Welcome to the inaugural issue of Behavioral Science & Policy. We created BSP to help bridge a significant divide. The success of nearly all public and private sector policies hinges on the behavior of individuals, groups, and organizations. Today, such behaviors are better understood than ever thanks to a growing body of practical behavioral science research. However, policymakers often are unaware of behavioral science findings that may help them craft and execute more effective and efficient policies. In response, we want the pages of this journal to be a meeting ground of sorts: a place where scientists and non-scientists can encounter clearly described behavioral research that can be put into action.
Mission of BSP
By design, the scope of BSP is quite broad, with topics spanning health care, financial decisionmaking, energy and the environment, education and culture, justice and ethics, and work place practices. We will draw on a broad range of the social sciences, as is evident in this inaugural issue. These pages feature contributions from researchers with expertise in psychology, sociology, law, behavioral economics, organization science, decision science, and marketing. BSP is broad in its coverage because the problems to be addressed are diverse, and solutions can be found in a variety of behavioral disciplines.
This goal requires an approach that is unusual in academic publishing. All BSP articles go through a unique dual review, by disciplinary specialists for scientific rigor and also by policy specialists for practical implementability. In addition, all articles are edited by a team of professional writing editors to ensure that the language is both clear and engaging for non-expert readers. When needed, we post online Supplemental Material for those who wish to dig deeper into more technical aspects of the work. That material is indicated in the journal with a bracketed arrow.
This first issue is representative of our vision for BSP. We are pleased to publish an outstanding set of contributions from leading scholars who have worked hard to make their work accessible to readers outside their fields. A subset of manuscripts is clustered into a Spotlight Topic section that examines a specific theme in some depth, in this case, “Challenging Assumptions about Behavioral Policy.”
Our opening essay discusses the importance of behavioral science for enhanced policy design and implementation, and illustrates various approaches to putting this work into practice. The essay also provides a more detailed account of our objectives for Behavioral Science & Policy. In particular, we discuss the importance of using policy challenges as a starting point and then asking what practical insights can be drawn from relevant behavioral science, rather than the more typical path of producing research findings in search of applications.
Our inaugural Spotlight Topic section includes four articles. Wilson and Juarez challenge the assumption that intuitively compelling policy initiatives can be presumed to be effective, and illustrate the importance of evidence-based program evaluation. Cialdini, Martin, and Goldstein challenge the notion that large policy effects require large interventions, and provide evidence that small (even costless) actions grounded in behavioral science research can pay big dividends. Sunstein challenges the point of view that providing individuals with default options is necessarily more paternalistic than requiring them to make an active choice. Instead, Sunstein suggests, people sometimes prefer the option of deferring technical decisions to experts and delegating trivial decisions to others. Thus, forcing individuals to choose may constrain rather than enhance individual free choice. In the final Spotlight paper, Loewenstein, Bryce, Hagmann, and Rajpal challenge the assumption that behavioral “nudges,” such as strategic use of defaults, are only effective when kept secret. In fact, these authors report a study in which they explicitly inform participants that they have been assigned an arbitrary default (for advance medical directives). Surprisingly, disclosure does not greatly diminish the impact of the nudge.
This issue also includes four regular articles. Goh, Pfeffer, and Zenios provide evidence that corporate executives concerned with their employees’ health should attend to a number of workplace practices—including high job demands, low job control, and a perceived lack of fairness—that can produce more harm than the well-known threat of exposure to secondhand smoke. Knoll, Appelt, Johnson, and Westfall find that the most obvious approach to getting individuals to delay claiming retirement benefits (present information in a way that highlights benefits of claiming later) does not work. But a process intervention in which individuals are asked to think about the future before considering their current situation better persuades them to delay making retirement claims. Larrick, Soll, and Keeney identify four principles for developing better energy-use metrics to enhance consumer understanding and promote energy conservation. Finally, Manary, Staelin, Boulding, and Glickman provide a new analysis challenging the idea that a hospital’s responses to the demographic traits of individual patients, including their race, may explain disparities in quality of health care. Instead, it appears that this observation is driven by differences in insurance coverage among these groups. Hospitals serving larger numbers of patients with no insurance or with government insurance receive less revenue to pay for expenses such as wages, training, and equipment updates. In this case, the potential behavioral explanation does not appear to be correct; it may come down to simple economics.
This publication was created by the Behavioral Science & Policy Association in partnership with the Brookings Institution. The mission of BSPA is to foster dialog between social scientists, policymakers, and other practitioners in order to promote the application of rigorous empirical behavioral science in ways that serve the public interest. BSPA does not advance a particular agenda or political perspective.
We hope that each issue of BSP will provide timely and actionable insights that can enhance both public and private sector policies. We look forward to continuing to receive innovative policy solutions that are derived from cutting-edge behavioral science research. We also look forward to receiving from policy professionals suggestions of new policy challenges that may lend themselves to behavioral solutions. “Knowledge in the service of society” is an ideal that we believe should not merely be espoused but, also, actively pursued.
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.