Science of Behavior Change

Course content

The teaching in this course may be changed to be taught either fully or partly online due to COVID-19. For further information, see the course room on Absalon. The time, place and type of assessment used for the exam may also be changed due to COVID-19, and any further information will be announced under the panel “Exam”.

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 and the consequences of such deviations. But how can we 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 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.
  • Blanco, F. (2017). Cognitive Bias. In J. Vonk, and T.K. Shackelford (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior. New York: Springer.
  • Rabin, M. (2002). A perspective on psychology and economics. European Economic Review, 46(4-5), 657-685.
  • 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.
  • Gneezy, U., Meier, S., & Rey-Biel, P. (2011). When and why incentives (don't) work to modify behavior. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 25(4), 191-210.
  • Samson, A. and Gneezy U. (2019) The Behavioral Economics Guide 2019. Only “Incentives and Behavior Change”, pp. VII-XI.
  • 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, D. (2011). Impact Evaluation Methods: A Brief Introduction to Randomized Evaluations in Comparison with Other Methods.
  • 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.
  • Goldstein, N. J., Cialdini, R. B., & Griskevicius, V. (2008). A room with a viewpoint: Using social norms to motivate environmental conservation in hotels. Journal of consumer Research, 35(3), 472-482.
  • 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.


A full reading list will be available in Absalon.

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 Microeconomics III from the Study of Economics, University of Copenhagen or similar.

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 "Timetable"/​"Se skema" 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-E20; [Name of course]””
-Select Report Type: “List – Weekdays”
-Select Period: “Efterår/Autumn – Weeks 31-5”
Press: “ View Timetable”

Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)


Students will receive feedback from the lecturer and from the peers continuously during the course.

The teaching assistant gives the students individual feedback at their mandatory assignments upon request.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment, 2 hours
The exam assignment is in English and must be answered in English.
Due to the Corona crisis, the Board of Study has decided to change the regular exams and the re-sit exams in the autumn semester to written online take-home exams. Both exams are still individual.

During the exam, it is not allowed to communicate with others about the exam assignment nor the solution at all. It is also prohibited to distribute data regarding the solutions to anyone. If this or alike actions happens, it will be regarded as cheating and plagiarism.

Please
- https:/​/​​newsroom/​study-messages/​Pages/​Information-about-the-winter-exams-at-the-Department-of-Economics.aspx
- https:/​/​​newsroom/​study-messages/​Pages/​Information-on-rescheduled-PBV-winter-exams-.aspx
All aids allowed
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