Behavioural economics has identified a multitude of decision making biases and these insights have had a substantial influence on economic theory as well as public policy making. At the same time, researchers in various fields have begun to measure behaviour and experiences in the real world using naturalistic monitoring tools such as experience sampling and the Day Reconstruction Method (DRM). Our research group aims to combine these areas and investigate behavioural economic concepts “in the wild”. This can be done in observational studies, field experiments, or natural experiments. For a description of the DRM click here and here and for a recent application of the method to study self-control click here. Indicative projects using naturalistic monitoring are below.
Self-control and everyday job search
This project uses naturalistic monitoring to better understand the determinants of job search intensity. Since job search has immediate costs and delayed benefits, the project will focus on the economic and psychological literatures on inter-temporal choice and self-control. The project will explore whether low levels of job search are related to self-control problems and identify behavioural interventions that can help job seekers to overcome self-control problems. Additionally, the project will investigate the momentary experiences job seekers feel in their everyday lives and identify situational factors that influence these experiences.
Prospect theory in the wild
Prospect theory is one of the most popular models in behavioural economics. This project uses naturalistic monitoring tools in order to measure whether people use reference points in their everyday lives, and whether negative deviations from these reference points loom larger than positive ones. The project builds on Boyce et al.’s (2013) finding that losses in income have a larger effect on evaluative subjective well-being than equivalent income gains, and tests whether similar patterns can be observed for experienced subjective well-being in everyday life. The project also investigates the effects of loss aversion on decision making in everyday life and tests whether anticipated losses or anticipated regret predict everyday decisions more effectively.
Social preferences in the wild
Humans are social, as economists have learned from experimental settings such as Dictator, Ultimatum, and Public Good Games. This project tests the external validity of these experimental lab measures of social preferences by investigating whether the lab measures correlate with social behaviours in everyday life.
Identity economics in the wild
Many economically relevant decisions are influenced by self-image considerations and thoughts about who we are, which social categories we identify with, and which norms we should adhere to. Akerlof and Kranton (2010) introduce the concept of identity to economics, and this project aims to test how identity considerations shape the experiences and behaviours in peoples’ everyday lives.
This project combines the DRM with a spending diary. The spending diary will provide information about what individuals spend money for and the DRM will help to understand why people spend the money. For example, the project can test whether online shopping is particularly prevalent when individuals are tired and exhausted as has been shown in laboratory experiments before. The project will map subjective preferences to consumption decisions and investigate differences in this mapping across the socio-economic spectrum.
Sustainable travel mode choices
The transport choices people make in their everyday lives are an important contributor to individual quality of life as well as an important influence on the global climate. Behavioural economics and happiness research suggest that many situational factors can affect peoples’ decisions to take the car, bus, train, bike, or other forms of transport. This project will develop and evaluate behaviourally-informed policy interventions that aim to facilitate sustainable travel mode choices.
The effects of smartphones on decision making in everyday life
Smartphones have become an essential part of our everyday lives, and recent research has explored the associations between smartphone use and momentary subjective well-being. This project aims to explain the high use of smartphones using behavioural economics concepts (e.g. visceral influences, self-control, social preferences) and identify the consequences of smartphone use for everyday decision making. The project will test whether the well-being effects of tech and social media use are moderated by the various decision-making styles.
The everyday effects of work email policies
Many companies strongly encourage employees not to send emails after work hours and remove moral obligations to respond to messages during free time. This project’s aim is to implement a randomised control trial on email-out-of-work policies. Building on the literature examining links between email, social media usage, well-being, and employee productivity, this project will explore the extent to which email-out-of-work policies influence time-use and subjective well-being. The project focuses on effect on stress, intensity within working time, and other compensating behaviours, and tests whether email-out-of-work policies are particularly beneficial for people with poor self-control.
The effect on alcohol display restrictions (“Booze curtains”)
In 2018, restrictions on alcohol displays will be implemented in Ireland. This policy aims to reduce the temptation and social pressure to consume alcohol by installing screens in front of the alcohol displays, informally known as “booze curtains”, in all retail outlets selling alcohol. This project evaluates this policy. The project uses naturalistic monitoring in order to evaluate this policy. In particular, we focus on the role of self-control and test whether the policy is particularly beneficial for people with poor self-control.
Medical adherence in everyday life
A major problem in most health systems is that people – despite their better intentions – do not take their medicine when they should. Not adhering to one’s prescriptions has increased the financial and health costs of medication. Using naturalistic measurement, we will identify the feelings, desires, and thoughts that predict medical (non-)adherence.
The validity of the DRM as a tool to measure everyday decision making
This project aims to test the validity of the DRM by comparing DRM data to equivalent experience sampling (mobile phone) data and identifying whether the reports from DRM match reports taken from real-time tracking. The project will also conduct detailed cognitive testing across all phases of the DRM to develop and improve the method. The project will generate a document that will facilitate the adaptation of the method by other researchers.