Foundations of Behavioural Science

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Jet Sanders CON.3.08


This course is compulsory on the BSc in Psychological and Behavioural Science. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Students following the BSc in Pscyhological and Behavioural Science will automatically be enrolled onto PB100. 

There are a very limited number of places available for students from outside the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science. 


You must have a genuine and demonstrable interest in Behavioural Science and it’s real world applications. Students from outside the BSc in Psychological and Behavioural Science will be ask to demonstrate how they meet this pre-requisite by producing a 200 word statement. This statement will be reviewed by the course leader before places on the course are confirmed.

Course content

The aim of this course is to provide an understanding of, and ability to critically appraise the fundamental ideas which drive the multidisciplinary field of Behavioural Science in relation to policymaking.

The course gradually moves from the foundational principles of Behavioural Science, to the practical applications based on those principles through three interlinked blocks. The first block introduces dual-processing models of human behaviour to highlight the role of the environment in shaping decisions. This part considers the Dual System approach, heuristics and biases, and the influence of time, risk, and social preferences. The next block delves into the science of happiness by introducing the main accounts of subjective wellbeing, how it is conceptualised and measured and its implications for policy and other contexts. Finally, the course introduces various techniques from Behavioural Economics (incentives, commitments, defaults), Social Psychology (ego, messenger and social norms), and Cognitive Psychology (priming, affect) can be used to shape behaviour by means of the MINDSPACE checklist. We close by addressing the role of behavioural spillover effects and a discussion on the ethics of nudging.

Throughout the course, evidence from observational studies, laboratory experiments and field experiments will be discussed, with a special emphasis on policy-level interventions.

By the end of the course you should:

  • have a broad understanding of the fundamental principles of Behavioural Science, and its relations with foundational principles in Psychology and Economic Theory and policy;
  • be able to critically appraise the evidence base, tools and impact of Behavioural Science and its relation to policy interventions;
  • be able to explain the approaches that have been developed to change behaviour, based on the MINDSPACE framework;
  • be able to apply the core theories of Behavioural Science in policy and practice-based contexts.


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures and classes totalling a minimum of 40 hours across Michaelmas Term and Lent Term. There is a reading week in Week 6 of Michaelmas Term and Week 6 of Lent Term. In response to the current situation, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of live online classes and pre-recorded short online videos. You will receive the same amount of teaching whether you are on campus or online.

Formative coursework

Students will complete a number of pieces of formative work to cement learning and prepare for summative assessments.

  • Write two essay plans and introductions
  • Work on one practice pitch

Indicative reading

  • Sunstein, C. R., & Thaler, R. (2009). Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness. London: Penguin.
  • Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan.
  • Dolan, P. (2015). Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life. London: Penguin.
  • Halpern, D. (2015). Inside the Nudge Unit: How small changes can make a big difference. London: W H Allen.
  • Dolan, P. (2019) Happy Every After: Escaping the myth of a perfect life. London: Penguin.


Essay (75%, 3500 words) and presentation (25%) in the LT.

The presentation will form a 3 minute pitch as part of the annual PB100 Behavioural Science Foundations to Real-World Applications Forum

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Psychological and Behavioural Science

Total students 2020/21: 40

Average class size 2020/21: 13

Capped 2020/21: Yes (8)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills