Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Guest Lecture by Professor Paul Mills on "The promises and failures of the biomedical literature" (2 June 2015)

Below you'll find information about a very interesting Guest Lecture by Professor Paul Mills on the replicability crisis in psychology.

The lecture will be given in Stirling on June 2, 2015. It is organised by the University of Stirling Management School, in association with our Behavioural Science Centre and the Management, Work and Organisation Division. You are cordially invited.

The information below is from here

2 June, 3.45pm - 5.30pm. Speaker: Professor Paul Mills, University of California, San Diego

The University of Stirling Management School invites you to a public lecture delivered by Professor Paul Mills, in association with the Behavioural Science Centre and the Management, Work and Organisation Division.

Professor Mills is Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health and Director of the Center of Excellence for Research and Training in Integrative Health, UC San Diego. He is a long-standing National Institutes of Health (NIH)-supported clinical investigator with expertise in psychoneuroimmune processes in wellness and in disease, with a current focus on integrative medicine.

He has published more than 300 manuscripts and book chapters on these topics. He is a former president of the American Psychosomatic Medicine Society, former Associate Editor of the journals Health Psychology, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, and Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology, and former Guest Editor of the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine.

Reproducibility is a cornerstone of the scientific method. Since Professor John Ioannidis’ provocative and controversial article, “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False”, appeared in the scientific literature in 2005, the problem of irreproducibility in science has been front and center, with numerous efforts to quantify its presence and implications. This presentation will include discussion of the many guises of bias in research and the influence it exerts on all aspects of the research enterprise – from study design to publishing. Solutions are gaining a foothold in some academic institutions, and these too will be discussed.

This event is free, but places are limited and should be reserved in advance.

Venue: Lecture Theatre 2W1, Cottrell Building, University of Stirling

RSVP: Sharon Martin, telephone: 01786 467401 email:

Monday, May 18, 2015

Behavioural Economics Historical Reference Works #BEHistorical

The purpose of this post is to start a discussion online and in the research centre about historical works (say pre-1950) 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 or on the #BEHistorical hashtag on twitter.

Aristotle, as well as being a noted bugger for the bottle, also wrote a number of books and Nichomachean Ethics is clearly a key reference work from antiquity.

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.

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

Edgeworth's Mathematical Psychics is a classic work and is eerily relevant to modern debates about decision-making despite being published in 1881.

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.

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.

Keynes' General Theory is a tough read in places but often reads very like what is beginning to be called behavioural macro.

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.

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.

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. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Readings on Wanting & Liking

Do we always want what we (expect to) like? Or can "wanting" and "liking" become dissociated from time to time? Research by Kent Berridge suggests that wanting occurs in different areas in the brain than liking. While Berridge's subjects are mostly rats, several experiments have shown wanting-liking dissociations also in humans. This can have important consequences for economic theory. Below is a list of some resources dealing with the dissociation between wanting and liking and its relevance for economics. Feel free to comment or send me an email if you have further material to add.


From the internet:

"The science of craving" in the Intelligent Life Magazine (May/June 2015)

Homepage of the Berridge Lab

Conversation with the Dalai Lama: Mind and Life XXVII - Craving, Desire and Addiction

Great presentation by Berridge on Sugar Highs and Lows: Sugar on the Brain

Experts in Emotion Interview with Brian Knutson on Neuroeconomics and Emotion

George Loewenstein on Like, Want, and Sex, by gender & age

Interesting interview with Berridge on the incentive salience theory


Academic Journal Articles:

Wanting & Liking and utility theory:

