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 and the consequences of such deviations. But how we can use this knowledge in practice? How can we get people to save more money, have a better education, work harder, save energy, engage in healthy behaviors, and make better decisions?

This course allows the student to develop 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, students will be able to identify human biases and creatively design behavioral interventions, policies or products that help people make better decisions.

Learning Outcomes

After completing the course, I expect the student to be able to:


  • Review the most recent developments and theories of human decision-making both from Economics and Psychology.
  • Reflect on how experiments and randomized controlled trials work and why this method is critical for making inference about causal relationships.


  • Analyze the tools of behavioral science and they will compare their effectiveness to change specific behaviors.
  • Debate and discuss critically several interventions conducted to change people’s behavior in the domain of energy efficiency, health and well-being, dishonesty, education, work performance, charitable giving, saving, voting, development and discrimination.


  • Examine (real-world) cases where people make decisions inconsistent with the assumptions of rational decision-making and they will identify the consequences of this irrational behavior for the society.
  • Design experiments and develop policy intervention aiming at improve societal well-being and improve people’s life.



The courses is divided in 5 modules (see below). Each module consists of 3 parts: a Lecture (red) introduces the topic; Exercise (yellow) gives students the possibility to work -alone or in small groups- on specific assignments; Discussion (blue) is a space to discuss together about the process to turn a PhD in job.

Times and Places




Intro video

For each lecture: topic, readings, slides, activities

Video Challenge




Main Reading List:

The American Economic Association (AEA) collects some useful resources on various topics available. Moreover, the Committee on the Status of Women in Economic Profession (CSWEP) offers interesting talks, material and calls & announcements.

Module 1: “Finding a research topic”

  1. Lecture: Slides.
  2. Discussion: Read sections Dark Times in the Academy and Getting your Head in the Game of the book The professor is in and prepare 2-3 questions to discuss in class.
  3. Exercises:
    A) Write a recommendation letter (two pages) about yourself using this template (follow the instructions). Send me your letter by email, deadline Feb. 6.
    B) Prepare an elevator pitch (2 min) answering “Tell Me About Yourself …”. Remember to include your name and affiliation, your education, and career history (be selective, only relevant info). Present your research (why?), results (what?) and next direction/effort/objective.

Useful resources for Module 1:

Module 2: “Scientific writing”

  1. Lecture: Slides.
  2. Exercises: Write (a paragraph of) your introduction using this template.
  3. Discussion: Read sections The Nuts and Bolts of a Competitive Record and Job Documents that Work of the book The professor is in and prepare 2-3 questions to discuss in class.

Useful resources for Module 2:

Module 3: “Presenting results”

  1. Lecture: Slides.
  2. Exercises:
    A. Read this document and write a paragraph describing the results in Table 1.
    B. In class we will make an exercise to visualize a specific dataset and recap the rules seen together.
  3. Discussion: Read sections Techniques of the Academic Interview, Navigating the Job Market Minefield and Negotiating an Offer of the book The professor is in and prepare 2-3 questions to discuss in class.

Useful resources for Module 3:

Module 4: “Publication process”

  1. Lecture: Slides
  2. Exercises: prepare a publication plan for your research. Explain why you want to send your paper to that journals. Think about editor and possible referees.
  3. Discussion: Read sections and Grants and PostdocsSome Advice about Advisors and Leaving the Cult from the book The professor is in and prepare 2-3 questions to discuss in class.

Useful resources for Module 4:

Module 5: “Getting funding”

  1. Lecture: Slides
  2. Exercises:
    A) Use the Foolproof Grant Proposal Template from the book The professor is in (pag. 339, top) and write the first 2 paragraphs of your grant proposal. Stress the large topic and the gap. You can work in groups.
    B) Be prepared for a Job Interview. You are applying for a position as Assistant Professor at my Department. Do your homework!
  3. Final Discussion: Time for questions and answers.

Please answer these student evaluations.