Behavioral and Decision Sciences Program

Penn’s Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences (MBDS) is informed by contemporary theories and research methods of behavioral economics, decision sciences, network analysis and public policy. Our program equips students with theoretical and practical tools to address a variety of real-life problems, putting you ahead of the curve in a growing field of study.

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Now showing 1 - 10 of 18
  • Publication
    The Problem of Plastic Waste in China
    (2019-08-09) Qian, Chiyu
    Due to rapid economic growth in China, citizens are getting more and more used to littering plastic waste on the street, causing huge damages to the environment, and it is time to make some positive social change to curb this behavior. The individuals who litter on the street can have some social beliefs and expectations that are associated with their behavior. They are hypothesized to be lazier, to be more inclined to litter when they observe others litter, and to hold the belief that littering is a social good that can provide lower-income people with financial resources and job opportunities. littering behavior is diagnosed to be a social norm, custom, and descriptive norm in different circumstances. To diagnose this behavior further, I propose a one-month interview and survey with questions that cover all the components that would be necessary to measure from a social norm perspective. To intervene on this behavior, the possible policies that could work are economic incentives, economic punishments, public education, and public shaming.
  • Publication
    The Behavioral Case for B Corporations
    (2019-08-09) Guarna, Natalie
    In recent years, consumers have started increasingly prioritizing the social and environmental impacts of the brands they support. Quick to notice this trend, companies have taken advantage of it, incorporating green claims, true or not, into their marketing materials. From a consumer perspective, it can be mentally taxing to navigate through these claims to find companies whose values align with their own. The B Corp Certification, which verifies the positive impacts of for-profit companies, has emerged as an objective way for consumers to identify conscious companies. The financial benefit of B Corp Certification has been well established: B Corps enjoy higher-than-average rates of financial success. The behavioral case for B Corps, on the other hand, remains relatively unexplored. Behavioral science, a relatively new field of study that considers the influences of human behavior beyond rationality, offers new insights as to why the B Corp Certification resonates well with modern consumers. The appeal of (1) self-image preservation, (2) social conformity, and (3) trust/transparency draw consumers to the B Corp Certification. These appeals, however, are strongly limited by lack of consumer recognition of the B Corp logo. In today’s economy, B Corps are well poised to create meaningful impact, but increasing consumer awareness is key to these companies achieving their full potential.
  • Publication
    One Measly Change: An Unorthodox Approach to Addressing Ultra-Orthodox Measles Outbreak
    (2019-08-09) Blas, Elisheva
    Since October 2018, over 400 individuals in the Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) community in Brooklyn, New York have contracted measles, a disease once eradicated in the United States.This disease, preventable through a two-dose measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, is one of the most contagious infections and has serious long term health consequences. Both public and private officials—namely, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene(DOHMH) and individuals within the Haredi community—have taken a number of steps to address the measles outbreak, implementing policies to increase vaccination rates. This paper details those interventions and points out how many of such policies do not properly account for the idiosyncrasies of the Haredi community, such as its hierarchical structure and its insularnature. The paper concludes with specific recommendations on how policies could be improved to address the particular biases related to vaccination uptake among Haredim.
  • Publication
    Homegrown Radical Extremism in the West: Measures for Violence Prevention
    (2019-08-09) Akhwand, Zahraa
    The United States national strategy for counterterrorism highlights political needs to protect American interests both at home and on foreign land through direct physical combat, resource limitation, and recruitment prevention. The plan prioritizes identification and thwarting of rising threats against national security interests within and outside the United States. Efforts to understand terrorist organizations and address foreign threats have been extensive. More recent trends of terrorism point to domestic sources of radicalization. In a testament before the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, Federal Bureau of Investigation director Christopher Wray stated, “A majority of the domestic terrorism cases we've investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence."He noted domestic terrorists and homegrown violent extremists to be “persistent threats to the nation and U.S. interests abroad.”Research places the shift in national demographics and increased diversity as central motivations in the adoption of violence among non-immigrant American, white males, a group long ignored in anti-terror efforts.To effectively reduce extremist behavior, counterterrorism measures must reflect behavioral trends of terrorism, more specifically the demographics and motivations of extremists radicalized within the United States. This document highlights the changing dynamics of terrorism and calls for prevention measures that address motivations that drive violence. Further, this document notes the use of findings from the field of behavioral science as prevention measures against homegrown extremism. Findings-Demographic shifts within the United States are linked to the rise of extremism,-Addressing psycho-social drivers that lead to radicalization has potential to reduce extremist violence on a national and international scale. Recommendations -The United States national strategy for counterterrorism must address motivations for homegrown extremism among non-migrant males,-Capacity to discuss implications of shifting demographics must be built within non-migrant communities, -Further research into deradicalization interventions that address up-to-date extremist groups demographics are needed. Conclusion: The United States national strategy for counterterrorism aims to reduce violence and protect American interests both at home and abroad. Noting growing trends of radicalization on western soil, research and intervention within the nation must be included as a means of counterterrorism.
  • Publication
    Heuristics & Biases Simplified: Easy to Understand One-Pagers that Use Plain Language & Examples to Simplify Human Judgement and Decision-Making Concepts
    (2019-08-09) Gullone, Brittany
    Behavioral Science is a new and quickly growing field of study that has found ways of capturing readers’ attention across a variety of industries. The popularity of this field has led to a wealth of terms, concepts, and materials that describe human behavior and decision making. Many of these resources are lengthy and complex and thus, may stand in the way of sharing knowledge. The intent of this document is to simplify a few key heuristics and biases. This will help the audience quickly and effectively communicate with others less familiar with these concepts. Each one-pager will highlight one concept with the following components:1)The definition using plain language 2) Real-world examples observed 3) Effective behavioral interventions 4) Additional resources for further learning. This document is NOT a comprehensive list of all heuristics, biases, or behavioral science concepts, nor does it capture all of the research, applications, or interventions to date. If effective, this document will serve as a quick reference guide or an introductory resource to a variety of audiences. This “bite-size” and high-level approach is intended to be easy to digest and captivating -consuming the least amount of readers’ time and cognitive effort possible.