  • Berridge, K. C., & O’Doherty, J. P. (2014). From experienced utility to decision utility. Neuroeconomics: Decisions and the Brain, 335-354.
  • Berridge, K. C., & Aldridge, J. W. (2008). Decision utility, the brain, and pursuit of hedonic goals. Social cognition, 26(5), 621.
  • Kahneman, D., Wakker, P. P., & Sarin, R. (1997). Back to Bentham? Explorations of experienced utility. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 375-405.
  • Witt, U., & Binder, M. (2013). Disentangling motivational and experiential aspects of “utility”–A neuroeconomics perspective. Journal of Economic Psychology, 36, 27-40. 
Wanting & liking and inter-temporal choice:
  • Lades, L. K. (2012). Towards an incentive salience model of intertemporal choice. Journal of Economic Psychology, 33(4), 833-841.
Wanting & Liking and policy implications
  • Camerer, C. F. (2006). Wanting, liking, and learning: neuroscience and paternalism. The University of Chicago Law Review, 87-110.
Wanting & liking in experiments:
  • Dai, X., Brendl, C. M., & Ariely, D. (2010). Wanting, liking, and preference construction. Emotion, 10(3), 324.
  • Garbinsky, E. N., Morewedge, C. K., & Shiv, B. (2014). Does liking or wanting determine repeat consumption delay?. Appetite, 72, 59-65.
  • Loewenstein, G., Krishnamurti, T., Kopsic, J., & McDonald, D. (2015). Does Increased Sexual Frequency Enhance Happiness?. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization
  • Litt, A., Khan, U., & Shiv, B. (2009). Lusting while loathing parallel counterdriving of wanting and liking. Psychological Science.
  • Pool, E., Brosch, T., Delplanque, S., and Sander, D. (2014, December 22). Stress Increases Cue-Triggered “Wanting” for Sweet Reward in Humans. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition. 

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Links 9.5.15

1. $10 million gift will create the Daniel Kahneman and Anne Treisman Center for Behavioral Science and Public Policy at Princeton University.

2. An excerpt from Richard Thaler's new book 'Misbehaving' in the NYT.

3. "Your Brain Is Primed To Reach False Conclusions" from 538. This opens with a terrific anecdote.

4. Nielsen (2015). The Relationship Between Self-Rated Health and Hospital Records. Health Economics.
Abstract: This paper investigates whether self-rated health (SRH) covaries with individual hospital records. By linking the Danish Longitudinal Survey on Ageing with individual hospital records covering all hospital admissions from 1995 to 2006, I show that SRH is correlated to historical, current, and future hospital records. I use both measures separately to control for health in a regression of mortality on wealth. Using only historical and current hospitalization controls for health yields the common result that SRH is a stronger predictor of mortality than objective health measures. The addition of future hospitalizations as controls shows that the estimated gradient on wealth is similar to one in which SRH is the control. The results suggest that with a sufficiently long time series of individual records, objective health measures can predict mortality to the same extent as global self-rated measures.

5. Behavioural economics meets development economics [podcast]

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

List of resources on noncognitive skills

This is an ongoing list of resources for researchers interested in noncognitive skills.

Although there is disagreement on the definition of noncognitive skills, the term is generally used "to contrast a variety of behaviours, personality characteristics, and attitudes with academic skills, aptitudes, and attainment (p8 Gutman & Schoon, 2013). Noncognitive skills are sometimes called personality skills, soft skills, socioemotional skills and character. These are probably more sensible terms given that "few aspects of human behavior are devoid of cognition" (p3 Borghans et al., 2008). Nonetheless the term 'noncognitive' has survived as a useful way to bucket together individual psychological differences which are not captured by IQ tests (there is also disagreement on whether to use the term "skills" or "traits" but that is another issue).

Over the last fifteen years there has been growing interest in economics in the role noncognitive skills play in shaping socioeconomic outcomes such as educational attainment, employment, earnings, health and wellbeing. Almlund et al. (2011) show how decades of psychology research on individual psychological differences and later outcomes is beginning to be incorporated into formal economic models. Although there are a great many researchers across economics and psychology who have contributed to this literature, it is fair to single out the economist James Heckman (co-winner of the Economics Nobel in 2000) as having been extremely influential in bringing it to the attention of mainstream economists. Heckman has worked on many influential papers in this area and disseminates a lot of material aimed at non-academics on his website The Heckman Equation.

Below is a table from p12 of Heckman & Kautz (2013) which lists many different noncognitive skills using the framework of the Big Five personality traits.

Noncognitive Skills in the Classroom: New Perspectives on Educational Research by Rosen, Glennie, Dalton, Lennon & Bozick (2010)

Teaching Adolescents To Become Learners. The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance: A Critical Literature Review by Farrington, Roderick, Allensworth, Nagaoka, Keyes, Johnson & Beechum (2012). University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

The impact of non-cognitive skills on outcomes for young people: Literature review by Gutman & Schoon (2013). Institute of Education, UCL.

‘Non-cognitive’ skills: What are they and how can they be measured in the British cohort studies? Literature Review by Joshi (2014). Institute of Education, UCL.

