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Behavioural Economic Insights


Entry requirements

Only open to MSc Psychology (research) students


Behavioural economics extends economic principles by allowing that our decisions are affected by social and psychological influences, as well as a rational calculation of benefits and costs—the assumption being that we are not super-rational beings, but that there are limits to our rational decision making (Baddeley, 2017). Bounded rationality—a term coined by Herbert Simon who was a psychologist and computer scientist as well as Nobel Laureate in Economics—captures the idea that we are limited and bounded by various constraints when we are deciding. Cognitive constraints may limit our ability to choose the best strategies. Limits on, for example, executive functions mean that sometimes we are forced or nudged towards a particular option because we do not have the information or cognitive processing time or power to consider other options. These insights gained more acceptance due to the influential work and best-selling books of two other Nobel Laureates in Economics, Daniel Kahneman (Thinking, fast and slow) and Richard Thaler (Nudge, co-authored with Cass Sunstein).
Behavioural economics brings economics together with insights from a wide range of other disciplines, for example psychology (especially social psychology), sociology, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology. Using a multidisciplinary blend of ideas, behavioural economic insights will enrich students’ understanding of economic and financial decision making. In the course, we will focus on a few key themes, amongst others: heuristics and biases; social influence; nudging and boosting; and scarcity. Moreover, as governments and other policy-makers are embedding these insights more and more into their policy designs, we will focus also on the policy implications and lessons that are (or should be) adopted by public policy-makers by addressing influential policy studies and behavioural interventions based on behavioural economic insights.

Course objectives

During the course, students:
1. Gain specialized knowledge of theories, concepts, methods, and research findings central to the study of social decision making from a behavioural economics perspective.
2. Acquire knowledge and skills to develop and write a scientific proposal for an intervention study based on behavioural economic insights and relevant for public policy.
3. Enhance their scientific thinking and research skills to conduct scientific research both inside and outside the university.


For the timetable of this course please refer to MyTimetable



Students must register themselves for all course components (lectures, tutorials and practicals) they wish to follow. You can register up to 5 days prior to the start of the course.


It is mandatory for all students to register for each exam and to confirm registration for each exam in My Studymap. This is possible up to and including 10 calendar days prior to the examination. You cannot take an exam without a valid pre-registration and confirmation in My Studymap. Carefully read all information about the procedures and deadlines for registering for courses and exams.

Exchange students and external guest students will be informed by the education administration about the current registration procedure.

Mode of instruction

7 2-hour work group sessions (attendance of all sessions is mandatory).

Assessment method

The final grade is based on:
Developing and presenting a knowledge clip about behavioural insights (30%; course objectives 1, 3).
Writing an intervention proposal (70%; course objective 1, 2, 3).

The Institute of Psychology follows the policy of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences to systematically check student papers for plagiarism with the help of software. Disciplinary measures will be taken when fraud is detected. Students are expected to be familiar with and understand the implications of this fraud policy.

Reading list

Selection of scientific articles; examples:

  • Hallsworth, M., & Kirkman, E. (2020). Behavioral insights (pp. 1-70). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

  • Thaler, R. H. (1999). Mental accounting matters. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 12, 241–268.

  • Shah, A. K., Mullainathan, S., & Sharif, E. (2012). Some consequences of having too little. Science, 338, 682–685. (including supplementary material).

  • Mani, A., Mullainathan, S., Sharif, E., Zhao, J. (2013). Poverty impedes cognitive function. Science, 341, 976–980. (including supplementary material).

  • Loewenstein, G., & Chater, N. (2017). Putting nudges in perspective. Behavioural Public Policy, 1, 26–53.

  • Dolan, P., Hallsworth, M., Halpern, D., King, D., Metcalfe, R. D., Vlaev, I (2012). Influencing behaviour: The mindspace way. Journal of Economic Psychology, 33, 264–277.

Contact information

Prof. Dr. Wilco van Dijk