Saturday, June 17, 2017

Economics, Psychology, and Policy Links 17-06-2017

As part of the development of our new group in Dublin, we will be updating the blog over the next few months and I hope to post a lot more. We will launch our new research cluster on September 8th with Professor Peter John as keynote (Details here). Currently, we are in the process of recruiting postdocs and PhD students, and we are starting a new MSc in September. I hope that Dublin will be seen as a vibrant place for the emerging behavioural public policy field.

1. BIT are hiring.

2. The twitter account for the Society for the Advancement of Behavioural Economics is available here

3.  Stirling University are hiring a Professor in Behavioural Science and Health 

4. The Behavioural Economics Guide 2017 is out. This is an excellent and comprehensive overview of behavioural economics across sectors.

5. "Economic Psychology - An Introduction" Textbook by Erich Kirchler and Erik Hoelzl (November 2017)

6. OECD "Tackling Environmental Problems with the Help of Behavioural Insights"  Extensive resources across many areas.

7. Irish government evaluation service primer on starting behavioural trials.

8. Video of Cass Sunstein's recent talk at UCD.

9. First issue of the new journal Behavioural Public Policy, edited by Cass Sunstein, Adam Oliver, and George Akerlof.

10. Peter John interviewed on his new book "How Far to Nudge".

11. Signup page for our July 11th Irish Behavioural Science and Policy network session with Dilip Soman. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Temporary Role Research Assistant

Research Assistant Needed for Behavioural Science Research

Applications are invited for an hourly paid role as a Research Assistant located within the UCD Geary Institute. The successful candidate will be offered a part-time role on an hourly basis for 6-8 weeks at 35 hours a week to commence with immediate effect.

The researcher will be based at the Geary Institute and will provide research support, deliverables and project work to Prof Liam Delaney in developing the behavioural science and public policy programme at UCD Geary Institute.

Pay: €10.55 per hour

Please send a cover letter outlining your skills and interest in the area and CV to Emma Barron,
Closing Date: Friday, 30th June 2017 at 17:00.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Temporary Role Qualitative Research Assistance

Research Assistant Needed for Qualitative Research

Applications are invited for an hourly paid role as a Research Assistant located within the UCD Geary Institute. The successful candidate will be offered a part-time role on an hourly basis for 6 weeks at 20 hours a week to commence with immediate effect.

The successful candidate will provide research support, deliverables and project work to Dr Slawa Rokicki on a research project in the field of adolescent reproductive health in Sub-Saharan Africa. The project involves analysing 32 qualitative in-depth interviews about sexual behaviour and contraceptive use conducted with young women in Ghana. The main tasks will include coding of qualitative interview data and literature review.

Pay: €10.55 per hour

Please send applications and CV’s to Dr Slawa Rokicki,
Closing Date: Monday, 12th June 2017 at 17:00
Emma Barron
Geary Institute for Public Policy

University College Dublin

T : (353) - 1 - 7164616

Thursday, May 04, 2017

PhD Scholarships at UCD School of Economics

UCD School of Economics is pleased to announce a call for applications for the 2017-18 PhD Scholarship scheme. The aim of the scheme is to attract applicants of the highest academic standards to participate in the UCD School of Economics PhD programme (details here) and provide them with the training, experience and mentorship necessary to their professional development.

These PhD Scholarships will comprise an annual tax-free annual stipend of between €12,000 and €15,000 plus a full waiver of fees. The scheme is open to both new applicants and existing PhD students, with the understanding that the stipend and fee waiver will continue to be provided to students up to and including their fourth year of PhD studies, subject to their continuing to make satisfactory progress in their studies and meeting the terms and requirements of their scholarship.

Students in receipt of a Scholarship are required to work as tutors in either undergraduate or graduate modules taught by the School of Economics. This will allow PhD students to develop the practical application of their academic skills by ongoing training and experience of tutorial teaching, assessment and pedagogical development. This taught component will amount to no more than 50 hours of teaching during each of our 12-week teaching semesters.

A selection board of School of Economics faculty members will review applications and make its recommendations on selection to the Head of School. Applications will be evaluated and ranked by the Selection Board according to the following criteria:
Academic excellence (transcripts, previous research experience, etc.)
The academic testament of referees;
Quality and clarity of the research proposal;
Fit with the research strengths of the School;
Teaching potential (past teaching experience, English proficiency, etc.);
Availability of other funding to applicant (such as Irish Research Council awards).

Complete applications must be submitted on or before 18 May 2017. New applicants who are short-listed for a scholarship will then be contacting for a short interview, either in person, via phone, or via computer (such as Skype). The school will then conduct interviews with each finalist, either in person, via phone, or via the computer (such as Skype). Scholarships will be awarded on approximately May 31, 2017. Successful applicants have until 15 June 2017 to notify the school of their decision whether or not to accept the scholarship. Additional scholarships may be awarded in June or July depending on availability.

For students who are unsuccessful in applying for a PhD scholarship, the school also offers other forms of financial assistance, including fee waivers, hourly tutoring contracts, and marking exams.

If you are interested in applying for these scholarships, please review the associated terms and conditions carefully.

