PUBPOL 495.004

PUBPOL 495.004: Policy Seminar: Behavioral Science & Policy

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Fall 2020
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PubPol 495 is open to students in the Public Policy BA program, by permission only.

Economics has traditionally focused on the complicated nature of economic institutions, assuming people think and behave in more simplistic ways than we do in the real world. Psychologists have long expanded our understanding of the complexity of human decision-making and behavior. 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. The first half of this course will survey the development of the field of behavioral economics, and more generally, the field of behavioral science. The rest of the semester, we will apply this nuanced interdisciplinary approach to policies related to health, work, financial inclusion and stability, development, communal goods, charitable giving, and social insurance.


Example topics include: How do public perceptions of health and safety risks differ from experts’ perceptions, and whose perceptions should drive public policy? Why exactly do people go to the polls to vote, and what are the implications for voter participation campaigns? 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?

For each topic, we will review related economic concepts—big picture—before exploring in depth research from psychology and behavioral science 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 including an analytical essay, an op ed, and a research brief. The final project will involve independent research on a topic of the student's choice.