Behavioural Economics

There is growing interest in the application of behavioural studies to a wide range of policy areas. These provide a more nuanced and evidence-based understanding of people's behaviour, allowing policy makers to:

  • Design better policies, especially in those cases where the individual's response affects the effectiveness of a given policy (e.g. attempts to protect the consumer).
  • Gently influence behaviour, or nudge, in cases where behaviour change is the main policy objective (such as getting people to quit smoking or eat healthier food).

Behavioural Studies for European Policies (BESTEP)

In 2010, the European Commission set up the Framework Contract for the Provision of Behavioural Studies (FCPBS). Its purpose is to facilitate the running of behavioural studies in support of EU policy-making. The IPTS IS Unit contributes to this initiative by providing technical advice to Commission services in the conception, design and execution of behavioural studies. This activity is a formal collaboration between the JRC and DG SANCO, entitled Behavioural Studies for European Policies (BESTEP).

The IPTS IS Unit has already been involved in over 10 studies conducted within the FCPBS, and has published a policy brief to introduce the notion of behavioural studies for EU policy-making. It will continue offering support to Commission services for the foreseeable future. In addition, there will be a workshop in 2014 to take stock of the achievements of the FCPBS, to be followed by a report identifying barriers, bottlenecks and best practices for good behavioural studies. The date of the workshop will be announced here.

Consumer Information in the Digital Online Market (CIDOM)

TThe IPTS IS Unit is supporting DG JUST's efforts to create a consumer information model for the online digital market. This model will complement the guidance on the Consumer Rights Directive (which will enter into force in Member States on 13 June 2014) for national enforcement authorities. The new Directive will bring about a change in the legislative basis for consumer information regarding digital products.

The model will build on behavioural insights. It will be a mechanism for allowing important information to reach consumers in such a way that they understand it and feel safe about their online transactions.

The IPTS IS Unit is conducting a literature review, a review of business practices, a series of interviews with industry representatives, and a laboratory experiment in order to identify policy options. The industry representatives will include some of the market leaders in the field of digital products such as media products, games, and mobile applications. The laboratory experiment will include a representative sample of more than 600 consumers to test the insights analysed in previous phases of the study.
The project runs for a year – preliminary results are expected in March 2014.

Behavioural Responses to Privacy Visceral Notices (BREVE)

Behaviourally-informed approaches to regulatory problems have already been shown to be effective in a wide range of areas. The BREVE (Behavioural Responses to Privacy Visceral Notices) project explores the degree to which nudges can change behaviour in the area of digital privacy.

Existing legal safeguards (e.g. informed consent and privacy notices) intended to foster privacy-protective behaviour appear to be ineffective. As several studies have shown, although people say they are concerned about their privacy, they do not behave accordingly (privacy paradox). They seem to disclose more personal data and not even read privacy notices.

Behavioural research has shown that people are influenced by how information is presented (or framed). Identifying the appropriate design to display online privacy information, therefore, could help users make better decisions. The traditional option of 'notice and choice' need not be entirely discarded; perhaps it can be simply complemented with some nudging.

The BREVE project will study the impact of different kinds of innovative online privacy notices (including e.g. anthropomorphic characters and informal interfaces). It will benefit from collaboration with experts on applying behavioural economics to privacy issues, such as Alessandro Acquisti from Carnegie Mellon University. The findings will contribute to the debate on whether soft or hard legislation is required to protect citizens' privacy. Preliminary results are expected by the end of 2014.


Recent Events

Good behavioural research for EU policy making workshop. Seville, 16 May 2014

Workshop report

Photo Gallery


Conference panel on applying behavioural insights to online privacy

The 23 January 2014, the IS Unit organised a panel session, entitled "Nudging Internet Citizens: Lessons from behavioural studies on online privacy" at the VII International Conference Computers, Privacy and Data Protection

This conference, which took place this year in Brussels on 22-24 January, is an annual gathering of policy-makers, academics and industry representatives interested in privacy and data protection. This year more than 800 people took part and 60 panel sessions were organised. The event offered the opportunity for the IS Unit to present its most recent behavioural study, Behavioural Responses to Privacy Visceral Notices (BREVE).


Rene van Bavel
Nuria Rodriguez