Applying Behavioral Economics to Perplexing Problems

Often, we assume that we can inspire people to change their behavior by convincing them that if they take certain actions or make certain choices, they will achieve the result they desire. But people don’t always act rationally. Why else would so many of us skip medications our doctor has prescribed?

Behavioral economics seeks to understand how we make decisions, and what motives and incentives influence decision-making. With support from RWJF, the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the Leonard Davis Institute (CHIBE) at University of Pennsylvania is applying behavioral economics to health and health care to better understand how and why doctors and patients make the decisions they do.

Eight experiments testing a variety of motivators—from financial incentives to the way choices are presented—to encourage healthy behavior are currently underway. Read more.

Five experiments to test what can reduce the use of low-value services in health care—services that provide little or no benefit to patients and can even cause harm—will begin this fall.


University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA

David A. Asch

Kevin G. M. Volpp

Lori Melichar, director

Lori Melichar, director

Influencing Decisions

By understanding what drives decision-making in health we can better influence these decisions. Our grantees are shedding light on how to remove barriers to the provision of high value healthcare, and make it easier for individuals to improve their own health," says director Lori Melichar.


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Behavioral economics and the science of how we decide could help make America healthier.

Latest News and Perspectives about Behavioral Economics


What Convinces College Students to Get Flu Vaccines?

February 24, 2014 | Blog Post

Researchers want to know what convinces college students to get flu vaccines. Read the latest in our efforts to apply behavioral economics to perplexing health and health care problems.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Making Incentives Stick

February 14, 2014 | Blog Post

Health behaviors are complex, and so is motivation. The idea that incentives shouldn't be one-size-fits-all makes a lot of sense. Emmy Ganos highlights an article from grantee Elizabeth Merrick on the possibilities of customizing these incentives.


Simple, Small Changes Can Lead to Healthier Food Choices

January 21, 2014 | Blog Post

Simple changes in our environment can have meaningful, sustained effects on our ability to make healthy food choices. New research shows the long-term effects of traffic-light food labeling.


Learn how behavioral economics can reduce low value care

December 13, 2013 | Blog Post

We are rapidly learning which health care services are low-value and why we use them, even though they may not be helpful—and may even be harmful for patients. But how do we stop doing it? That’s where behavioral economics comes in.


Behavioral Economists Compete: Innovation Tournament on Health

December 4, 2013 | Blog Post

Behavioral economists compete in an Innovation Tournament, devising “nudges” to help make people healthier.

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