Click here for the application form. Completed forms should be emailed to

Click here for the terms and conditions for the scholarships.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Irish Revenue Randomised Trials

This month the Irish Revenue Commissioners (responsible for tax administration) published the results of 20 randomised trials they have conducted in the area of behavioural design. This is a significant report in terms of Irish public policy and also contributes to the growing international literature in this area. A summary of the report is below. 
While audit and other risk management interventions are effective compliance tools, they can be expensive and time consuming for both Revenue and taxpayers. Targeted treatments using behavioural science can be a complementary and cost-effective tool to improve compliance. A summary of key findings across four behavioural insights is below. 
Deterrence: Deterrence strategies (e.g., highlighting possible sanctions) dissuade taxpayers from non-compliant behaviour. The research confirms that deterrent effects significantly improve taxpayer compliance, particularly when combined with other insights. They impact different taxpayer segments differently. 
Simplification and Salience: Compliance or other behaviours can be enhanced through simpler presentation of information and by drawing attention to key details. For tax administrations, this may involve highlighting the third-party information held, for example through correspondence or the pre-filling of tax returns. Information in any communications should be presented in the most clear and simple way possible, including bolding and centred text. 
Personalisation: International research has shown the potential of more personalised correspondence, which is increasingly becoming a possibility given technological advancements. Revenue trials confirm that personalisation leads to greater and quicker engagement, especially when multiple elements of personalisation are applied. 
Social Norms: The behaviour of others can influence an individual’s choices. Revenue research finds that social norms are generally not effective at influencing behaviour. However, there is limited evidence indicating that these may improve taxpayer compliance when combined with other insights. 
According to a meta-analysis, which weights the result of 20 trials by sample size, the most effective insights tend to be deterrence (+8.0% improvement in targeted behaviour), personalisation (+4.0%) simplification and salience (+3.3%) and social norms (-1.6%). The wording and design of communications can affect taxpayer compliance. Even seemingly insignificant changes to correspondence can significantly change behaviour. While these lessons have mainly been learned from letters, they should be considered in any Revenue communication with taxpayers.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Behavioural Economics Historical Reference Works

The purpose of this post (which I am updating from time to time) is to start a discussion online and in the research centre about historical works (say pre-1960) that are most worthwhile to read for people interested in contemporary behavioural science and behavioural economics debates. The remit is probably too broad to be wholly coherent but if it leads to some good suggestions for reading that people had not considered before then it is worth doing. Works from centuries or millenia before often have a way of having a recurring influence on modern fields not least evidenced by the recent renewed interest in Aristotle and Greek concepts of well-being in the modern literature. Would be good to get suggestions from people in the comments, by email, in person.

Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics is clearly a key reference work from antiquity. Will add more on this at a later stage.

Nico Machiavelli's The Prince contains a wealth of insights into influence in the context of complex governance issues.

Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments. See also this article on Adam Smith's pedigree as a behavioural economist. A more general tour of the Scottish Enlightenment's role in the development of disciplines such as Economics would be interesting for a future post and/or walking tour. David Hume's Treatise on Human Nature contains a wealth of ideas that are relevant to modern academic debates on decision making, valuation, causality and so on. See this link for a short blogpost I wrote on the Treatise and modern behavioural economics. Thanks to @cathyby on twitter for repeated reminders on the importance of Francis Hutcheson and also the recommendation to include Bernard De Mandeville. The latter's Fable of The Bees is cited across many areas of Economics.

Pretty much anything from JS Mill in particular On LibertyThe Principles of Political Economy and Utilitarianism. Obviously also Bentham.

Emile Durkheim is a forerunner of many literatures relevant to readers here. A very useful UChicago webpage on his work here.

Simmel's Philosophy of Money is often  cited as a historical reference in modern papers on economic psychology. It deals with a staggering array of questions on the philosophy and implications of using money as the medium of exchange.

Schumpeter's History of Economic Analysis would be one of my desert island books. I once ran an informal book club over several sessions on this work. Contains a wealth of information on the many interesting characters that populated debates on issues such as the correct notion of utility over the centuries.

From Schumpeter, the importance of the German Cameralist movement becomes apparent in particular Johann Justi. Many elements of modern thinking about the state improving the health and welfare of citizens in an economic framework come from this movement. Thanks to Charles Larkin for pointing out to me the importance of Wilhelm Roscher in the development of German historical and institutional thought. The development of Christian social economic thinking through the late 1800s and 1900s is an area that contains a huge degree of historical relevance in terms of debates about the role of state intervention. The theological context is obviously not present in modern BE debates but that does not reduce the significance of these works. The development of various forms of European social economic thinking throughout the 20th century sets a vital historical context for understanding how many European countries established their social democracies and in the works that formed the intellectual backdrop of this there are many debates about the freedom and dignity of the individual set against the wider public welfare and profit and innovation in a capitalist system.

Edgeworth's Mathematical Psychics is a classic work and is eerily relevant to modern debates about decision-making despite being published in 1881. David Colander's excellent JEP article on Edgeworth and Fisher is well worth reading.

