Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

H2020

BEWITCHING — Result In Brief

Project ID: 703141
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.2.
Country: Netherlands
Domain: Society, Fundamental Research

Bewitching! A nudge for wiser choices

For choices whose consequences occur at different time points, short-term gain often overrules long-term benefits such as eating cake now versus future weight loss. BEWITCHING has looked into how we may improve choices on an individual basis and for society.
Bewitching! A nudge for wiser choices
Intertemporal choice crops up everywhere in life and can have extremely important consequences. It’s not just about situations like avoiding piling on the pounds and having to buy a whole new wardrobe. Politicians for example are faced with choices where they have to weigh up short-term electoral success against a recovering economy – if only they had imposed those unpopular austerity measures. Scientists have to draw up regulations on genetic engineering, considering immediate benefits for medicine and food production as well as possible long-term harm to the environment and danger from unforeseen genetic consequences.

Nudging and framing for the wisest long-term choice

The EU funded BEWITCHING project has looked at nudging, a concept from behavioural economics, for an answer. The Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow who led the research, Dr Bram Zandbelt introduces the idea, “by designing choice contexts that exploit our cognitive biases, it gently guides us into making choices that are better for ourselves and society.”

One way to nudge intertemporal choice is by ‘framing’ the timing of the choice outcome in a certain way and use calendar dates. For example, we make more patient choices when future outcomes are described in terms of calendar dates. Framing the timing of choice is often an effective way to nudge intertemporal choice. Wiser choices may be made when 1st May, a tangible date, is used instead of the corresponding delay, ‘in 30 days’.

The use of time framing in practice is hampered because the psychology behind it is unknown. An understanding of making seemingly irrational choices could help develop novel framing interventions that change behaviour. BEWITCHING used a behavioural experiment and new computational models to determine the mechanisms of time framing in intertemporal choice. The working hypothesis was that time framing changes how we perceive time.

Mechanisms from models and making choices

BEWITCHING worked to determine the mechanisms involved in time framing and how it influences intertemporal choice. The project developed and tested a computational model for the framing effects as well as an intertemporal choice task. A data management plan describes the data handling practices.

To determine the validity of the test, the team ran extensive computer simulations to determine the experimental design and sample size (number of participants and number of trials) for this study. Collection and analysis of the data is ongoing.

Significant impact close to home and further afield

“On a personal note,” Zandbelt emphasises, “the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship has enabled me to develop my skills for careers in three fields – supporting researchers in academia in open and reproducible science, working as a scientist in industry, and working as a data scientist in government or industry.”

Individual skill elements include new expertise in the field of value-based decision-making, motivational control, and computational modelling and strengthening transferable skills, including organisational, leadership, and communication skills, that will help ease the transition to a career outside academia. Increased visibility through the organisation of workshops and a strong presence on social media also stimulated ability to outreach academic knowledge.

This dataset may be useful for behavioural economists, experimental psychologists, and cognitive neuroscientists interested in intertemporal choice and framing effects. Overall, the research will provide scientists, policymakers, clinicians, and businesses with a better understanding of how framing influences choices. Summing up, Dr Zandbelt concludes that, “Eventually, this knowledge could guide smart policies, personalised interventions, and nudge-based technologies that promote future-minded behaviour and reduce societal costs in Europe and the rest of the world. However, as the results from the study are not complete and need to be analysed, only time will tell.”

Keywords

BEWITCHING, intertemporal choice, time framing, computational model, nudging, behavioural economics
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