Improving Outcome Measures Other Than Achievement by Moore, Lippman & Ryberg (2014).

Fostering and Measuring Skills: Improving Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Skills to Promote Lifetime Success by Kautz, Heckman, Diris, ter Weel & Borghans (2014). OECD report.

Addressing and Mitigating Vulnerability Across the Life Cycle: The Case for Investing in Early Childhood by Young (2014). UNDP Human Development Report Office Occasional Paper.

Developing Social-Emotional Skills for the Labor Market: The PRACTICE Model by Guerra, Modecki & Cunningham (2014). World Bank Policy Research Working Paper.

Social and emotional skills in childhood and their long-term effects on adult life by Goodman, Joshi, Nasim & Tyler (2015). Institute of Education, UCL.

Impacts of Interventions during Early Childhood on Later Outcomes: A Systematic Review by many individuals (see p9). World Bank.

Papers in academic journals

Economic, neurobiological, and behavioral perspectives on building America's future workforce by Knudsen, Heckman, Cameron, & Shonkoff (2006). PNAS.

Schools, Skills, and Synapses by Heckman (2008). Economic Inquiry.

The Economics and Psychology of Personality Traits by Borghans, Duckworth, Heckman & ter Weel (2008). Journal of Human Resources.

Estimating the Technology of Cognitive and Noncognitive Skill Formation by Cunha, Heckman & Schennach (2010). IZA Discussion Paper.

The Labor Market Returns to Cognitive and Noncognitive Ability: Evidence from the Swedish Enlistment by Lindqvist & Vestman (2011). American Economic Journal.

Personality Psychology and Economics by Almlund, Duckworth, Heckman & Kautz (2011). NBER working paper.

Fostering and Measuring Skills: Interventions That Improve Character and Cognition by Heckman & Kautz (2013). NBER working paper. 

PPT slides
Hard Evidence on Soft Skills by Heckman & Kautz (2011).

Estimating the Technology of Cognitive and Noncognitive Skill Formation by Heckman, Cunha & Schennach (2011).

Noncognitive Skills and Socioemotional Learning by Heckman (2012).

The role of noncognitive skills in academic success by Payne and Kyllonen (2012).

The Economics of Inequality and Human Development by Heckman (2013).

Papers by members of the Stirling Behavioural Science Centre
Childhood self-control & unemployment by Daly, Delaney, Egan & Baumeister (2015). Psychological Science.

Childhood psychological distress and youth unemployment by Egan, Daly & Delaney (2015). Social Science & Medicine.

Personality change following unemployment by Boyce, Wood, Daly & Sedikides (in press). Journal of Applied Psychology.

Money, well-being, and loss aversion: Does a loss in income have a greater effect on well-being than an equivalent income gain? by Boyce, Wood, Banks, Clark & Brown (2013). Psychological Science.

Parental education, grade attainment and earnings expectations among university students by Delaney, Harmon & Redmond (2011). Economics of Education Review.

Psychological and biological foundations of time preference by Delaney, Daly & Harmon (2009). Journal of the European Economic Association.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

How Paternalistic Should Policymakers be?

Below cross-posted from my post: 

The literature on behavioural economics has set off a very interesting debate on the extent to which policy-makers should intervene to improve outcomes in cases where individuals are potentially harming themselves but not others.

A paper by Camerer et al in 2003 put forward the case for asymmetric paternalism whereby policy could potentially help individuals who are not making rational decisions, while not infringing on others. An example is pension auto-enrolment whereby individuals procrastinating on pensions decisions are helped in the process of saving while those who genuinely do not want to take out a pension are not forced to.

Sunstein and Thaler added the idea of Libertarian Paternalism to the literature whereby policy-makers strive to improve outcomes (paternalism) while also placing a high weight on freedom to choose (libertarianism). The now-famous book Nudge is an expression of this philosophy and has had a dramatic impact on policy-makers in the US, UK and to some extent Australia and is being discussed at least in the Irish policy environment.

A big debate is ensuing around Nudge with some claiming the philosophy is too interventionist (see Sunstein's Storr lectures for a list of these critiques and also his responses - see also a reading list I put together here).

