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Lord Gus O'Donnell launches new Behavioural Economics MSc

Former British senior civil servant and economist speaks at launch of new course

by George Wigmore (Senior Communications Officer)

Behavioural economics can make a difference to public life but needs to enhance integrity and be a force for good, according to a speech given by Right Honourable Lord Gus O'Donnell at City University London.

The event, which was chaired by prominent UCL Psychologist Professor Adrian Furnham and also featured Rory Sutherland, Vice-Chairman of Ogilvy Group UK, took place at the launch for a new Behavioural Economics MSc.

“Behavioural economics is the future,” said Lord O’Donnell at the event. “It is becoming more mainstream… [but] with nudging you need to be incredibly careful.”

Behavioural economics has opened new windows on human judgement in relation to economic decisions, and it also affords new insights into how to influence people to behaviour in good (and bad) ways. Enhancing integrity in public life is essential to an orderly and efficient society.

Delivered between the Departments of Economics and Psychology in the School of Arts and Social Sciences at City, the new Behavioural Economic MSc applies psychological insights into human behaviour to investigate how people make economic decisions. This event celebrates the launch of this ground-breaking new course at City, bringing together some of the biggest names in the field of behavioural economics.

Gus O'Donnell At the event, Lord Gus O’Donnell - the former British senior civil servant and economist, who served as the Cabinet Secretary between 2005 and 2011 - concentrated on the aspects of integrity in public life and interesting public policy questions about how to ensure both public and private nudges are ‘for good’.

He also spoke about when it is right to nudge; how to ensure nudging does more good than harm; examples of good and bad nudges; and where new ideas are needed.

At the event, Rory Sutherland, who is regarded as one of marketing and advertising's most original thinkers and a recognised thought-leader in the field of digital marketing, spoke "in praise of good social science - and a small word in defence of bad social science".

Arguing that conventional economics has a blinkered view of human behaviour and is creatively extraordinarily limiting, Rory Sutherland also highlighted how good (and even indifferent) ideas from behavioural economics have a huge value simply by reducing our false certainties about how behave and make choices under conditions of uncertainty.

Speaking at the event about behavioural economics, and its effects, Rory Sutherland said: “The same information has very different outcomes depending on how it is framed… we should design options and choices to work with the brain evolution has given us.”

Speaking about the event, Philip Corr, Professor of Psychology and course director of the Behavioural Economics MSc, said:“Behaviour economics has become an integral part of public life, as we use it to not only better understand how human judgement affects economic decision making, but also it enables us to use ‘nudges’ to influence decision making and improve integrity in public life. This new MSc provides an ideal opportunity for those with an interest in psychology and economics to develop your skills and knowledge in both areas and prepare for a wide variety of roles.”

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