative effectiveness of nudging.

The article is here.