Thursday, February 26, 2015

How to make a Maltese cross – insights from facebook

See below from PhD researcher here and lecturer at University of Malta Marie Briguglio. Intended to stimulate some ideas for a future study and not intended as a scientific study in itself. 

How to make a Maltese cross – insights from facebook

A question posted on a facebook status for two consecutive periods of 24 hours asked volunteers to “Think of your typical day. What instances reduce your well-being? “ and in a subsequent separate status to “Think of your typical day. What instances improve your well-being?" Responses (360 comments) were coded and aggregated. The exact comments were fed into Tagxedo ( to generate the word maps below. Over 95 percent of comments were received from respondents in Malta. No personal data was requested or used. Obvious biases pertaining to this data includes the fact that the participants are limited to people who are active in social media, able to read English and able to write. The responses themselves are likely skewed by social desirability bias and limited to contributions that respondents feel they can talk of publicly. Although participants were asked to “think of your answer before reading others” some social influence may have occurred. 

Within the limitations, key insights that emerge are:

· Social interactions (other people) are the key factor responsible both for stimulating well-being and for suppressing it. Over 30% of the comments received were of this nature;

· Pollution (litter, noise) and traffic is a key factor that suppresses well being, while the sun, the sea and the Maltese environment in general received strong mention as positive influences (18%),

· In a typical day, family and children are both a cause of well-being and a source of its reduction (14% of responses),

· Bad food, lack of exercise, sickness and pain as well as sedentary lifestyles, together with good food and exercise, together made up 9% of the contributions. Other influences mentions include the news, institutions and order.

· The influencers of well-being were similar in the negative and positive frame, albeit different words may be used (notably “kids” versus “children”);


Word Map 1 (blue): In a typical day, what instances reduce your well-being?
Word Map 2 (red): In a typical day, what instances improve your well-being?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Q&A between Peter Ubel and Richard Thaler on nudging

Full article available at Forbes

On the definition of nudge:

"Ubel: You say I am wrong about what constitutes a nudge. Can you elaborate?

Thaler: Sunstein and I define a “good” nudge as something that will affect Humans but not Econs and will be in their best interest.

Ubel: By Econs, you mean those hypothetical, perfectly rational decision makers with unlimited willpower and cognitive processing ability who underlie neoclassical economic theory. Right?

Thaler: Yes. Econs don’t need nudges, because they do what is in their best interests anyways. But Humans often need nudges."

On the proliferation of the term 'behavioural economics':

"Ubel: I have reviewed grant proposals for agencies that have requested projects using behavioral economics. I have discovered that many researchers submitting proposals to these agencies equate the idea of a “nudge” with behavioral economics. In other words, if they can improve people’s behaviors while leaving them free to act, they have nudged those people. Therefore, they conclude they are doing behavioral economics. Who is confused here: me or them?

Thaler: Everyone is confused. This is partly because, as you note in your post, some people have decided to call themselves behavioral economists for strategic reasons, perhaps because it is now trendy, or perceived to have higher status than (say) professor of marketing, and this sort of behavior can lead journalists to be confused. Many now think Robert Cialdini is a behavioral economist, a notion that Bob would find quite funny. It is true that I am one of the co-authors of Nudge and I am a behavioral economist but it does not mean that everything we write about in that book is behavioral economics, nor does it mean that my co-author, the distinguished legal scholar Cass Sunstein, is a behavioral economist."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A bidirectional relationship between physical activity and executive function in older adults

New paper by centre faculty member Michael Daly and colleagues published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience 
A bidirectional relationship between physical activity and executive function in older adults 
Michael Daly1*David McMinn2 and Julia L. Allan3
  • 1Behavioural Science Centre, Stirling Management School, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK
  • 2School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
  • 3Health Psychology, Institute of Applied Health Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK
Physically active lifestyles contribute to better executive function. However, it is unclear whether high levels of executive function lead people to be more active. This study uses a large sample and multi-wave data to identify whether a reciprocal association exists between physical activity and executive function. Participants were 4555 older adults tracked across four waves of the English Longitudinal Study of Aging. In each wave executive function was assessed using a verbal fluency test and a letter cancelation task and participants reported their physical activity levels. Fixed effects regressions showed that changes in executive function corresponded with changes in physical activity. In longitudinal multilevel models low levels of physical activity led to subsequent declines in executive function. Importantly, poor executive function predicted reductions in physical activity over time. This association was found to be over 50% larger in magnitude than the contribution of physical activity to changes in executive function. This is the first study to identify evidence for a robust bidirectional link between executive function and physical activity in a large sample of older adults tracked over time.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Measurement Talks and Links

