Behaviour, Happiness and Public Policy

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Paul Dolan OLD2.38


This course is available on the MPA in European Public and Economic Policy, MPA in International Development, MPA in Public Policy and Management, MPA in Public and Economic Policy, MPA in Public and Social Policy, MSc in Environmental Economics and Climate Change, MSc in International Health Policy, MSc in International Health Policy (Health Economics), MSc in Social Policy (Research) and MSc in Social Policy (Social Policy and Planning). This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This is a capped course.  In teaching week 1 places will be allocated to students from the Department of Social Policy on a first come first served basis.  At the start of week 2 any remaining places will be allocated to students from other departments, again on a first come first served basis.

Course content

This course aims to introduce students to the main concepts and tools of the growing fields of behavioural science and the science of happiness. The course brings these fields together with a clear focus on social policy. To achieve this aim, the course is based around twenty lectures covering: 1) what is wellbeing?; 2) what is behavioural science?; 3) choices under risk and uncertainty; 4) intertemporal decisions; 5) social preferences; 6) distributional preferences; 7) the role of emotions in decision making; 8) compensating behaviours; 9) dual-process models of behaviour and the role of the unconscious mind; 10) dual processing into policy; 11) wellbeing in economics; 12) research on happiness; 13) the determinants of life satisfaction; 14) moment-to-moment assessments of happiness as an alternative; 15) the role of eudemonic accounts of subjective wellbeing (meaning, purpose, etc.); 16) why we are often not very good at predicting our happiness; 17) valuing non-market goods (health, environment, etc.) using preferences; 18) valuing non-market goods using happiness; 19) evidence-based policy; 20) Making better decisions – bringing behaviour and happiness together.


15 hours of lectures and 13 hours and 30 minutes of seminars in the MT. 15 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the LT. 1 hour and 30 minutes of lectures in the ST.

There are ten topics, and the seminars allow for in depth discussion and analysis of the issues raised in the lectures Formative coursework

Formative coursework

Two presentations, one in MT and one in LT.

Indicative reading

Weber, E.U., and Johnson, E.J. (2009). Mindful judgment and decision making. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 53-85.

Rabin, M. (1998). Psychology and Economics. Journal of Economic Literature, 36, 11-46.

Dolan P, Hallsworth M, Halpern D, King D, Metcalfe R, Vlaev I, Influencing behaviour: the mindspace way, Journal of Economic Psychology, 33, 1, 264-277, 2012.

Loewenstein, G., Weber, E.U., Hsee, C.K., and Welch, N. (2001). Risk as feelings. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 267-286.

Frey, B.S., and Stutzer, A. (2002). What can economists learn from happiness research? Journal of Economic Literature, 40, 402-435.

Clark, A, Frijters, P. Shields, M. (2007) Relative income, happiness and utility: an explanation for the Easterlin paradox and other puzzles. Journal of Economic Literature, 4695-144.

Kahneman, D. Krueger, A. Schkade, D. Schwarz, N. Stone, A. (2004) Toward national well-being accounts. American Economic Review, 94(2), 429-434.

Dolan P and Kahneman D, Interpretations of utility and their implications for the valuation of health, Economic Journal., 118 (525), 215–234, 2008.

Wilson, T. Gilbert, D. (2003) Affective forecasting. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 35, p345-411.

Thaler, R. and Sunstein, C. (2003) Libertarian paternalism, American Economic Review, 93, 2, 175-179.


Exam (50%, duration: 2 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (25%, 2000 words) in the LT.
Essay (25%, 2000 words) in the MT.

Student performance results

(2012/13 - 2013/14 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 11
Merit 72.6
Pass 16.4
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Social Policy

Total students 2014/15: 43

Average class size 2014/15: 14

Controlled access 2014/15: Yes

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course survey results

(2012/13 - 2013/14 combined)

1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 65.8%



Reading list (Q2.1)


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Integration (Q2.6)


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