Lewin "Economics and Psychology: Lessons for Our Own Day From the Early Twentieth Century" documents the interaction between the development of neo-classical marginalist economics and the development of psychology as a separate discipline. See also Bruni and Sugden's 2007 EJ article argues for the historical importance of Pareto in severing the link between economics and psychology.
This article explores parallels between the debate prompted by Pareto's reformulation of choice theory at the beginning of the twentieth century and current controversies about the status of behavioural economics. Before Pareto's reformulation, neoclassical economics was based on theoretical and experimental psychology, as behavioural economics now is. Current ‘discovered preference’ defences of rational-choice theory echo arguments made by Pareto. Both treat economics as a separate science of rational choice, independent of psychology. Both confront two fundamental problems: to find a defensible definition of the domain of economics, and to justify the assumption that preferences are consistent and stable.
Irving Fisher "Is "Utility" the Most Suitable Term for the Concept It is Used to Denote?" gives a strong sense of the early unease at the notion of utility that emerged from the marginalist period.

Daniel Read's "Experienced Utility from Jeremy Bentham to Daniel Kahneman" provides a detailed account of the attempt to measure utility directly over the centuries. Ulrich Witt also reviews the history of utility distinguishing between sensory utilitarianism that seeks to measure utility directly and the more axiomatic form that dominated in the 20th century. 

William James' The Principles of Psychology is often regarded as the first psychology textbook. Again, time-permitting, a later post on contemporaries of James such as Wundt and Fechner would yield a number of relevant works.

Freud's distrust of empirical analysis puts him at odds with a lot of modern methodological thinking. But his books are surely worth reading for any thinking person and the concepts he grappled with have obvious resonance with behavioural economics models of human behaviour.

Frank H, Knight's classic "Risk, Uncertainty and Profit" provides ideas on the role of uncertainty in economics that continue to be highly relevant.

Keynes' General Theory set out many of the themes in what is now beginning to be called behavioural macro.

Karl Polanyi's "The Great Transformation" is a key work across several interdisciplinary disciplines in Economics. It contains a vast range of insights into the development of market societies and the psychological, cultural, and other aspects of market behaviour.

The work of Maurice Allais was written exclusively in French and not widely translated making it all the more remarkable he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1988. A study of Allais would require a lot of time, patience and linguistic ability but he is clearly an important figure in the history of economic thought relevant to behavioural economics. Paul Samuelson famously stated that “Had Allais's earliest writings been in English, a generation of economic theory would have taken a different course.

As much a warning about excess as anything else, Watson (1913) "Psychology as the Behaviorist Views it" is the classic statement of the behaviourist view of psychology.

Frederick et al's 2002 summary of the literature on time discounting provides an exceptionally useful historical background to the development of ideas in this area from the 1800s onwards.

Veblen's "Theory of the Leisure class" is a classic work on many aspects of consumption and leisure that is still quite regularly cited.

Camerer/Loewenstein's summary of behavioural economics has some great historical examples.

The work of George Katona at the Survey Research Centre at Michigan and the work of Herbert Simon at Carnegie-Mellon is described in this 2003 Journal of Socio-economics article by Hamid Hosseini. The article also provides information and links to a range of other interesting papers and contributions from the first half of the 20th century. The work of Katona and Simon set the foundation of 20th century  behavioural economics. I will add more at a later stage about developments in behavioural economics in the 1950s and 1960s as these are obviously key to understanding the intellectual climate that the great work of people like Kahneman and Tversky emerged from.

Post-war it would be good to talk further about the debates surrounding the development of general equilibrium theory in Economics and the clash between behaviourism and the cognitive revolution in Psychology. Clearly in that period emerges the main building blocks of what was to become behavioural economics. Richard Thaler's MisBehaving is a gripping account of the development of behavioural economics in top US universities in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Researcher Vacancies at UCD

See below for two research posts working with colleagues at UCD:

(i) Vacancy for Research Scientist in UCD; we are seeking a researcher to contribute to an Irish Research Council (Research for Policy & Society) funded project about understanding well-owners perceptions and awareness of flooding, and informing policy to increase preparedness to reduce the risks of infectious disease outbreaks. Masters or PhD with training/experience in qualitative and/or quantitative research methods required. Salary will reflect qualification and experience. Closing date for application May 3rd. Email for further information. Check out the postion at Job Ref : 009243

(ii) A postdoctoral research fellow in economics is sought to carry out research in energy technology adoption and the societal costs and benefits of a key future energy technology, residential ground source heat pumps (GSHPs), for the case of Ireland. The researcher will be part of the School of Economics in Belfield, UCD.The aim of the project is to carry out an economic assessment of the deployment of GSHPs in Ireland and develop an appropriate policy strategy. The objectives of the project are to:• Develop methodologies to model the potential uptake of GSHP in the residential sector;• Assess the market and economic value of scenarios of various shares of GSHPs;• Advance evidence-based policy recommendations on the development of geothermal energy as part of the renewable energy mix in Ireland. Salary: €34,975 - €42,181 per annum Appointment on the above range will be dependent on qualifications and experience. Prior to application, further information (including application procedure) should be obtained from the UCD Job Vacancies website: