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Behavioural economics: Nudging people to better health

Wednesday 8 February - Thursday 9 February 2017

Do you want to know how people really make decisions? Do you wonder why marketing is often so effective? Do you wonder why people make unhealthy or otherwise irrational choices?

Economists and advertisers have long known that “Homo economicus”, or the purely rational economic actor, is an intellectual fiction. However, policy discourse often relies on assumptions of rationality. Behavioural economics incorporates ideas from psychology, neuroscience and microeconomics to better explain what we observe in the “real world” of human behaviour. Spearheaded by Nobel Laureate (Economics) Daniel Kahneman, behavioural economics is a school of thought with numerous public health implications.

This two-day course provides an opportunity to hear Chair of the Department of Social and Behavioural Science at Harvard University, Professor Ichiro Kawachi present core material from his Explaining Health Behaviour course, drawing on cutting edge research. These taught sessions will be interspersed with short presentations by New Zealand researchers and discussion of relevant New Zealand public health issues. The group will apply the behavioural economic tools presented in order to identify potential solutions and possible pitfalls.

Participants will leave this course better informed on the key theories of behavioural economics and equipped with the tools to apply these concepts in a New Zealand policy context.

Topics covered  

1. Bounded rationality
2. Biases in decision making
3. Prospect theory and framing effects
4. Default options (“nudges”)
5. The problem of intertemporal choice

Style of course

Symposium - Multi-speaker presentations, taught examples and panel discussion in lecture theatre setting.

Who should attend?  

This course is aimed at policy professionals and those who want to influence health related behaviours, as well as those who simply want a deeper understanding of the economic forces that influence our lives. No previous knowledge of behavioural economics or public health is required. Group discussion will provide opportunities for participants with real world policy design challenges to gain valuable feedback from Professor Kawachi and others. 

Draft timetable - Day 1 (8 February)

Time Session Presenter(s)
8:30am Registration


Session 1 – Intro to Behavioural Economics, Bounded Rationality

Philippa Howden-Chapman

Ichiro Kawachi

10:30am Morning tea
11am Session 2 – Heuristics and Biases Ichiro Kawachi
12:30pm Lunch break
1:30pm Session 3 – Nudges

Case-study 1 – Kids'Cam

Ichiro Kawachi

Louise Signal

3pm Afternoon tea
3:30pm Session 4 – Prospect theory & framing effects

Case-study 2 – Liquefaction risk and house prices

Ichiro Kawachi

Arthur Grimes

5pm Finish

Draft timetable - Day 2 (9 February)

Time Session Presenter(s)
8:30am Coffee

Session 5 – Inter-temporal choice

Case-study 3 – Climate change

Ichiro Kawachi

Ralph Chapman

10:30am Morning tea

Session 6 – Incentives & commitments

Case-study 4 – Rental WOF

Ichiro Kawachi

Lucy Telfar-Barnard

12:30pm Lunch break
1:30pm Session 7 – Social influence & norms

Case-study 5 – ASPIRE 2025

Ichiro Kawachi

Janet Hoek

3pm Afternoon tea

Session 8 – Applications to Public Policy

Panel Discussion

Ichiro Kawachi

5pm Finish

Evening event - public lecture

Building disaster resilience. Social capital and health in the aftermath of the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Ichiro Kawachi

Teaching staff  

Ichiro Kawachi is the John L. Loeb and Frances Lehman Loeb Professor of Social Epidemiology, and Chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health. Kawachi received both his medical degree and Ph.D. (in epidemiology) from the University of Otago, New Zealand. He has taught at the Harvard School of Public Health since 1992


Ralph Chapman is an Associate Professor at Victoria University of Wellington and directs the graduate programme in Environmental Studies. He is an environmental economist and has worked on a range of climate change-related policy issues including housing, energy, transport and urban design.

Arthur Grimes is a Senior Fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research Trust, Adjunct Professor of Economics at Victoria University of Wellington and Honorary Professor of Economics at University of Waikato. He is a research economist, with strong links to public policy. He was Reserve Bank of New Zealand Chairman from 2003-2013, where he was previously Chief Economist.

Janet Hoek is a Professor in the Department of Marketing at the University of Otago’s Dunedin campus and is a Co-Director of ASPIRE 2025. She is particularly interested in how communications can reinforce smokefree behaviour and prompt cessation attempts. Her work explores smokers’ understanding of marketing stimuli, estimates the effect of smokefree interventions, and tests arguments advanced by the tobacco industry.

Louise Signal is director of HePPRU and HIA Research Unit in the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago Wellington. She is a social scientist with a PhD in Community Health from the University of Toronto. She has worked and done research in the field of health promotion for 25 years in a range of roles, including Senior Advisor (Health Promotion) for the New Zealand Ministry of Health.

Lucy Telfar-Barnard is a Senior Research Fellow with the Healthy Housing Research Group/ He Kainga Oranga in the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago Wellington. Her research interests include tenancy law and the regulation of rental housing quality.

Course cost and registration

$600 early bird, $800 after 21 December 2016.

A 50% discount is available to full-time students, those unwaged and University of Otago staff.

Register now