New Resource: Directory of Academic Experts in Behavioral Science

By Jiyoung Han (ideas42)

Note: This post first appeared on the ideas42 blog.

We probably don’t need to tell you, savvy reader, that behavioral science is fascinating. The insights on human behavior that have come from the last few decades of research are not only profound and compelling, but can also delight.

Take loss aversion. First demonstrated by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, this principle says we dislike losses more than we like equivalent gains. So losing $50 from our own pockets will feel worse than finding $50 on the ground will feel good. This is the same tendency that would make us demand a higher price to sell rather than buy any silly trinket, simply because we own it.

But let’s drop these hypotheticals for a moment and enter the real world. How does something like loss aversion affect teacher performance in the classroom, or people’s willingness to save for retirement? How have other behavioral science concepts like social norms affected behaviors in human rights, or in household energy consumption?

A lot of people come to ideas42 with exactly these types of questions. Often, they’re looking to apply behavioral science to their specific line of work and want to find experts who have already done some thinking on these challenges. Sometimes, they’re simply curious about the breadth and depth of ongoing behavioral research.

To meet this demand, ideas42 has compiled a Directory of Academic Experts in Behavioral Science. It’s an online tool where you can find profiles and digestible research summaries of leading scholars in behavioral science. You can search for them by name, university, and domain in a quick sweep of the behavioral science landscape. The list here is not exhaustive – ideas42 will continue to build this resource, adding scholars that have a particularly applied and policy-relevant bent to their research.  

The Directory houses many fascinating insights. Here’s a small sampling:

Cass Sunstein on “green” defaults to help the environment: 

The use of “green” default rules can be effective in boosting environmentally conscious choices. Defaults have the potential to be more effective than regulations or incentives when the most economically sound and environmentally preferred decision can align, but still isn’t selected—as is the case for saving paper, using green energy, and buying energy-efficient products.

Maggie McConnell on anchoring in health: 

People may be less willing to pay for a health product that was once free than one that was sold for a price. However, opportunities to use free or subsidized products may increase how much an individual values it and thus maintain demand. When trying to set prices and subsidies for health products, it is important to account for the tension between price anchors (a sticky first reference point for how much something should cost) and learning (when the value of a good is learned through direct use and experience).

Jonathan Zinman on personalization in consumer finance: 

Sending text message reminders can be a cheap way to increase repayment rates of microfinance loans in low-income countries. But not all messages are effective. In one study, only messages that were personalized had a positive effect on repayment, potentially working because they reduced moral hazard. These results show how technology can be used to improve outcomes in a banking model that values personal relationships.

Stefano DellaVigna on leveraging social norms in voting: 

Social image concerns can influence whether people vote. People expect others to ask whether they voted: they anticipate feeling pride if they voted and shame if they didn’t. Increasing the amount of social conversations about voter turnout may amplify this effect and increase overall voter turnout.

Bridget Terry Long on reducing hassles to increase access to education: 

Low awareness and take-up rates persist for government support programs like college financial aid. Low-income individuals were offered assistance, relevant cost information, and streamlined processes to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for themselves or their children. The provision of assistance and information increased FAFSA submissions and the likelihood of college attendance, persistence, and aid receipt. Comparable families without assistance did not experience better outcomes.

Check out the Directory! It’s a growing resource for the curious reader, practitioner, or policymaker—more experts to come.