What is Behavioural Economics?

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What is Behavioural Economics?

Behavioural Economics studies and seeks to understand ‘how’ and ‘why’ people behave in certain ways.  Through combining theories around traditional economics psychology, social marketing, philosophy, ethics, and more, behavioural economics provides tools and experimental methods around encouraging people to make positive behavioural choices (i.e. behaviour change).

Behavioural Economics sits within the Social Sciences – in that, it is about the science of people.

Gathering an understanding of behavioural economics, behavioural insights and behaviour change is important in order to achieve sustainable development and positive outcomes for policy, industry, and society.

A sample of the main principles within the field of Behavioural Economics are:


A graphic outlining some of the core principles of behavioual economics from Professor Thaler

The above principles sit at the heart of Behavioural Economics and provide a foundation of how as Behavioural Economists, we are able to understand and therefore influence future decisions made by our communities.

According to Thaler, Behavioural Economics can help us break down large, wicked problems into smaller, actionable questions about behaviour.

For example, if we wanted to achieve positive progress towards an issue such as “Support Environmental Sustainability at Universities” we might ask questions like:

  • Why is recyclable plastic packaging ending up in landfill, and how can we redirect it?
  • Where should the bins be placed on campus, and what types of bins?
  • How might we encourage more people to walk, cycle, carpool or use public transport or scooters to get to Uni?
  • Which areas use the most energy and when? How might we reduce use and/or replace with renewable energy sources?

As you can see, these questions break down a large problem into achievable ‘stepping stones’, which all require knowing more about behavioural insights and behavioural change.   This knowledge is gained through conducting a range of experiments including laboratory, field, or natural experiments in order to understand current behaviours, and to test alternative options.

Knowing more about people, and how to support them, is key to making the world a better place; and Behavioural Economics is a way for us to achieve this.

AMB130: Multi-disciplinary Approaches to Behaviour Change

Dr Kate Letheren and Brittany Currenti, designers of the new unit AMB130 (introductory unit for the behavioural economics major) are excited to share their innovative learning design that uses serious games for student engagement and learning.  They have designed “Challenges and Changelings,” a groundbreaking behaviour change game that is reshaping the way students learn about behaviour change. The gamified, cross disciplinary approach empowers students to team up to tackle real social problems in a hands-on and immersive way.

Every week, the student teams confront a ‘Changeling’ representing a behavioural challenge (see distraction Changeling image) and must critically decide which of five behaviour change discipline(s) are best suited to address the issue in order to be successful.  The disciplines that feature in the unit are behavioural economics, economics, social marketing, communications and law.  Students receive points for selecting an appropriate strategy that defeats the Changeling, and receive a small prize for engaging with the game throughout the semester.

So far this approach has generated high student attendance in class with very positive feedback about the effect on learning.

From mid-semester onwards, students work in teams to tackle the biggest Changeling of all – a real world behavioural challenge from an industry or government client.

This innovative unit is a collaborative effort spearheaded by Dr Kate Letheren, Deputy Co-Director of the Centre for Behavioural Economics, Society and Technology (BEST), and Brittany Currenti, QUT alumnus, industry researcher and PhD student, and they are joined in delivering the unit by Nicholas Grech, a QUT BEST PhD student.

Stay tuned for more updates as we continue this enriching journey through the realm of behavioural economics! Find out more. 

These images are the character cards students receive as they adopt the perspective of one of the behaviour change disciplines in their team.


Behavioural Economics for YOU | Professor Uwe Dulleck (Co-Director, BEST Centre)

What problems can BE help to solve? | Professor Rebekah Russell-Bennett (Co-Director, BEST Centre)

Using Behavioural Economics in the Real World | Dr Kate Letheren & Dr Stephen Whyte (Co-Deputy Directors, BEST Centre)

Thinking like a Behavioural Economist | Professor Benno Torgler (Program Lead, BEST Centre)

Meet Our Students | Alex Zimbatu, Aleksandra Van Hummel, Steve Bickley, Rachel Hall & Chelsea Phillips

Studying a Bachelor of Business (Behavioural Economics) | What are the classes about? What will you learn?

Human behaviour is complex, so our classes try to understand behaviour from a range of different, multi-disciplinary angles. You’ll learn about the ways different disciplines see (and change) behaviour, how to work with behaviour legally and ethically, how to collect and analyse human data, and how to bring all of this together to create real-world impact for industry and policy.

What types of jobs use Behavioural Economics?

An understanding of human behaviour (and how to positively influence it) is important for many in-demand jobs. With a Behavioural Economics major, you might become:

  • A policy advisor: Working with governments to create policies that really work and create a better world.
  • A behavioural scientist: Studying how people behave and testing new ways to encourage positive behaviours.
  • A data analyst: Working with complex information about people and discovering new insights and trends.
  • A business strategist: Helping large and small businesses to understand how people act and how we can support them with services that work for them.

And many more…

Learn more about the Bachelor of Business (Behavioural Economics), HERE.

Studying a Graduate Certificate in Business (Behavioural Economics)

Behavioural Economics is designed to equip you with knowledge, critical thinking skills, and technical abilities for understanding human behaviour and analysing the impact of public policy on society, business, and individuals.

You’ll acquire foundational knowledge of key Behavioural Economics principles and their application to multiple contexts. You’ll develop the ability to contribute to public discourse on contemporary issues affecting Australia and the globe, including environmental concerns, employment, taxation, public health and infrastructure planning. You’ll be confident in presenting complex ideas using a variety of communication modes and be keenly aware of the social and ethical landscape in which you’re operating.

Behavioural Economics is an emerging discipline, which leverages our unique research and teaching strengths, and is increasingly gaining popularity within industry and government.

Course Highlights:

  • Learn more about the theoretical foundations of Behavioural Economics
  • Gain foundational knowledge and analytical skills that sit at the intersection of economics and psychology to analyse issues and challenges relevant to industry, government and society.
  • Learn experimental methods in order to learn how to best approach behaviour change activities

Learn more about the Graduate Certificate in Behavioural Economics, HERE.

Learn more about Behavioural Economics

If you’d like to learn more about behavioural economics, you can:

  1. Look out for any upcoming information nights listed on our Events page
  2. Have a look at some of the real-world projects that use behavioural economics: Here
  3. Join our BEST Friends group, for updates from the BEST Centre: Here
  4. Check out these books:
    1. Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
    2. Predictably Irrational – Dan Ariely
    3. Nudge – Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
    4. Misbehaving – Richard Thaler
  5. Have a look at the TED Talks at the bottom of this page
  6. Visit the “What is behavioural economics and how do I learn about it?” page for information on our Graduate Certificate in Behavioural Economics.
  7. Contact us at best@qut.edu.au

This information has been contributed by Centre for Behavioural Economics, Society and Technology.

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