Not available in 2023/24
GV4H6      Half Unit
Behavioural Political Economy

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Rafael Hortala-Vallve


This course is available on the MSc in Political Science and Political Economy. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.


It is required that students have some familiarity with formal models (game theory) and basic statistical concepts.

Course content

In this course we will introduce behavioural concepts and use them at explaining decisions of politicians, candidates for political office, voters, lobbyists, and other actors in the political and policymaking arena. The focus of the course will be academic but we will also visit the recent development by public policy practitioners – both the UK and the US have behavioural insights teams working closely with the executive branch.

We will analyse different political phenomena that do not perfectly fit our rational choice models. We will cover issues such as turnout in large elections, populist policies, framing of public policies to influence public opinion, attribution of blame to politicians, opt-in/opt-out policies and paternalism in policy recommendations, etc. By introducing insights from psychology to our classical political economy models we will study the effects of social, cognitive, and emotional factors on political decisions. Parallel to this formal analysis we will also introduce experimental methods.


This course is delivered through a combination of lectures and seminars totalling a minimum of 24 hours in the Lent Term. There will be a reading week in LT Week 6.

Formative coursework

A presentatioin on the topic of your summative essay to be delivered in an extra session in LT Week 9.

Indicative reading

Berggren, N (2011), “Time for behavioural political economy? An analysis of articles in behavioural economics”, mimeo

De Rooij, E (2009), “Field Experiments on Political Behavior and Collective Action”, Annual Review of Political Science

Druckman, J (2006), “The growth and Development of Experimental Research in Political Science”, American Political Science Review

Druckman, J, D Green, J Kuklinski, and A Lupia (2011), Cambridge handbook of Experimental Political Science, Cambridge University Press

Kagel, J and A Roth (1995), Handbook of Experimental Economics, Princeton University Press

McDermot, R (2002), “Experimental Methods in Political Science”, Annual Review of Political Science

Morton, R and K Williams (2010), Experimental Political Science and the study of causality: from nature to the lab, Cambridge University Press

Palfrey, T (2009), “Laboratory experiments in Political Economy”, Annual Review of Political Science

Thaler, RH and CR Sunstein (2009), Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth and happines, Yale University Press

Wilson, R (2011), “The contribution of behavioural economics to political science”, Annual Review of Political Science


Essay (50%, 3000 words) and take-home assessment (50%) in the ST.

Each student is required to submit an essay (3000 words including footnotes and appendix) in Week 1 of Summer Term composed of two parts: the analysis of a behavioural aspect in a political economy situation and a novel experimental design proposal related to it. This essay will count for 50% of the final mark. The remaining 50% will be assessed by means of a take home exam.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2022/23: 8

Average class size 2022/23: 8

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Value: Half 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
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills