Science of behavior change

Course content

Over the last 30 years, behavioral scientists have gained a deeper understanding of what motivates people, how they process information, and what non-economic features of the choice environment influence decisions. Many of their insights challenge traditional assumptions such as rationality, self-interest, time consistency.

This research program (sometimes called “Behavioral Economics” or "Psychology and Economics") has shed light on how people’s decisions deviate from “optimal” choices as well as the consequences of such deviations.

But, how we can use this knowledge?

How can we get people to save more money, have a better education, work harder, save energy,  engage in healthy behaviors, and more generally make better choices?

This course allows the student to develop a hands-on approach by learning and applying the methods of behavioral economics to public policy. We will review research on human decision making from psychology, political science, organizational behavior and economics and we will look for easy‐to‐implement solutions.

At the end of this course, students will be able to identify human biases and creatively design behavioral interventions, policies or products that help people make better decisions.



MSc programme in Economics – elective course

Bacheloruddannelsen i økonomi – valgfag på 3. år

The Danish BSc programme in Economics - elective at the 3rd year

Learning outcome

After completing the course, the student should be able to:


  • Review the most recent developments and theories of human decision-making both from Economics and Psychology.
  • Analyze the tools of behavioral science and they will compare their effectiveness to change specific behaviors.



  • Reflect on how experiments and randomized controlled trials work and why this methodology is critical for making inference about causal relationships.
  • Debate and discuss critically several interventions that have been conducted to change people’s behavior in the domain of energy efficiency, health and well-being, dishonesty, charitable giving, education and work performance.



  • Examine (real-world) cases where people make decisions that are inconsistent with the assumptions of rational decision making and they will identify the consequences of this irrational behavior for the society.
  • Design experiments and develop policy intervention aiming at ameliorate societal well-being and improve people’s life.



The course is divided in two parts:
- Part 1 “Principles and Methods”: I will introduce the topic and present the relevant literature for the course
- Part 2 “Applications”: We will discuss and analyze a different topic in each lecture. In Part 2, for each lecture, we will have a group of students (5-10 students) in charge to 1) read the papers assigned and prepare a critical review (approximately 10 pages); 2) prepare a presentation (approximately 45 minutes) and find a way to actively engage other students in the learning/discussion process.


• I believe firmly in active learning. Therefore, I expect students to do most of their learning through the readings and assignments, both on their own and in cooperation with their classmates. I do not intend to cover all important topics in lecture. Rather, my job in this course is to guide the learning by choosing readings and exercises for you, and to coach you through this learning process in a way that maximizes understanding.
• Student participation will be expected and encouraged. An active discussion in class is essential for an effective peer learning.
• Students have to read the assigned papers before each lecture to be able to discuss it in class. Moreover, students will have homework and group work to do in preparation of the lectures.

Students have to read critically several papers. A preliminary reading list includes:

