What We Gain from More Behavioral Science in the Global South

Article by Pauline Kabitsis and Lydia Trupe: “In recent years, the field has been critiqued for applying behavioral science at the margins, settling for small but statistically significant effect sizes. Critics have argued that by focusing our efforts on nudging individuals to increase their 401(k) contributions or to reduce their so-called carbon footprint, we have ignored the systemic drivers of important challenges, such as fundamental flaws in the financial system and corporate responsibility for climate change. As Michael Hallsworth points out, however, the field may not be willfully ignoring these deeper challenges, but rather investing in areas of change that are likely easier to move, measure, and secure funding.

It’s been our experience working in the Global South that nudge-based solutions can provide short-term gains within current systems, but for lasting impact a focus beyond individual-level change is required. This is because the challenges in the Global South typically navigate fundamental problems, like enabling women’s reproductive choice, combatting intimate partner violence and improving food security among the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Our work at Common Thread focuses on improving behaviors related to health, like encouraging those persistently left behind to get vaccinated, and enabling Ukrainian refugees in Poland to access health and welfare services. We use a behavioral model that considers not just the individual biases that impact people’s behaviors, but the structural, social, interpersonal, and even historical context that triggers these biases and inhibits health seeking behaviors…(More)”.

Professional expertise in Policy Advisory Systems: How administrators and consultants built Behavioral Insights in Danish public agencies

Paper by Jakob Laage-Thomsen: “Recent work on consultants and academics in public policy has highlighted their transformational role. The paper traces how, in the absence of an explicit government strategy, external advisors establish different organizational arrangements to build Behavioral Insights in public agencies as a new form of administrative expertise. This variation shows the importance of the politico-administrative context within which external advisors exert influence. The focus on professional expertise adds to existing understandings of ideational compatibility in contemporary Policy Advisory Systems. Inspired by the Sociology of Professions, expertise is conceptualized as professionally constructed sets of diagnosis, inference, and treatment. The paper compares four Danish governmental agencies since 2010, revealing the central roles external advisors play in facilitating new policy ideas and diffusing new forms of expertise. This has implications for how we think of administrative expertise in contemporary bureaucracies, and the role of external advisors in fostering new forms of expertise….(More)”.

Nudging: A Tool to Influence Human Behavior in Health Policy

Book by František Ochrana and Radek Kovács: “Behavioral economics sees “nudges” as ways to encourage people to re-evaluate their priorities in such a way that they voluntarily change their behavior, leading to personal and social benefits. This book examines nudging as a tool for influencing human behavior in health policy. The authors investigate the contemporary scientific discourse on nudging and enrich it with an ontological, epistemological, and praxeological analysis of human behavior. Based on analyses of the literature and a systemic review, the book defines nudging tools within the paradigm of prospect theory. In addition to the theoretical contribution, Nudging also examines and offers suggestions on the practice of health policy regarding obesity, malnutrition, and especially type 2 diabetes mellitus…(More)”.

Science and Ethics of “Curing” Misinformation

Paper by Isabelle Freiling et al: “A growing chorus of academicians, public health officials, and other science communicators have warned of what they see as an ill-informed public making poor personal or electoral decisions. Misinformation is often seen as an urgent new problem, so some members of these communities have pushed for quick but untested solutions without carefully diagnosing ethical pitfalls of rushed interventions. This article argues that attempts to “cure” public opinion that are inconsistent with best available social science evidence not only leave the scientific community vulnerable to long-term reputational damage but also raise significant ethical questions. It also suggests strategies for communicating science and health information equitably, effectively, and ethically to audiences affected by it without undermining affected audiences’ agency over what to do with it…(More)”.

Foolproof: Why We Fall for Misinformation and How to Build Immunity

Book by Sander van der Linden: “From fake news to conspiracy theories, from pandemics to politics, misinformation may be the defining problem of our era. Like a virus, misinformation infects our minds – altering our beliefs and replicating at astonishing rates. Once the virus takes hold, our primary strategies of fact-checking and debunking are an insufficient cure.

In Foolproof Sander van der Linden describes how to inoculate yourself and others against the spread of misinformation, discern fact from fiction and push back against methods of mass persuasion.

Everyone is susceptible to fake news. There are polarising narratives in society, conspiracy theories are rife, fake experts dole out misleading advice and accuracy is often lost in favour of sensationalist headlines. So how and why does misinformation spread if we’re all aware of its existence? And, more importantly, what can we do about it?…(More)”.

Innovative informatics interventions to improve health and health care

Editorial by Suzanne Bakken: “In this editorial, I highlight 5 papers that address innovative informatics interventions—3 research studies and 2 reviews. The papers reflect a variety of information technologies and processes including mobile health (mHealth), behavioral nudges in the electronic health record (EHR), adaptive intervention framework, predictive models, and artificial intelligence (eg, machine learning, data mining, natural language processing). The interventions were designed to address important clinical and public health problems such as adherence to antiretroviral therapy for persons living with HIV (PLWH), opioid use disorder, and pain assessment and management, as well as aspects of healthcare quality including no-show rates for appointments and erroneous decisions, waste, and misuse of resources due to EHR choice architecture for clinician orders…(More)”.

A taxonomy of technology design features that promote potentially addictive online behaviours

Paper by Maèva Flayelle et al: “Gaming disorder was officially recognized as a disorder of addictive behaviour in the International Classification of Diseases 11th revision in 2019. Since then, other types of potentially problematic online behaviour have been discussed as possible candidates for inclusion in the psychiatric nosography of addictive disorders. Understanding these problematic online behaviours requires further study of the specific psychological mechanisms involved in their formation and maintenance. An important but underdeveloped line of research has examined the ways in which technology design features might influence users’ capacity to exert control over how they engage with and use websites and applications, thereby amplifying uncontrolled, and perhaps addictive, use. In this Review, we critically examine the available research on the relationships between technology design features and the loss of control and harms experienced by those who engage in online video gaming, online gambling, cybersexual activities, online shopping, social networking and on-demand TV streaming. We then propose a theory-driven general taxonomy of the design features of online applications that might promote uncontrolled and problematic online behaviours…(More)”.

