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 in practice? 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 decisions?


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 is expected to be able to:



  • Review the most recent developments and theories of human decision-making both from Economics and Psychology.
  • Reflect on how experiments and randomized controlled trials work and why this methodology is critical for making inference about causal relationships.



  • Analyze the tools of behavioral science and they will compare their effectiveness to change specific behaviors.
  • 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, education, work performance, charitable giving, saving, voting, development and discrimination.



  • 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 read the papers assigned and prepare a presentation. Moreover, these students are in charge 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, E. J., & Goldstein, D. G. (2003). Do defaults save lives? Science, 302, 1338-1339.
  • Milkman, K. L., Beshears, J., Choi, J. J., Laibson, D., & Madrian, B. C. (2011). Using implementation intentions prompts to enhance influenza vaccination rates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(26), 10415-10420.
  • Kling, J. R., Congdon, W. J., & Mullainathan, S. (2011). Policy and choice: public finance through the lens of behavioral economics. Brookings Institution Press. Only Chapter 2 (“ Psychology and Economics”, pp. 17-39).
  • Chabris, C. F., Laibson, D. I., & Schuldt, J. P. (2006). Intertemporal choice. The new Palgrave dictionary of economics, 2.
  • Duckworth, A. L., Milkman, K. L., & Laibson, D. (2018). Beyond willpower: Strategies for reducing failures of self-control. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 19(3), 102-129.
  • Madrian, B. C. (2014). Applying Insights from Behavioral Economics to Policy Design. Annual Review of Economics, 6(1), 663-688.
  • Richburg-Hayes, et al. (2014). Behavioral Economics and Social Policy: Designing Innovative Solutions for Programs Supported by the Administration for Children and Families. OPRE Report No. 2014-16a.
  • Ly, K., Mažar, N., Zhao, M., & Soman, D. (2013). A practitioner’s guide to nudging. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.
  • Czibor, E., Jimenez-Gomez, D., & List, J. A. (2019). The Dozen Things Experimental Economists Should Do (More of) (No. w25451). National Bureau of Economic Research.
  • Pomeranz, Dina D. "Impact Evaluation Methods: A Brief Introduction to Randomized Evaluations in Comparison with Other Methods." 2011.
  • Imai K. (2005). Get out the Vote Do Phone Calls to Encourage Voting Work? Why Randomize?
  • Schultz, P. W., Nolan, J. M., Cialdini, R. B., Goldstein, N. J., & Griskevicius, V. (2007). The constructive, destructive, and reconstructive power of social norms. Psychological Science, 18(5), 429-434.
  • Allcott, H. (2011). Social norms and energy conservation. Journal of Public Economics, 95(9), 1082-1095.
  • Allcott, H., & Rogers, T. (2014). The Short-Run and Long-Run Effects of Behavioral Interventions: Experimental Evidence from Energy Conservation. American Economic Review, 104(10), 3003-3037.
  • Costa, D. L., & Kahn, M. E. (2013). Energy conservation “nudges” and environmentalist ideology: Evidence from a randomized residential electricity field experiment. Journal of the European Economic Association, 11(3), 680-702.
  • Volpp, K. G., John, L. K., Troxel, A. B., Norton, L., Fassbender, J., & Loewenstein, G. (2008). Financial incentive–based approaches for weight loss: a randomized trial. Jama, 300(22), 2631-2637.
  • Volpp, K. G., Troxel, A. B., Pauly, M. V., Glick, H. A., Puig, A., Asch, D. A., ... & Audrain-McGovern, J. (2009). A randomized, controlled trial of financial incentives for smoking cessation. New England Journal of Medicine, 360(7), 699-709.
  • Charness, G., & Gneezy, U. (2009). Incentives to exercise. Econometrica,77(3), 909-931.
  • Cappelen, Charness, Ekström, Gneezy and Tungodden (2017) Exercise Improves Academic Performance. NHH Working Paper, 0804-6824.
  • Naritomi, J. (2016). Consumers as Tax Auditors. American Economic Review
  • Kleven, H. J., Knudsen, M. B., Kreiner, C. T., Pedersen, S., & Saez, E. (2011). Unwilling or Unable to Cheat? Evidence From a Tax Audit Experiment in Denmark. Econometrica, 79(3), 651–692.
  • Shu, L. L., Mazar, N., Gino, F., Ariely, D., & Bazerman, M. H. (2012). Signing at the beginning makes ethics salient and decreases dishonest self-reports in comparison to signing at the end. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(38), 15197-15200.
  • Dee, Thomas S., and Brian A. Jacob. 2012. "Rational Ignorance in Education: A Field Experiment in Student Plagiarism." Journal of Human Resources 47(2): 397-434.
  • Balafoutas, Kerschbamer and Sutter (2013) What Drives Taxi Drivers? A Field Experiment on Fraud in a Market for Credence Goods. Review of Economic Studies, 80 (3): 876-891. 
  • Bettinger, E. P., Long, B. T., Oreopoulos, P., & Sanbonmatsu, L. (2012). The Role of Application Assistance and Information in College Decisions: Results from the H&R Block Fafsa Experiment. Quarterly Journal of Economics,127(3), 1205-1242.
  • Hastings, J. S., Van Weelden, R., & Weinstein, J. (2007). Preferences, information, and parental choice behavior in public school choice (No. w12995). National Bureau of Economic Research.