I am giving some talks on measurement in the context of applied micro/behavioural and intervention work in the next few weeks and was asked to post some details. The somewhat heroically broad abstract for one of them is below.
The last ten years have seen a dramatic increase in the active testing of theories in Economics and Behavioural Science informed policy through field trials and specially designed surveys. Along with this has come an appreciation of the difficulties of directly measuring economic concepts. In this presentation, I draw from work at Stirling and the wider literature to illustrate some of the key challenges for measurement in economic and evaluation contexts, including: how do we account for the fact that people have different standards and expectations when interpreting self-report questions?; how do we measure well-being and what are the implications of different determinants of alternative well-being measures?; how do we measure risk, time and ambiguity preferences and why might these measures be useful in the context of field trials?; how do we link economic preferences to psychometric measures of personality and self-control?; what problems arise when we measure expenditure, consumption and other "objective" economic indicators and how might these be addressed?; what role should biomarkers play in studies of decisions and health?; how might day reconstruction methods aid in the process of understanding mechanisms of action in field trials and other contexts? On a more basic level, the presentation will also address some fundamental measurement problems such as the potential for measurement to change behaviour; the possibility of publication bias arising from multiple measures being employed; and the wider consequences of measurement responding to agency pressures rather than priorities of truth and importance. The presentation aims to give a broad overview of key measurement contexts and to point to potentially useful material for people grappling with these issues.
 Also here are some other links I promised to send various people. I am thinking and researching a lot in this broad area at the moment and welcome opportunities to discuss this with people online and offline.

1. Details of our ESRC Seminar series on Behavioural Science and Measurement are available on this link. We have run sessions on well-being, cohort studies, personality/preferences and novel data collections methods. We will run one this coming Friday (27th February 2015) on biomarkers in social science. We are also in the process of writing various follow-ups to the grant that funded this series and welcome suggestions for collaboration.

2. Here is a detailed reading list on measurement from a previous session I ran on this a few years ago. This includes readings on topics such as: threshold effects in self-reporting; measuring personality and economic preferences; measuring subjective well-being and health; and a variety of other topics that might be of interest.

Upcoming (Please email if you want further details).

ESRC/Stirling Workshop on Biomarkers in Behavioural Science Friday 27th February.

Stirling MSc Group: Tuesday 3rd March 11am

Stirling MSc Group: Tuesday 10th March 11am

BIT lunchtime session Friday 20th March

Sydney Economics Department (x 2) in May. Dates TBA.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Weekend Links 21st February 2015

1. " 3.0 — Behavioral Economics and Insurance Exchanges": New England Journal of Medicine piece by Peter Ubel, our own David Comerford and Eric Johnson

2. Interesting and lengthy comment thread on reddit discussing recent paper on unemployment and personality change in Journal of Applied Psychology.

3. Vacancy for researcher on the Scottish Longitudinal Study of Aging. This is part of a global family of aging studies and is a great opportunity.

4. Andy Haldane is one of the most interesting people on the link between behavioural economics and financial regulation. His recent Bank of England speech "Growing Fast and Slow" is very well worth reading.

5. The Behavioural Exchange website is now live. Many of the leading figures in behavioural economics and related areas will present.