Another line of argument is that Nudge artificially restricts the application of behavioural economics to non-mandated policy interventions. A recent Harvard Law Review piece by Bubb and Pildes examines three areas of policy (financial regulation, fuel pollution and consumer credit regulation) and makes the case that the behavioural evidence does not support soft-paternalist policies but rather a more interventionist approach. In particular they argue that there is a large tension between the evidence provided by behavioural economics and the political position being advocated by many of its adherents. In their view, the bounded rationality displayed by citizens leaves them far more open to exploitation and also far less likely to respond to soft-policies to improve their welfare. They cite an extremely interesting article by Lauren Willis in the University of Chicago Law Review, who argues that Nudges are insufficient in cases where large corporations have incentives to counteract them and she gives a detailed case-study from US financial regulation where financial companies quite easily ran around various default options embedded in consumer protection regulation. She argues that mandates and generally more active regulation is needed in many cases due to the degree of control that the regulated firms have over how to implement "nudges".

Sunstein's response to this is available here where he argues that it is important to respect people's freedom of choice and that it is unclear yet that nudges are ineffective in the face of counteracting moves by vested interests. He argues that, while in some cases mandates may turn out to be neccesary and more effective, this should at least partly be an empirical question and should not ignore the importance of autonomy.

This debate is important in the Irish context. There are many areas of policy where policy objectives lead to tensions between implementation of effective policies and the autonomy of individuals to choose. In cases where individual actions lead to costs to others then traditional economics and regulation is on more solid ground. But when there is active debate about how to reduce health-damaging diet and consumption patterns, promote greater pension coverage and other policies effectively aimed at improving individual welfare through changing their behaviour then this debate is very important and interesting. It also hits against the idea that behavioural economics is an attempt to individualise wider social and economic problems. In this debate, there is a clearly interesting tussle between the interests of large companies, the decisions of boundedly rational households and the political factors that lead to the mandates of regulators. It provides an interesting and realistic way of debating policy and regulation.

3rd May 2015 Behavioural Science Links

1. Enlightenment 2.0: Restoring sanity to our politics, our economy, and our lives (via Marginal Revolution)

2. NYT piece on the links between the APA and the CIA torture programme.

3. Andrew Gelman on the bad things that happen when we don't take measurement seriously.

4. Nature piece on the first results from Psychology's largest replication exercise. Everyone involved in empirical social science should follow this and related work. Mass replications are a relatively recent phenomenon in these areas and need a lot more discussion. It is great to see them but it is clearly not so simple to replicate complex psychology experiments from across decades. The conditions under which a psychology experiment can be replicated precisely are also worth discussing further,

5. A-level Economics will now include material on behavioural economics. Worth discussing for high-school economics programmes around the world.

6. BIT is recruiting again. I presented there in March and two of our MSc programme graduates from last year work there. I can testify to the very vibrant atmosphere there. It looks like a great place to work.

7. Roland Fryer was awarded the Bates Clarke medal, basically an Economics Nobel for under-40s. His work is available here. The award text is well worth reading and available here
Roland Fryer is an influential applied microeconomist whose work spans labor economics, the economics of education, and social problems and social interactions.  His innovative and creative research contributions have deepened our understanding of the sources, magnitude, and persistence of U.S. racial inequality.  He has made substantial progress in evaluating the policies that work and do not work to improve the educational outcomes and economic opportunities of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  His theoretical and empirical work on the “acting white” hypothesis of peer effects provides new insights into the difficulties of increasing the educational investments of minorities and the socially excluded.  Fryer is the leading economist working on the economics of race and education, and he has produced the most important work in recent years on combating the racial divide, one of America’s most profound and long-lasting social problems. He has mastered tools from many disciplines to tackle difficult research topics.  Fryer has developed and implemented compelling randomized field experiments in large U.S. urban school districts to evaluate education interventions.  He founded EdLabs (the Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University) in 2008 to facilitate such efforts and continues as its director.  He has incorporated insights from psychology to formulate a new model of discrimination based on categorization, and he has used detailed historical archival research to understand the origins and spread of the Ku Klux Klan.
8.  14th TIBER Symposium on Psychology and Economics, Tilburg - call for papers

9. "Early intervention and child health: Evidence from a Dublin-based randomized controlled trial"

10. Which, the influential UK consumer group, is recruiting - "Principal Behavioural Insight researcher in the Which? policy division". Links here and here.

11. New paper on "On the misplaced politics of behavioral policy interventions".

12. HBR: "A short history of modern decision making, from John von Neumann to Daniel Kahneman"