Six Prescriptions for Building Healthy Behavioral Insights Units

Essay by Dilip Soman, and Bing Feng: “Over the past few years, we have had the opportunity to work with over 20 behavioral units as part of our Behaviourally Informed Organizations partnership. While we as a field know a fair bit about what works for changing the behavior of stakeholders, what can we say about what works for creating thriving behavioral units within organizations?

Based on our research and hard-won experience working with a diverse set of behavioral units in government, business, and not-for-profit organizations, we have seen many success stories. But we have also seen our share of instances where the units wished they had done things differently, units with promising pilots that didn’t scale well, units that tried to do everything for everyone, units that jumped to solutions too quickly, units too fixated on one methodology, and units too quick to dispense with advice without thinking through the context in which it will be used.

We’ve outlined six prescriptions that we think are critical to developing a successful behavioral unit—three don’ts and three dos. We hope the advice helps new and existing behavioral units find their path to success.

Prescription 1: Don’t anchor on solutions too soon

Many potential partners approach behavioral units with a preconceived notion of the outcome they want to find. For instance, we have been approached by partners asking us to validate their belief that an app, a website redesign, a new communication program, or a text messaging strategy will be the answer to their behavior change challenge. It is tempting to approach a problem with a concrete solution in mind because it can create the illusion of efficiency.

However, it has been our experience that anchoring on a solution constrains thinking and diverts attention to an aspect of the problem that might not be central to the issue.

For example, in a project one of us (Dilip) was involved in, the team had determined, very early on, that the most efficient and scalable way of delivering their interventions would be through a smartphone app. After extensive investments in developing, piloting, and testing an app, they realized that it didn’t work as expected. In hindsight, they realized that for the intervention to be successful, the recipient needed to pay a certain level of attention, something for which the app did not allow. The team made the mistake of anchoring too soon on a solution…(More)”.

Conspiracy Theory: On Certain Misconceptions About the Uses of Behavioral Science in Government

Article by Cass R. Sunstein: “In some circles, there is a misconception that within government, the only or principal uses of behavioral science consist of efforts to nudge individual behavior (sometimes described, pejoratively and unfairly, as “tweaks”). Nothing could be further from the truth. Behavioral science has been used, and is being used, to help inform large-scale reforms, including mandates and bans directed at companies (as, for example, in the cases of fuel-economy mandates and energy efficiency mandates). Behavioral science has been used, and is being used, to help inform taxes and subsidies (as, for example, in the cases of cigarette taxes, taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages, and subsides for electric cars). Behavioral science has been used, and is being used, to help inform nudges imposed on companies (with such goals as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving occupational safety, and protecting personal privacy). Some important interventions are indeed aimed at individuals (as with fuel economy labels, nutrition labels, and calorie labels, and automatic enrollment in savings plans); sometimes such interventions have significant positive effects, and there is no evidence that they make more aggressive reforms less likely. It is preposterous to suggest that choice-preserving interventions, such as nudges, “crowd out” more aggressive approaches…(More)”.

The Power of the Stora Rör Swimming Association and Other Local Institutions

Article by Erik Angner: “On a late-summer afternoon of 1938, two eleven-year-old girls waded into the water in Stora Rör harbor on the Baltic island of Öland. They were awaiting their mother, who was returning by ferry from a hospital visit on the mainland. Unbeknownst to the girls, the harbor had been recently dredged. Where there used to be shallow sands, the water was now cold, dark, and deep. The girls couldn’t swim. They drowned mere feet from safety—in full view of a powerless little sister on the beach.

The community was shaken. It resolved that no such tragedy should ever happen again. To make sure every child would learn to swim, the community decided to offer swimming lessons to anyone interested. The Stora Rör Swimming Association, founded that same year, is still going strong. It’s enrolled thousands of children, adolescents, and adults. My grandmother, a physical-education teacher by training, was one of its first instructors. My father, myself, and my children all learned how to swim there.

It’s impossible to know if the association has saved lives. It may well have. The community has been spared, although kids play in and fall into the water all the time. Nationwide, drowning is the leading cause of death for Swedish kids between one and six years of age.

We do know that the association has had many other beneficial effects. It has offered healthy, active outdoor summer activities for generations of kids. The activities of the association remain open to all. Fees are nominal. Children come from families of farmers and refugees, artists and writers, university professors and CEOs of major corporations, locals and tourists…

In economic terms, the Stora Rör Swimming Association is an institution. It’s a set of rules, or “prescriptions,” that humans use to structure all sorts of repeated interactions. These rules can be formalized in a governing document. The constitution of the association says that you have to pay dues if you want to remain a member in good standing, for example. But the rules that define the institution don’t need to be written down. They don’t even need to be formulated in words. “Attend the charity auction and bid on things if you can afford it.” “Volunteer to serve on the board when it’s your turn.” “Treat swimming teachers with respect.” These are all unwritten rules. They may never have been formulated quite like this before. Still, they’re widely—if not universally—followed. And, from an economic perspective, these rules taken together define what sort of thing the Swimming Association is.

Economist Elinor Ostrom studied institutions throughout her career. She wanted to know what institutions do, how and why they work, how they appear and evolve over time, how we can build and improve them, and, finally, how to share that knowledge with the rest of us. She believed in the power of economics to “bring out the best in humans.” The way to do it, she thought, was to help them build community—developing the rich network of relationships that form the fabric of a society…(More)”.