Science of Behavior Change
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
From autumn 2022 the course is also offered to students at the
- Master Programmes in Political Science
- Bachelor and Master Programmes in Psychology
- Master Programme in Security Risk Management
- Master Programme in Social Data Science
Enrolled students register the course through the Selfservice. Please contact the study administration at each programme for questions regarding registration.
After completing the course the student is expected to be able to:
- Discuss the theory and applications of the main policy instruments to change behavior, including behavioral instruments such as nudges.
- Reflect on how biases and heuristics can affect human decision-making.
- Apply the tools of behavioral science to changing specific behaviors and compare their effectiveness.
- Debate and discuss critically several interventions that have been conducted to change people’s behavior including the domains of energy efficiency, health and well-being, education, work performance, charitable giving, saving, voting and development.
- Examine (real-world) cases where people make decisions that are inconsistent with the assumptions of rational decision making and identify the consequences of this irrational behavior for the society.
- Design policy interventions aiming at ameliorate societal well-being and improve people’s life.
The course is divided in two parts:
- Part 1 “Principles and Methods”: This part consists of classic lectures where the lecturer presents the main policy instruments to changing behavior and reviews how behavioural biases and heuristics affect decision making.
- Part 2 “Applications”: We will discuss and analyse a different applied topic in each lecture. In Part 2, for each lecture, we will have a group of students (5-10 students) in prepare a lecture for the group. These students are in charge to actively engage other students in the learning/discussion process.
Changes to teaching methods due to a pandemic crisis:
The teaching in this course might be changed to either fully or partly online due to a pandemic crisis. If changes are implemented please read the study messages at KUnet or the announcements in the virtual course room on Absalon (for enrolled students).
Students have to read critically several papers. A full reading list will be uploaded on Absalon.
- 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.
- 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.
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 a similar course as "Microeconomics III" from the Study of Economics, University of Copenhagen.
It is recommended that students have followed the summer school "Behavioral Experimental Economics" or similar, at the Study of Economics, University of Copenhagen, before taking Science of Behavior Change.
3 hours lectures ones 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 please press the link/links under "Timetable"/"Se skema" at the right side of this page. E means Autumn.
You can find the similar information partly in English at
-Select Department: “2200-Økonomisk Institut” (and wait for respond)
-Select Module:: “2200-E22; [Name of course]””
-Select Report Type: “List – Weekdays”
-Select Period: “Efterår/Autumn”
Press: “ View Timetable”
Please be aware:
- The schedule of the lectures can change without the participants´ acceptance. If this occures, you can see the new schedule in your personal timetable at KUnet, in the app myUCPH and through the links in the right side of this course description and the link above.
- It is the students´s own responsibility continuously throughout the study to stay informed about their study, their teaching, their schedule, their exams etc. through the curriculum of the study programme, the study pages at KUnet, student messages, the course description, the Digital Exam portal, Absalon, the personal schema at KUnet and myUCPH app etc.
The students receive oral collective feedback during the lectures.
Each student receives peer feedback on the mandatory lectures in part 2.
- 7,5 ECTS
- Type of assessment
Written examination, 2 hours under invigilation
- Type of assessment details
- ITX-exam in the exam venues of the university.
The exam assignment is in English and must be answered in English.
Changes to the exam due to a pandemic crisis:
In the event that restrictions from a pandemic crisis may affect the conduction of the ITX-exams, the written exam and the re-sit exam will change to a 2 hours written take-home exam. The changes will be announced in study messages at KUnet and in Digital Exam.
The take-home exams will still be individual and it is not allowed to communicate with any one about the exam assignment nor the solution at all. It is also prohibited to distribute data and other information at all. If this or alike actions happens, it will be regarded as cheating and plagiarism.
No aids allowed at the written ITX-exam.
If the ITX-exam changes to a take-home exam due to a pandemic crisis, the written take-home exam is with all aids.
- Marking scale
- 7-point grading scale
- Censorship form
- No external censorship
for the written exam. The written ITX-exam may be chosen for external assessment by random sample.
Criteria for exam assessment
Students are assessed on the extent to which they master the learning outcome for the course.
In order to obtain the top grade "12", 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.
In order to obtain the passing grade “02”, the student must in a satisfactory way be able to demonstrate a minimal acceptable level of the knowledge, skills and competencies listed in the learning outcomes.
Single subject courses (day)
- Course number
- 7,5 ECTS
- Programme level
- Full Degree Master
- Go to 'Signup' for information about registration and enrollment.
Information about admission and tuition fee: Master and Exchange Programme, credit students and guest students (Open University)
- For teaching: Go to 'Remarks'.
- For exam and re-sits: Go to 'Exam'.
- Department of Economics, Study Council
- Department of Economics
- Department of Psychology
- Department of Political Science
- Social Data Science
- Faculty of Social Sciences
- Christina Gravert (3-7371775075737f7e3e7b853e747b)
see 'Course Coordinators'.
Please read "Remarks" regarding the schedule of the teaching.
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