  • Mayer, S. E., Kalil, A., Oreopoulos, P., & Gallegos, S. (2015). Using behavioral insights to increase parental engagement: The parents and children together (PACT) intervention. J. Human Resources
  • Alan, Sule, Teodora Boneva, Seda Ertac. Forthcoming. “Ever Failed, Try Again, Succeed Better: Results from a Randomized Educational Intervention on Grit.” Quarterly Journal of Economics.
  • Alan, Sule and Seda Ertac. Forthcoming. “Mitigating the Gender Gap in the Willingness to Complete: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment.” Journal of the European Economic Association.
  • Kosfeld, M., & Neckermann, S. (2011). Getting more work for nothing? Symbolic awards and worker performance. American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, 3(3), 86-99.
  • Bradler, C., Dur, R., Neckermann, S., & Non, A. (2016). Employee recognition and performance: A field experiment. Management Science, 62(11), 3085-3099.
  • Bloom, N., Liang, J., Roberts, J., & Ying, Z. J. (2014). Does working from home work? Evidence from a Chinese experiment. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 130(1), 165-218.
  • DellaVigna, S., & Pope, D. (2017). What Motivates Effort? Evidence and Expert Forecasts. Review of Economic Studies, Forthcoming.
  • Falk, A. (2007). Gift exchange in the field. Econometrica, 75(5), 1501-1511.
  • Eckel, C. C., Herberich, D. H., & Meer, J. (2016). It's Not the Thought that Counts: A Field Experiment on Gift Exchange and Giving at a Public University (No. w22867). National Bureau of Economic Research.
  • Trier Damgaard, Christina Gravert, The hidden costs of nudging: Experimental evidence from reminders in fundraising, Journal of Public Economics, Volume 157, 2018, Pages 15-26,
  • Kessler, J. B., & Milkman, K. L. (2016). Identity in Charitable Giving. Management Science. Forthcoming.
  • Thaler, R. H., & Benartzi, S. (2004). Save more tomorrow™: Using behavioral economics to increase employee saving. Journal of Political Economy,112(S1), S164-S187.
  • Soman, D. and Cheema, A. (2011), Earmarking and partitioning: increasing saving by low-income households, Journal of Marketing Research 48(SPL), S14–S22.
  • Lusardi, A., Keller, P. A., & Keller, A. M. (2009). New ways to make people save: A social marketing approach (No. w14715). National Bureau of Economic Research.
  • Chetty, R., Friedman, J. N., Leth-Petersen, S., Nielsen, T. H., & Olsen, T. (2014). Active vs. passive decisions and crowd-out in retirement savings accounts: Evidence from Denmark. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 129(3), 1141-1219.
  • Nickerson, D. W., & Rogers, T. (2010). Do you have a voting plan? Implementation intentions, voter turnout, and organic plan making. Psychological Science, 21(2), 194-199.
  • Dellavigna, Stefano, John A. List, Ulrike Malmendier, Gautam Rao; Voting to Tell Others. Rev Econ Stud 2017; 84 (1): 143-181.
  • Bond, R. M., Fariss, C. J., Jones, J. J., Kramer, A. D., Marlow, C., Settle, J. E., & Fowler, J. H. (2012). A 61-million-person experiment in social influence and political mobilization. Nature, 489(7415), 295-298.
  • Imai, K., Goldstein, D. G., Göritz, A. S., & Gollwitzer, P. M. (2007). Nudging turnout: Mere measurement and implementation planning of intentions to vote. Available at SSRN 977000.
  • Ashraf, N., Bandiera, O. and Jack, B. K. (2014), ‘No margin, no mission? A field experiment on incentives for public service delivery’, Journal of Public Economics 120, 1–17.
  • Chong, Duryea and La Ferrara. 2012. Soap Operas and Fertility: Evidence from Brazil. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 4(4), 1-31.
  • Giné, Xavier, and Dean Karlan. 2014. "Group versus Individual Liability: Short and Long Term Evidence from Philippine Microcredit Lending Groups." Journal of Development Economics 107:65-83.
  • Mani, A., Mullainathan, S., Shafir, E., & Zhao, J. (2013). Poverty impedes cognitive function. science, 341(6149), 976-980.
  • Bertrand, Marianne, and Sendhil Mullainathan. 2004. "Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination." The American Economic Review 94(4): 991-1013.
  • Goldin and Rouse (2000). Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of "Blind" Auditions on Female Musicians. American Economic Review.
  • Antecol, H., Bedard, K., & Stearns, J. (2016). Equal but Inequitable: Who Benefits from Gender-Neutral Tenure Clock Stopping Policies? (No. 9904). Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • "Children and Gender Inequality: Evidence from Denmark". Henrik Jacobsen Kleven, Camille Landais, Jakob Egholt Søgaard. CEBI Working paper series. WP 01/18

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 from the Study of Economics, University of Copenhagen.

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 and Master can be seen at KUnet:
MSc in Economics => "Courses and teaching" => "Planning and overview" => "Your timetable"
BA i Økonomi/KA i Økonomi => "Kurser og undervisning" => "Planlægning og overblik" => "Dit skema"

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-E19; [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
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
for the written exam. The exam may be chosen for external censorship by random check.
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