PubPol 495 is open to students in the Public Policy BA program, by permission only.
People are complex, and psychologists have long expanded our understanding of that complexity. Economics has traditionally focused on the complicated nature of economic institutions, typically assuming people think and behave in more simplistic ways than we do in the real world. Over the last few decades, “behavioral economists” have drawn on the insights of psychology to help explain when predictions from economic theory do not hold true in real world contexts. After surveying behavioral science concepts, this course will apply this nuanced interdisciplinary approach to policies related to health, work, financial inclusion and stability, development, communal goods, and social insurance. Example topics include: Why do some people donate more than their fair share of time or money to a social cause, while others “free ride”? Why do insured people sometimes respond to deductibles in ways that are not in their own best interest? Why might some smokers appreciate higher cigarette taxes they can’t afford? What motivates people in any job? Why is it so hard to save for a rainy day even if we have a few dollars to spare that month? For each topic, we will review related economic concepts—big picture—before exploring in depth research from psychology including lab experiments and neuroscience. No prior economics coursework is expected (beyond Econ 101 microeconomics prerequisite for the Ford BA). Students will practice writing through a series of extensive paper assignments with some choice of topic.