6. Vacancy for post-doctoral fellowships at ESRI Dublin including in Behavioural Economics

7. Two lectureships in health psychology at Stirling University

8. Acceptability of financial incentives and penalties for encouraging uptake of healthy behaviours: focus groups

9. Franco et al recent Science paper Publication bias in the social sciences: Unlocking the file drawer
We studied publication bias in the social sciences by analyzing a known population of conducted studies—221 in total—in which there is a full accounting of what is published and unpublished. We leveraged Time-sharing Experiments in the Social Sciences (TESS), a National Science Foundation–sponsored program in which researchers propose survey-based experiments to be run on representative samples of American adults. Because TESS proposals undergo rigorous peer review, the studies in the sample all exceed a substantial quality threshold. Strong results are 40 percentage points more likely to be published than are null results and 60 percentage points more likely to be written up. We provide direct evidence of publication bias and identify the stage of research production at which publication bias occurs: Authors do not write up and submit null findings.
10. Finkelstein and Taubman Science paper: Randomize evaluations to improve health care delivery

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Things to see in Stirling

Stirling is a beautiful city, you’ll love it! There’s plenty to see for a short stay and for those of us lucky enough to live here . Here are three sights that you can be easily seen on the way from the city centre to the University.

1. Cambuskenneth Abbey

Cambuskenneth Abbey is near riverside, a short walk from the train station. Take two right turns immediately from the station and you should soon reach a small footbridge over the river Forth. The award-winning village of Cambuskenneth is on the other side. The Abbey is an important site in Scottish history: the first Scottish parliament after the Battle of Bannockburn was held there, and the Abbey also features the tomb of James III. Although the Abbey is largely in ruins now, the bell tower is still standing and is open during the summer months.

2. The auld brig

You’ll pass the auld brig on the bus into University, but its many interesting angles deserve closer inspection. The bridge’s four arches are built upon three man-made islands, in a beautifully symmetric structure. In medieval times the auld brig was the only crossing into the highlands; its strategic importance is clear from its exaggerated size right at the centre of the above map of Scotland. The auld brig stands next to the site of the even aulder brig from William Wallace’s defeat of the English during the Battle of Stirling Bridge, the remains of which can supposedly be seen during low tide.

3. Old logie kirkyard

The old logie kirkyard is just a short stroll from the main University campus. From the management centre, cross over the loch and head towards the golf course. The kirkyard is further ahead at the foot of a path that takes you up local hill Dumyat. The old kirkyard is no longer in use, as a larger church was built down the road 200 years ago. Lots of fascinating tombstones remain in good condition at the old kirkyard. One common inscription is a skull and crossbones, sometimes paired with an inverted heart-shape and the words “memonto mori” – remember you must die.

While most tourists head straight for the castle, Stirling has lots of beautiful things to see, and these are three of my favourites that can be easily packaged with a day-trip to the University.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Feb 27th 2015 ESRC Workshop on Biomarkers in Behavioural Science

This is the fifth Behavioural Science Workshop in a series of six that will take place in 2014/15. These workshops are funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The venue is the Court Room on the 4th Floor of the Cottrell Building at Stirling University

Increasingly detailed assessments of biological markers of human functioning are now an important component of large-scale government surveys in the social sciences (e.g. NCDS, Add Health). In contrast to measures of health perceptions, biological measures are cardinal in nature and attractive to economists as potential outcome measures, for instance in labour and health economics.  Yet, understanding of measures of inflammatory, metabolic, neuroendocrine and cardiovascular functioning which are commonly used in the medical community remains limited amongst many social scientists. To address this issue this workshop will include talks from researchers who are leading the integration of biological measures into economics and psychology. 

Sign up to attend the workshop here.

Event Programme

09.15-09.30: Opening and Registration

09.30-10.15: Mr. Jovan Vojnovic (Behavioural Science Centre, University of Stirling)

