Introducing Behavioral Science & Policy

Behavioral Science & Policy is an international, peer-reviewed journal that features short, accessible articles describing actionable policy applications of behavioral scientific research that serves the public interest. Articles submitted to BSP undergo a dual-review process. Leading scholars from specific disciplinary areas review articles to assess their scientific rigor; at the same time, experts in relevant policy areas evaluate them for relevance and feasibility of implementation. Manuscripts that pass this dual-review are edited to ensure their accessibility to scientists, policy makers, and lay readers. BSP is not limited to a particular point of view or political ideology. BSP is a publication of the Behavioral Science & Policy Association and the Brookings Institution Press.

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Melissa A. Z. Knoll, Kirstin C. Appelt, Eric J. Johnson, & Jonathan E. Westfall

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Richard P. Larrick, Jack B. Soll, & Ralph L. Keeney

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Matthew Manary, Richard Staelin, William Boulding, & Seth W. Glickman

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Challenging assumptions about behavioral policy

Timothy D. Wilson & Lindsay P. Juarez

Many behavioral interventions are widely implemented before being adequately tested because they meet a commonsense criterion. Unfortunately, once these interventions are evaluated with randomized controlled trials (RCTs), many have been found to be ineffective or even to cause harm. Social psychologists take a different approach, using theories developed in the laboratory to design small-scale interventions that address a wide variety of behavioral and educational problems. Many of these interventions, tested with RCTs, have had large positive effects. The advantages of this approach are discussed, as are conditions necessary for scaling up any intervention to larger populations.

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Robert B. Cialdini, Steve J. Martin, & Noah J. Goldstein

Policymakers traditionally have relied upon education, economic incentives, and legal sanctions to influence behavior and effect change for the public good. But recent research in the behavioral sciences points to an exciting new approach that is highly effective and cost-efficient. By leveraging one or more of three simple yet powerful human motivations, small changes in reframing motivational context can lead to significant and policy-relevant changes in behaviors.

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Cass R. Sunstein

It is important for people to make good choices about important matters, such as health insurance or retirement plans. Sometimes it is best to ask people to make active choices. But in some contexts, people are busy or aware of their own lack of knowledge, and providing default options is best for choosers. If people elect not to choose or would do so if allowed, they should have that alternative. A simple framework, which assesses the costs of decisions and the costs of errors, can help policymakers decide whether active choosing or default options are more appropriate.

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George Loewenstein, Cindy Bryce, David Hagmann, & Sachin Rajpal

Presenting a default option is known to influence important decisions. That includes decisions regarding advance medical directives, documents people prepare to convey which medical treatments they favor in the event that they are too ill to make their wishes clear. Some observers have argued that defaults are unethical because people are typically unaware that they are being nudged toward a decision. We informed people of the presence of default options before they completed a hypothetical advance directive, or after, then gave them the opportunity to revise their decisions. The effect of the defaults persisted, despite the disclosure, suggesting that their effectiveness may not depend on deceit. These findings may help address concerns that behavioral interventions are necessarily duplicitous or manipulative.

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