In the policy area of the information study, behavioural economics studies individuals' interactions with digital technology, or digital behaviour. The term is not new. It has already been studied by consulting companies seeking to provide an overview of how consumers are using digital consumer goods. From the point of view of the European policy-maker, however, digital behaviour is relevant for different reasons:
- The digital consumer and citizen needs to be protected, from malicious advertising, on-line tracking, companies tricking them into revealing more about their personal information than they would like, etc.
- Insights about digital behaviour should lead to better provision of digital public services, such as eHealth, eLearning and eGovernment.
- Digital products can be used in novel ways to deliver nudges to citizens in order to promote behaviour which is in the public interest (i.e. healthier lifestyle, recycling, etc.)
Behavioural Studies for European Policies
Since 2012, JRC provides support, at all stages of the policy process, to Commission services wishing to incorporate behavioural insights into their policies.
As part of a collaboration agreement with the Directorate-General for Health & Consumers, the JRC provides support to the conception, design, management and interpretation of studies conducted within the Framework Contract for Behavioural Studies. The topics covered include topics such as on-line gambling, on-line provision of information about energy efficiency of household appliances, and proposals for a Common European Sales Law. The policy areas in which the JRC has provided its services include health and consumer protection, justice and home affairs, environment, the information society, the Single Market, energy and competition. Demand for behavioural studies is increasing and the advisory role of the JRC is likely to expand in the coming years.
On-line consumer purchases of digital products
The JRC is currently running a project on the provision of consumer information in the digital online market in collaboration with the Directorate General for Justice. The results of this activity will feed into the guidelines that the Directorate General for Justice intends to publish early in 2014 to clarify the provisions related to digital goods in the Consumer Rights Directive. In particular, the role of JRC is to provide (a) a state of the art literature review in behavioural sciences related to the most effective mechanisms to provide information to consumers, (b) a series of in-depth, semi-structured interview with managers of the most important companies in the market building-up a review of best existing business practices to understand which mechanisms are already in use and (c) a behavioural experiment with a representative sample of 600 consumers to test in the lab some possible solutions.
Physical Activity among Young People
Experimental online survey among young people to better understand what determines young people's intention to do physical activity
Obesity is a growing health problem, and sedentary lifestyle is a big contributor to it. Given that the youth is increasingly connected through ICT and acknowledging that nudges can lead to changes in behaviour, the policy challenge is to develop ICT-enabled nudges to change physical activity habits in young people. In early 2013 the JRC tested the effect of different messages on 16 to 24 year-olds in Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania in an experimental online survey. A control group received no message, one treatment group was told that the majority of their peers were physically active (positive nudge), and another treatment group was told that the majority was not physically active (negative nudge). Unexpectedly, both treatment groups showed a similar and significant positive effect on their intention to behave. Only further analysis unveiled the different mechanisms and drivers these messages triggered, and thus explained the results. Conclusion for the policymakers: in order to be effective, public health messages need to be finely-targeted and framed differently depending on the target audience. Given the possibility of narrowly identifying profiles and sending tailored messages in an on-line environment, this is a realistic option in public health messaging.
More information: Behavioural Economics