MPA students use behavioral insights to propose policy

Thursday, May 5, 2016
by lesliej

In early May, over a dozen teams of MPA students, their professors, and interested community members packed into a reconfigured Shultz Dining Room in Robertson Hall to view the culminating poster session for the WWS 502, "Psychology for Policy Analysis and Implementation."  The course, team taught by Alin Coman and Johannes Haushofer, both assistant professors of psychology and public affairs and affiliated faculty of the Center for Behavioral Science & Public Policy, introduced students to basic concepts from behavioral research in social psychology and judgment and decision making and the ways in which they can shape policy formulation and implementation. Central themes include a detailed analysis of human judgment and decision making, and how a variety of motives and situational forces can affect people’s choices and behavior.

Throughout the semester, students came together in small groups to analyze the cognitive and social processes relevant to their chosen topic and design a test for their intervention. The course culminated in the roll-out of their proposed government or private non-profit strategy designed to bring about a change in individual behavior—whether reduction of a harmful behavior or promotion of a beneficial one.  The projects addressed a wide range of aims, from how to incentivize job hunting on the part of the unemployed or increase composting behaviors in U.S. suburban neighborhoods, to how to decrease polio vaccination refusals in Pakistan or deter the activities of Mexican drug gangs.

"I'm proud that WWS is among the select few public policy schools that offers psychology as a core course," remarked Coman. "Every year I am impressed with our MPA class and their real-world experience. And every year I hope we were able to provide the most up to date behavioral science that they could use in their jobs as policy makers and more generally in their lives. During the last 4 years since I've started teaching 502, I have noticed that every generation arrives at WWS more prepared and more knowledgeable, ready to digest and apply behavioral science to the real-world problems they're confronting."

Anne Treisman 1935 - 2018