Decades of research in behavioural science and psychology, and recent developments in behavioural economics, show that many individuals find even quite simple decisions difficult, are not always consistent, and often behave in ways reflecting biased or poor decision processes. The results can be highly detrimental to consumers concerned and, sometimes, to wider society. Our research programme, drawing on economics and psychology and at the cutting edge of interdisciplinary behavioural science, will advance understanding of consumer behaviour.
Our current research (NIBS2) is focussed around three themes:
This will study foundations of individual choice, with particular attention to decision processes and consumers' responses to features of their environment.
This will examine how firms frame and structure environments for actual and potential customers in the light of behavioural characteristics of consumers of varying sophistication. It will focus on how firms' strategies affect and are in turn affected by competition between firms. Understanding this interaction is vital to successful regulation of consumer markets. Theme 2 will also study the form of appropriate regulation directly, in collaboration with UK regulatory bodies.
This will apply lessons of behavioural science to personal and household financial decision making - an area of consumer behaviour that typifies the combination of choice between multiple, complex products; uncertainty; time; and potential for serious consumer detriment.
NIBS1 Summary Achievements
In his 'end of grant' report, Professor Chris Starmer (Director of NIBS), summarises the main achievements of NIBS1 as:
- conducting a major programme of work delivering world-class research outputs in relation to each of the four themes of the Case for Support (see below)
- achieving outstanding performance in research publication, recording two major books and over 150 journal articles, with many of them published in the most highly-rated journals of our contributing disciplines
- collaborating with a variety of non-academic organisations to deliver a range of demonstrable non-academic impacts
- organising and sponsoring a series of high profile conferences and workshops, including events targeted at policymakers, business and the third sector
- developing and promoting interdisciplinary collaboration across the Network
- attracting and contributing to the interdisciplinary training and professional development of a significant group of, very able, early career behavioural scientists
- developing international linkages and, through our exchange and events programmes, raising the international profile of UK behavioural science
Our NIBS 1 research was focussed around four themes:
Theme 1: Understanding individual behaviour and behaviour change
The key objectives under Theme 1 were to:
- develop improved models of individual behaviour
- explore the extent of (in)stability in values and preferences and
- study how much, and in what circumstances, behaviour can be changed or manipulated.
This was organised as two projects. 1.1 focussed on improving understanding of individual behaviour, with particular emphasis on decisions where risk and/or time are significant considerations. 1.2 developed and tested models of how experience affects stated preferences.
Our work delivered a significant body of theoretical and experimental research, from which we developed new evidence based partly on experiments conducted by NIBS researchers, and partly through analysis of novel data sets which NIBS researchers were able to access. This extends existing theories and we are developing new models that integrate approaches from different disciplines. This work continues in NIBS2.
Theme 2: Understanding social and interactive behaviour
The key objectives under Theme 2 were to:
- investigate the nature and consequences of other-regarding preferences and strategic reasoning
- explore how material incentives, social and cultural factors and individual differences, shape other-regarding motivations
- use theory and experiment to investigate how different kinds of social motivations influence decisions
- investigate what forms of intervention may promote better social outcomes
The was organised as two projects. 2.1 developed experiments to discriminate between the roles of rewards and punishments in promoting cooperation in teams; and experiments to investigate the dynamics of conflict between groups. 2.2 investigated aspects of human reasoning that play central roles in strategic decisions making, from ‘noise’ (such as imprecision, inattention, randomness) to sophistication (such as team reasoning).
Our work generated multiple publications in top disciplinary journals and general science outlets. We developed innovative new approaches to the study of social preferences and strategic reasoning.
Theme 3: Rethinking the foundations of policy analysis
The key objectives under Theme 3 were to:
- Reconstruct approaches to policy formulation
- Assess policy tools and
- Build more credible models of individual and social agency.
Our starting point was the assumption that conventional economic approaches to policy formulation rest on an unsatisfactory premise as they presuppose autonomous rational individuals with stable and well-articulated preferences. This work was organised as three sub-projects. 3.1 explored new approaches that have been proposed for reformulating welfare economics. 3.2 investigated mechanisms that underpin successful nudges and examined the long-term effectiveness of nudge-based strategies. 3.3 looked at research conducted under other themes for the scope and forms of market regulation that are justified and effective.
We made substantial contributions to 3.1 & 3.2 through conceptual analysis and promoting debate to consider new and alternative perspectives. A notable outcome was Bob Sugden’s book, ‘The Community of Advantage: A Behavioural Economist's Defence of the Market’, in which he advocates a new kind of normative economics that does not use the concept of preference.
In relation to 3.3, with hindsight this sub-theme was under resourced, and work will continue under NIBS2 to deepen and extend research on the topic, drawing on the expertise of new academic collaborators and non-academic collaborators from the regulatory sector.
Theme 4: Policy applications
The key objectives under Theme 4 were to:
- Investigate behaviour in consumer credit markets and develop and test explanations for ‘puzzles’ in observed behaviour that suggest individuals and households make costly financial mistakes
- Study notions of distributive justice, and investigate mechanisms for promoting citizen engagement in order to promote socially beneficial behaviour
- To study the valuation of life, health and safety, tracing implications of work under other themes.
This was organised as three projects. 4.1 has exceeded expectations through successful engagement with a range of non-academic partners in the financial industries and regulatory sector, generating significant non-academic impacts. These collaborations provided large-scale datasets and a wide array of research outputs led primarily by Professors John Gathergood and Neil Stewart. 4.2 deviated from our plans for two-studies, but has led to implementation of a series of successful projects; to high impact publications; and promise for significant non-academic impact. 4.3 did not advance as expected due to limitations in the data available, however other opportunities were identified, including work with West Midlands Police. Using a large dataset of police crimes and incidents, we worked on an alcohol-related project which focussed on predicting demand patterns for alcohol-related crimes and associated A&E admissions.