  • Publication
    The Relationship between Complexity and Behavioral Bias
    (2019-08-09) Noel, Hamilton
    In the corporate workplace employees are routinely asked to do analysis of impacts, outcomes, demographics, and economic opportunities just to name a few. While these projects vary greatly in regard to their subject matter, they also vary in terms of complexity. Some are straightforward with few moving parts while others entail dozens of confounding variables and noise. Knowing that humans are not able to treat problems systematically and without bias, we propose the question: how do complexity and behavioral biases interact? Using case studies from an analysis done at an eCommerce company located in the Mountain West, this research found that different levels of complexity lend themselves to different behavioral biases. Complex problems create an environment where employees are more susceptible to creative interpretation, social pressure, and incentives. Less complex problems leave less room for creative interpretation but create situations where assumptions and findings are overstated.
  • Publication
    Using a Social Norms Framework to Study Latino Youth Beliefs about Sexual Harassment in High Schools
    (2019-08-09) Levano Gavidia, Maria Lorena
    Sexual harassment, defined as making an unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature, is highly prevalent all over the world. In this study sexual harassment in high schools is studied as this is one of the places where it has the highest prevalence and a time in life where an intervention can have the highest impact. Even though there are studies about sexual harassment preventive programs in schools, few of them consider the cultural differences, beliefs, and expectations of specific communities. This study fills that gap by focusing on the social norms around the behavior. Mixed methods were used, combining quantitative and qualitative techniques. Focus groups were done and a questionnaire was applied to identify the most common sexual harassment behaviors, as well as the existence or absence of personal normative beliefs, empirical expectations, and normative expectations around the phenomenon. Results evidenced that there are different normative and empirical expectations for girls and for boys that also vary depending on the specific type of harassment. Subtle types of sexual harassment for boys can be classified as a social norms; in other words, their motivations are not independent but socially conditioned. Furthermore, students expressed different factual beliefs about victims and perpetrators depending on their gender. The findings provide diverse evidence about how individual and interpersonal beliefs and expectations are related to sexual harassment in schools. Understanding these social processes is useful for designing culturally and socially grounded interventions for sexual harassment prevention in high schools.
  • Publication
    Ergodicity and You: Adaptive Heuristics in an Uncertain World
    (2019-12-02) Zovas, Justin
    Life requires making decisions under uncertainty. Facing complex, dynamic environments, decision-making processes should focus on the consequences of choices with time as a fundamental consideration. To that end, I recommend honing adaptive heuristics through trial and error while maintaining a margin of safety from ruin.
  • Publication
    Self-Oriented or Other-Oriented Empathic Concern Behind Altruism
    (2019-08-09) Yan, Zih-Yun
    It is hypothesized that empathic concern evokes altruistic motivation (Batson, 1991). As we can see in our daily life, stimulating empathy to the suffering is a common advertising strategy for charitable donation. While empathizing, we adopt the perspective of others and share their feelings so we can understand their need. Then, these empathic responses motivate us to have concern for others’ well-being and save them from any negative outcomes. However, whether altruistic behaviors are truly other-oriented or actually self-benefit motivated is still controversial. In this study, we focus on the empathy network in the human brain and use Multi- Voxel Pattern Analysis (MVPA) to provide new evidence in this debate. Adapting an established protocol of empathy-for-pain studies (Singer et al. 2004, 2006; Hein et al. 2010), we tested whether the neural activities of empathy can predict altruistic behaviors and how kin relationship modulate the willingness to take altruistic actions. In the experiment, daughters faced two types of conditions: in “Forced Choices” trials, subjects either passively received the shock or observed their mothers or strangers receiving the shock; in “Free Choices” trials, daughters had to actively decide whether to receive the shock themselves or to defer the shock to mothers and strangers. We find that when daughter chose to sacrifice themselves to receive the shock, the neural pattern in empathy network is more similar to when daughters themselves were in pain rather than observing others in pain. These finding suggest that altruistic choices are self-oriented process. We do not find a distinct neural pattern when subjects had to make the altruistic choices facing their mother or a stranger, however, the shock deferring rate to stranger is significantly higher than mother at the behavior level.
  • Publication
    Behavioral Science in Business: How to Successfully Apply Behavioral Science in A Corporate Setting
    (2019-08-09) Lindemann, Justin
    Over the past several years, behavioral science has slowly begun to creep its way out of the shadows and into the spotlight of the private sector. This transition has been facilitated in no small part by the efforts of academia and the proliferation of literature that offers a window into the countless ways in which behavioral science can help organizations guide people towards better outcomes. While companies are beginning to recognize the value of behavioral science, the application of this research is still in its infancy. Based on interviews with a number of practitioners, in addition to my own experience, this paper presents a basic road map that aspiring practitioners can follow as they set out to apply behavioral science in their own organizations. To simplify what is often an ambiguous topic, I have defined “behavioral problems” to mean any business challenge that involves people, while “behavioral solutions” can be distilled down to any solution that fixes these problems. The liberal interpretation of these terms highlights the broad reach that behavioral science can have in the corporate world.