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

Photo of Lori Melichar, team director at RWJF

Lori Melichar, team 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 Lori Melichar, interim team director for RWJF's Pioneer Portfolio.


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

Published Research and Commentary

Incentives to Shape Health Behaviors

Incentives to Shape Health Behaviors

Researchers propose a novel type of incentive for promoting healthy behavior—one that is tailored to individuals’ preferences and priorities.

Read more
Promoting Healthy Food Choices

Promoting Healthy Food Choices

This study shows that traffic light labels and choice architecture can change food and beverage purchasing behaviors over a sustained period without decreasing sales.

Read more

Behavioral Economics on Pioneering Ideas


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.


How Can We Help People Get More Sleep?

February 12, 2014 | Blog Post

How can we help people get more sleep? Read a few ideas inspired by recent behavior change research that senior program officer Lori Melichar shared at a WNYC roundtable discussion & add your own.

See all