Education and Health: The Role of Time Preferences
The aim of this paper is to examine the role time preferences play in the widely observed correlation between education and health. It is the first paper that uses several health biomarkers as measures of health in examining this type of correlation and it provides a contribution to the evolving literature that deals with direct measurement of heterogeneity in time preferences in economics. The data used for the empirical analysis of this paper originates from waves 4 and 5 of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) dataset. The main finding, among a large sample of UK older people, is that both time preferences and education strongly predict health and smoking behavior, but that time preferences are not the explanation for the education effect. Additionally, a role for time preferences in explaining some of the health biomarkers has been less apparent, than in case of self-reported health, obesity and smoking behavior.
10.15-11.00: Dr. Gabriella Conti (Department of Applied Health Research, University College London)
Biomarkers and Human Development 
11.00 - 11.30: COFFEE 
11.30-12.15: Dr. Cathal McCrory (The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), Trinity College Dublin)
Socio-Economic Variation in the Heart Rate Response to a Cardiovascular Stressor
It is well established that individuals from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds have higher rates of cardiovascular disease and lower life expectancy than their more advantaged peers. Indeed, the pernicious effects of living in low SES environments can be seen in just about every major organ system of the body, including the heart.  The active stand (i.e. vertical stand from a supine position) in TILDA is a potent cardiovascular stressor that offers a fleeting but potentially informative two minute time horizon for observing how socio-economic status influences cardiovascular reactivity to stress in a controlled laboratory environment.  Social scientists are interested in modelling socio-economic variation in these biomarkers because they believe that low SES mimics the effects of biological ageing and can help illuminate the pathways through which life course stresses, both material and psychosocial, can accelerate the ageing process. This talk will explore the epidemiology of the heart rate response to stress across different indicators of SES in a nationally representative sample of community dwelling older persons. 

12.15-13.00: Professor Meena Kumari (Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Essex)

Understanding the biological pathways that connect social position with health.
Social position is traditionally measured in terms of indicators such as social class, income and occupation. By these criteria, an extensive and extraordinarily consistent body of evidence has accumulated documenting the negative health outcomes associated with greater disadvantage. A number of pathways are proposed by which social position and health are connected throughout the life-course.  Increased risks for poor health outcomes associated with disadvantage are hypothesized to result from the relatively greater exposure to environmental stress.  

As differential exposure to both chronic and acute stressors constitutes one of the foremost factors postulated to contribute to observed health differentials by social position, this presentation will focus on biomarkers associated with the stress response. In particular, markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein and a measure of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, salivary cortisol will be described. Analyses will be presented from a number of British longitudinal studies including the Whitehall II study, the 1958 British Birth cohort, the English Longitudinal study of Ageing and Understanding Society. Data will be presented which describes a) how these biomarkers are associated with socially patterning throughout the life-course, b) the association of these biomarkers with clinical health outcomes and c) whether these biomarkers of stress play a role in socially patterned differences in health.  
                                                                     13.00-14.00: LUNCH 

14:00-14.45: Dr. Anna Phillips (School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences , University of Birmingham)
How to get Biomarkers into Psychological Stress Research

Psychologists and social scientists studying stress through a range of methods often seek to expand their data by adding in objective biomarkers of underlying chronic stress levels or the acute response to stress.  This talk will cover in brief some of the main markers used in behavioural medicine research to attempt to biologically quantify psychological stress.  We will discuss the measurement of stress hormones, like cortisol, immune system measures as biomarkers of the impact of stress on health, and then finally consider cardiovascular system measures in response to acute stress, and how these can be used to understand biological individual differences related to chronic stress, and other psychosocial and behavioural factors.

14.45–15.15: Professor Alissa Goodman (Centre for Longitudinal Studies, 
Institute of Education)

Biomarkers in the National Child Development Cohort Study 
In this short presentation I will give an overview of the existing and upcoming biomedical data in the CLS birth cohort studies, and some of the uses made of it so far in economics, psychology and other social science disciplines.
                                                        15.15-15.45: COFFEE 

15.45-16.45: Professor Ian Deary (Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, University of Edinburgh)

Environmental and genetic contributions to intelligence, education and social status
This presentation will give an overview of what is know about the environmental and genetic contributions to people's differences in cognitive abilities, educational achievements, and social status. It will draw from family- and twin-based studies, and from molecular genetic studies (candidates gene studies and GWAS) that include single cohort studies and GWAS consortia. It will examine both the heritability of the measures and their environmental and genetic correlations. It will consider what has been discovered about mechanisms of people's differences in these measures.