Science of Behavior Change, Fall 2020

Over the last 30 years, behavioral scientists have gained a deeper understanding of what motivates people, how they process information, and what non-economic features of the choice environment influence decisions. Many of their insights challenge traditional assumptions such as rationality, self-interest, time consistency. This research program (sometimes called “Behavioral Economics” or “Psychology and Economics”) has shed light on how people’s decisions deviate from “optimal” choices as well as the consequences of such deviations. But how can we use this knowledge? How can we get people to save more money, have a better education, work harder, save energy, engage in healthy behaviors, and more generally make better choices? This course allows you to develop a hands-on approach by learning and applying the methods of behavioral economics to public policy. We will review research on human decision making from psychology, political science, organizational behavior and economics and we will look for easy‐to‐implement solutions. At the end of this course, you will be able to identify human biases and creatively design behavioral interventions, policies or products that help people make better decisions.

Learning Objectives:

After completing the course, you should be able to:


•   Review the most recent developments and theories of human decision-making both from Economics and Psychology.

•   Analyze the tools of behavioral science and compare their effectiveness to change specific behaviors.


•   Reflect on how experiments and randomized controlled trials work and why this methodology is critical for making inference about causal relationships.

•   Debate and discuss critically several interventions that have been conducted to change people’s behavior in the domain of energy efficiency, health, charitable giving, education, saving and discrimination.


•   Examine (real-world) cases where people make decisions that are inconsistent with the assumptions of rational decision making and identify the consequences of this irrational behavior for the society.

•   Design experiments and develop policy intervention aiming at ameliorate societal well-being and improve people’s life.

For more information, please read the Syllabus.

Course organization

The course is divided in two parts:

Part 1: “Principles and Methods” 

I will introduce the topic and present the relevant literature for the course. We will investigate why people make mistakes and when these mistakes matter. We will study how the policymaker can change this behavior and how behavioral insights can complement the standard tools (regulation, information and incentives). Then, we will discuss how we can measure the impact of an intervention: we will discuss pros and cons of the experimental and quasi-experimental methods.

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Lecture 1;    Lecture 2;    Lecture 3


Lecture 4;    Lecture 5;    Lecture 6


Lecture 7;    Lecture 8;    Lecture 9

Moreover, in Part 1 of the course students in groups have to collaborate closely, do homework and prepare short presentations together.
For more information please read Activity Part 1.


Part 2: “Applications”

We will discuss and analyze a different topic in each lecture. For each lecture, we will have a group of students (3-4 students) in charge to read the papers assigned and prepare a presentation.

In Part 2, students have to prepare an oral presentation of the papers assigned.

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*** The following lectures are still preliminary (we need to discuss with groups) ***

Lecture 1;    Lecture 2;    Lecture 3;

Lecture 4;    Lecture 5

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Lecture 6;    Lecture 7;    Lecture 8;   

Lecture 9;   Lecture 10.

Moreover, we have a special class: the “Challenge,”. In this class, students (with their group) will compete to design an effective intervention to change a specific behavior. 

Finally, in week 50 we have the final class: “Exam Preparation”. Students will have the possibility to go through the material covered during the course and recap what they learnt durined the course (Final Reading List).  I encorage students to look at the previous exams and solutions for having a clear idea of the exam structure.