The Behavioural Science and Policy Group applies behavioural economics theory to the study of human health and well-being. This approach provides insights into individuals’ health decisions and the various factors that influence their decision-making process. The group contributes to the study of human health and well-being by promoting the integration of behaviorally-informed ideas into the design of health policies and interventions. This webpage provides a brief introduction to our research in this area. The Behavioural Science and Policy Group’s research was conducted in collaboration with various health organisations, including the HSE, Beaumont Hospital, and the Department of Health.

Managing Patient Waiting Lists

We have collaborated with the Department of Health on improving patient waiting lists. The current system employed in Irish hospitals involves sending waiting list validation letters to patients, who must then return them in order to confirm their place on the waiting list. It is estimated that one in four patients do not reply to the letters. Our work involved the use of behavioural insights to redesign the letters in such a way as to increase the average response rate. The findings of our work show that the redesigned validation letters significantly reduce the number of non-responses and therefore enable more efficient use of hospital resources.

Health and Well-Being in Everyday Life

The majority of  well-being measures rely on self-reporting, which are based on retrospective assessments of life satisfaction and average levels of happiness. Measurements such as these can be more prone to reflect cognitive biases and therefore lead to inaccuracies in the measurement of well-being. In order to avoid bias and better measure levels of well-being in individual’s daily lives, we have incorporated the Day Reconstruction Method (DRM) into our research.

One of the research projects in which we applied the DRM studied the welfare effects of a targeted early intervention program on maternal well-being. A main finding of this study was that mothers who took part in the intervention program showed higher levels of reported happiness on a daily basis, as measured by the DRM. The retrospective measure for well-being, also included in the study, did not capture this significant impact on daily happiness, suggesting that the DRM is a more accurate measure of well-being. Studies such as this can help policymakers to properly quantify the impact of their policy interventions on well-being, therefore providing them with a more accurate cost-benefit analysis.

Mental Health and Economic Outcomes over Life

Part of our work involves researching the impact of poor mental health on economic outcomes. One of our research papers evaluated the impact of childhood health problems on economic outcomes later in life. We found that both childhood physical and mental health problems lead to poorer life outcomes in adulthood. However in terms of their future economic effects, childhood mental health problems are far the more important of the two. That is to say individuals who struggled with their mental health, rather than their physical health, as a child are more likely to struggle financially as adults. This finding provides evidence of the efficacy of mental health interventions in promoting positive long-run life outcomes. Research projects such as this highlight to policymakers that there are both humanitarian and economic incentives to invest in mental health services.

Self-Control and Health Across Life

Part of our work involves researching the relationship between self-control and health outcomes across life. Given that everyone exerts some degree self-control in their everyday life, an individual’s level of self-control can be a significant determinant of their actions. Self-control may therefore have lasting implications for an individual’s health.

One research project we conducted investigated whether childhood self-control could predict adult smoking habits. Our findings provided strong evidence that low childhood self-control predicts an increased risk of smoking throughout adulthood. Another of our research projects used the Day Reconstruction Method (DRM) to ascertain the relationship between the obesogenic environment and individuals food choices, allowing us to obtain more information on the determinants of desire and temptation. Using the DRM in our work provided us with a more informed understanding of how self-control impacts individual’s actions on a daily basis.

Scarring Effects of Unemployment

We are currently researching the psychological impact of unemployment and whether the accumulation of unemployment experiences has long-term consequences for human welfare. We have measured individual’s experiences with unemployment across 14 European countries, and studied whether past unemployment has an impact on their psychological well-being over prolonged periods of time.

We found there to be adverse psychological states associated with unemployment experiences, a finding which is consistent with the existing literature, highlighting the detrimental impact of unemployment on health outcomes. Furthermore, our findings show that the scarring effects of unemployment on well-being are not a country specific phenomenon, as evidence of scarring was found across all 14 countries studied.  We believe our research can help inform policy measures that will help protect individuals from the long-run adverse welfare consequences of unemployment and ameliorate the psychological effects of unemployment.