Comparing economic and behavioural interventions

Economic interventions - such as taxes - look to influence behaviour by changing incentive structures. Underlying this strategy is the idea that the individual will take into account all relevant information including the costs and benefits of consuming a good and make 'rational' decisions accordingly.  There is a growing consensus in the behavioural sciences, however, that individuals’ decisions are limited by the information and time they have to make them, and that much behaviour is driven by automatic and unconscious processes.  Given this, social scientists have sought to develop behavioural interventions, whereby they change the contexts which shape individual and social decision-making procedures. 

This POSTnote will outline various models of economic and behavioural interventions, drawing on behavioural science, psychology, and sociology. It will explore the challenges and opportunities of these two approaches, and research which compares their efficacy.  The note will also explain how these interventions are currently being used in public policy, outlining several case studies: for example in terms of interventions into behaviour around smoking, and the consumption of sugar, alcohol and drugs.

For more information on this project, or to contribute, please email Dr Abbi Hobbs.