Foundations of Behavioural Science

This information is for the 2022/23 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 Psychological 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 who meet the pre-requisites laid out below.


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 asked 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 the 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. The course is organised into three interlinked blocks. The first block introduces dual-processing models of human behaviour to highlight the role of the environment in shaping decisions; this block considers the Dual System approach, heuristics and biases, and the influence of time, risk, and social preferences. The second 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, in the third block, we introduce 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 both Michaelmas Term and Lent Term. 

Formative coursework

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

  • Essay plan (comprising an introduction and then plan for the remaining sections).
  • Practice pitch with peer feedback.

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 (60%, 3500 words) and presentation (40%) in the LT.

Essay (60%) in LT -  Students will be required to write a 3,500 word essay answering a question. There will be a number of questions provided and students can choose which they’d like to answer.

Presentation (40%) in LT - The presentation will take the form of a 3 minute pitch delivered as part of the annual PB100 Behavioural Science Foundations to Real-World Applications Forum.

Key facts

Department: Psychological and Behavioural Science

Total students 2021/22: 48

Average class size 2021/22: 16

Capped 2021/22: Yes (46)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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.

Personal development skills

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