Behavioural and experimental economics in London

Last month, we organised a workshop in z-Tree (the go-to platform for running economics experiments) at the London School of Economics. This was done in the context of the “London Behavioural and Experimental Group” (LBEG), an initiative started by my colleague Matteo Galizzi that connects researchers in behavioural and experimental economics across the London universities. LBEG regularly organises seminars and lectures for those interested, mostly in central London. Another exciting initiative is the London Experimental Workshop, which starts today at Royal Holloway University of London.

All this to say that London is quickly becoming a very interesting place for behavioural and experimental economists! Keep an eye on the LBEG website and also check the links on the ‘Related initiatives’ page.

Meanwhile, on Twitter (week 16)

A letter from Dave

Although it has recently moved the ‘Nudge unit’ (Behavioural Insights Team) from public to part-private ownership, the UK government is by no means ditching behavioural science. Just have a look at the letter below – sent to businesses across the UK last week by the prime minister himself.

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It seems to me that the people behind this letter gave a lot of thought to some of the finer details, no doubt inspired by the behavioural science literature. Here’s what I spotted:

  • The “10 Downing Street” letter head is attention grabbing and makes the reader feel special or privileged – note that this is the first thing you’ll see when you open the letter
  • The benefits of the policy (up to £2000 savings) are presented up front
  • The policy has been designed around simplicity – a tick box on a form will do the job, as explained in the 6th paragraph
  • The letter refers to a public good (“help to grow our economy”) as well as a private good
  • The letter is signed by David Cameron, adding a personal touch

Although we can’t measure the exact effect of these details (the letter was published on, suggesting there is no Randomised Controlled Trial to measure how this version of the letter compares to other ways of promoting the policy), it is clearly based on the lessons from recent experiments on policy letter writing (by the BIT and the FCA, for example).

One thing that would have made this letter even better is deleting the second third paragraph: it’s too party-political, and the Conservatives have rightly been criticised for it. Nevertheless, it’s encouraging to see wider use of these communication techniques in government, especially when they are used so transparently.

Nest egg quote of the day

From Adams & Rau1:

At the time the [US] Social Security Act was passed in 1935, benefits to older workers were to begin at age 65, and life expectancy was 61.7 years. Today, the average age of retirement is 62, and the average life expectancy is over 77 years.

  1. Adams, G. A. and B.L. Rau (2011). Putting off tomorrow to do what you want today: planning for retirement. American Psychologist, 66(3), pp. 180-192.

Kahneman quote of the day

Really enjoyed seeing Daniel Kahneman speak at the Methodist Hall in London last night. Also very pleased to see a big turn-out:

Daniel Kahneman speaking at the Methodist Hall, London

 After a half-an-hour talk that was pretty much a summary of Thinking, Fast and Slow (in which Kahneman repeatedly rejected that the book was about irrationality), he was interviewed on stage. When asked about the difference between the experiencing and remembering selves, he made a really nice comment about self-perception:

When I ask you what it is like to be you, you are forced to consult your memories. You are not thinking about what it is like to be you at this very moment.

Meanwhile, on Twitter (week 02)