Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Behavioural Insights Researcher Public Health England

Please see details below of a post as behavioural insights research at Public Health England (via Anna Sallis).

Job Reference Number:      919-EC-17707126-EXT
Job title:                                 Behavioural Insights Researcher
Employer:                               Public Health England
Department:                          Behavioural Insights Team
Locations:                              London, Skipton House
Salary:                                   £37,454 - £45,769pa inc
Hours:                                   37.5
Job Type                                Fixed-term contract to end March 2016

Closing Date:                        3 June 2015

Interview Date:                    10 June 2015

Public Health England

Public Health England provides strategic leadership and vision for protecting and improving the nation’s health.  Its ambition is to lead nationally and enable locally a transformation in the health expectations of all people in England regardless of where they live and the circumstance of their birth. It will achieve this through the application of research, knowledge and skills.  Public Health England is an executive agency of the Department of Health, which started on 1 April 2013. We are a distinct delivery organization with operational autonomy to advise and support Government, local authorities and the NHS in a professionally independent manner.

Overview of role and projects
As a Behavioural Insights Researcher you will be responsible for delivering key projects testing the application of behavioural insights, primarily to increase the uptake of NHS Health Checks. These will be developed and delivered in partnership with local authorities and other service providers.

Essential skills and interests
Applications are welcomed from individuals who have experience of working on collaborative experimental research (ideally randomised controlled trials). A good understanding of the behavioural science literature and how it can be applied demonstrated through prior work experience in this area is required. We are looking for an individual with a passion for behavioural insights who can demonstrate this through commitment to delivering high quality, timely and impactful projects.
Excellent written communication skills are required for scientific publication.

For further information / an informal discussion about the post, please contact Dr Tim Chadborn, Behavioural Insights Lead Researcher,  on 020 7654 8160
Applicants are strongly advised to use the criteria in the person specification (available online) as sub-headings in their application to make it clear how they meet each of the selection criteria. Please also see job description for competencies

Public Health England promotes diversity in the workplace and is an equal opportunities employer

Monday, May 25, 2015

What is the price of a bet? #BEHistorical

Recently, Prof. Liam Delaney induced an online discussion about “historical works (say pre-1950) that are most worthwhile to read for people interested in contemporary behavioural science and behavioural economics debates”. This reminded me of a time, a bit more than 10 years ago, when I was graduating in Economics and got interested in studying topics on human decision under uncertain and choice over time. I started with contemporaneous readings, for instance David Laibson’s work on time inconsistent decisions, Daniel Kahneman’s Nobel Prize Lecture, Matthew Rabin’s essay on Psychology and Economics and Colin Camerer and George Loewenstein’s draft about the advancements in Behavioural Economics. After having read those insightful pieces, a question came to my mind: when was elaborated the first intellectual description of human decision making under uncertainty? From undergraduate textbooks, I knew that a canonical normative model had been developed in the 1940s by John von Neumann and Oscar Morgenstern’s proposition of expected utility theory, and that modern financial theory had foundations on the Arrow-Pratt measure of risk aversion. But because the concept of utility appeared much earlier in Economic thought, I also wondered about the existence of previous approaches to price bets, insurance premiums, and lotteries. 

Hopefully, I ended up knowing about two historical works that introduced the fundamental principles of human decisions under uncertainty and which I think are most worthwhile for people interested in behavioural science to at least be aware of their existence: (i) the Principle of Expected Value; and (ii) the Principle of Expected Utility

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
The former was developed in the middle of the 17th Century by Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), who applied probability theory’s tools to estimate the fair price of bets, and the later was proposed in the beginning of the 18th Century by the prominent mathematician and physicist Daniel Bernoulli (1700-1782) to lotteries with infinite expected payoffs. Despite the ‘mathiness’ that these propositions might suggest, they are responsible for introducing the analysis of subjectivity into the theory of decision making under uncertainty, or in other terms, to allow scientific knowledge to realize that human judgement of chance items is driven not only by pure probabilistic inference but also by personal opinions and feelings.

Pascal’s idea of pricing a bet according to its mathematical expectation is quite simple: the expected value of a bet is equivalent to its weighted average, or the sum of its possible n payoffs xi multiplied by their correspondent probabilities pi of occurrence. Then, the value of a bet L is:
Few decades later, doubts were raised about the adequacy of a simple mathematical expectation as a way to describe human decisions under risk. For example, how could it explain the attitude of traders paying insurance premiums to cover their ships that were apparently higher than the price implied by the expected losses in case of accident or piracy? Thus, the behaviour of a prudent trader would be a clear violation of the expected value’s hypothesis.

Daniel Bernoulli (1700-1782)

Daniel Bernoulli’s insight to solve this puzzling fact was to observe that the expected value of a bet is equivalent to its ‘real world’ value if, and only if, we implicitly assume that the subjective value of money – utility – is equal to its objective value. He expressed his idea by making use of a logarithm function, stating that the utility derived from money or wealth is described by a concave function, so as wealth increases, the marginal utility of money decreases. He showed these ideas in his solution to the St. Petersburg Paradox, proposed by his cousin Nicholas Bernoulli.

Consider, for example, a situation of two players, Peter and Paul, who play the following coin flipping bet:
  • If the outcome in the first round is head, Peter wins and Paul pays him $2 and the bet ends; 
  • If Peter loses the first round but wins the second, Paul pays him $4 and the bet ends; 
  • If Peter loses n-1 rounds but wins the nth  round, Paul pays him $2n and the bet ends. 
The problem here consists on determining the amount that Peter should pay Paul in exchange for the offer made. According to the expected value method, Peter should pay an infinite amount of money:
Now, applying the principle of expected utility, for example with a natural logarithm function, the outcome is much more plausible:
If the subjective value of the bet is 1.3863, then its predicted objective value V in the real world is:
So according to the expected utility principle, Peter would pay a maximum of $4.00 in order to play the game. 

In a follow up post, I will elaborate on Bernoulli’s proposition, specifically on its link with Prospect Theory and what Professor Kahneman calls Bernoulli’s error. #BEHistorical

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.