  • Johnson & Goldstein (2003). Do defaults save lives? Science.
  • Milkman et al. (2011). Using implementation intentions prompts to enhance influenza vaccination rates. PNAS.
  • Madrian (2014). Applying Insights from Behavioral Economics to Policy Design. Annual Review of Economics.
  • Pomeranz (2011) "Impact Evaluation Methods: A Brief Introduction to Randomized Evaluations in Comparison with Other Methods."
  • Haynes, Goldacre & Torgerson (2012). Test, learn, adapt: developing public policy with randomised controlled trials. BIT.
  • Loewenstein & Thaler (1989). Anomalies: intertemporal choice. The Journal of Economic Perspectives.
  • Chabris, Laibson, & Schuldt (2006). Intertemporal choice.The new Palgrave dictionary of economics.
  • Ly et al. (2013). A practitioner’s guide to nudging. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.
  • Egan (2013) Nudge Database. Stirling Behavioural Science
  • Hausman & Welch (2010). Debate: To Nudge or Not to Nudge. Journal of Political Philosophy.
  • Schultz et al. (2007). The constructive, destructive, and reconstructive power of social norms. Psychological science.
  • Allcott (2011). Social norms and energy conservation. Journal of Public Economics.
  • Allcott & Rogers (2014). The Short-Run and Long-Run Effects of Behavioral Interventions: Experimental Evidence from Energy Conservation.The American Economic Review.
  • Charness & Gneezy (2009). Incentives to exercise. Econometrica.
  • Volpp et al. (2008). Financial incentive–based approaches for weight loss: a randomized trial. Jama.
  • Volpp et al. (2009). A randomized, controlled trial of financial incentives for smoking cessation. New England Journal of Medicine.
  • Giné, Karlan & Zinman (2010). Put your money where your butt is: a commitment contract for smoking cessation. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.
  • Mazar, Amir & Ariely (2008). The dishonesty of honest people: A theory of self-concept maintenance. Journal of marketing research.
  • Shu et al. (2012). Signing at the beginning makes ethics salient and decreases dishonest self-reports in comparison to signing at the end. PNAS.
  • Bettinger et al. (2012). The Role of Application Assistance and Information in College Decisions: Results from the H&R Block Fafsa Experiment. The Quarterly Journal of Economics.
  • Fryer et al. (2012). Enhancing the efficacy of teacher incentives through loss aversion: a field experiment. NBER.
  • Levitt et al. (2012). The behavioralist goes to school: Leveraging behavioral economics to improve educational performance. NBER.
  • Kosfeld, Neckermann & Yang (2014). Knowing that you matter, matters! The interplay of meaning, monetary incentives, and worker recognition. ZEW-CEER.
  • Landry et al. (2006). Toward an Understanding of the Economics of Charity: Evidence from a Field Experiment. The Quarterly Journal of Economics.
  • Falk (2007). Gift exchange in the field. Econometrica.
  • Breman (2011). Give more tomorrow: Two field experiments on altruism and intertemporal choice. Journal of Public Economics.
  • Madrian & Shea (2001). The Power of Suggestion: Inertia in 401 (k) Participation and Savings Behavior. The Quarterly Journal of Economics.
  • Thaler & Benartzi (2004). Save more tomorrow™: Using behavioral economics to increase employee saving. Journal of political Economy.
  • Choi, Laibson & Madrian (2009). Mental Accounting in Portfolio Choice: Evidence from a Flypaper Effect. American Economic Review.
  • Gerber & Rogers (2009). Descriptive social norms and motivation to vote: everybody's voting and so should you. The Journal of Politics.
  • Nickerson & Rogers (2010). Do you have a voting plan? Implementation intentions, voter turnout, and organic plan making. Psychological Science.
  • Bond et al. (2012). A 61-million-person experiment in social influence and political mobilization. Nature.
  • Field et al. (2013). Does the classic microfinance model discourage entrepreneurship among the poor? Experimental evidence from India. The American Economic Review.
  • Mani et al. (2013). Poverty impedes cognitive function. Science.


The course requires that students read several scientific papers and have some knowledge of Microeconomics and Econometrics.

It is recommended that students have followed or are following Micro III and "The Psychology of Choice".

The student should have a sound knowledge of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, so it is recommended to have followed the summer school "Behavioral and Experimental Economics".

2 hours lectures 1 to 2 times a week from week 36 to 50 (except week 42).

The overall schema for the BA 3rd year can be seen at https:/​​/​​​​polit_ba/​​undervisning/​​Lektionsplan-E18/​​skemaer/​​Sider/​​default.aspx

or the Master at https:/​​/​​​​economics_ma/​​courses/​​CourseCatalogue-E18/​​Courseschema/​​Pages/​​default.aspx

Timetable and venue:
To see the time and location of lectures and exercise classes please press the link/links under "Se skema" (See schedule) at the right side of this page. E means Autumn. The lectures is shown in each link.

You can find the similar information partly in English at
-Select Department: “2200-Økonomisk Institut” (and wait for respond)
-Select Module:: “2200-E18; [Name of course]””
-Select Report Type: “List – Weekdays”
-Select Period: “Efterår/Autumn – Weeks 31-5”
Press: “ View Timetable”

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written examination, 2 hours under invigilation
at the computers of Copenhagen University
The exam assignment is in English and must be answered in English.
Without aids
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

Students are assessed on the extent to which they master the learning outcome for the course.

To receive the top grade, the student must with no or only a few minor weaknesses be able to demonstrate an excellent performance displaying a high level of command of all aspects of the relevant material and can make use of the knowledge, skills and competencies listed in the learning outcomes.

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 42
  • Preparation
  • 162
  • Exam
  • 2
  • English
  • 206