Analysing and changing unhealthy behaviour

Health care

About this minor

Do you know how we can change behaviour and improve health and wellbeing? Learn about the key concepts from behavioural and health economics! In this minor we apply psychology, behavioral and health economics to understand and develop interventions to improve health and behavior.

Take a look at our video here and learn more!

People generally attach great importance to their health and would name it as one of the key aspects for a happy life. Nonetheless, many people do not adhere to a healthy lifestyle and therefore seem to behave in conflict with their own life goals. Smoking, physical inactivity, rejecting vaccination and screening or not adhering to physicians’ recommendations are popular examples. This raises the question as to how we can change behaviour and improve health and wellbeing. This is a question of concern to individuals, schools, companies and governments, and is the central question in this minor.

The past decades have seen many different approaches as to how behaviour change can potentially be realised. Traditionally in many fields, but economics especially, individuals are seen as ‘rational decision-makers’, i.e. they know what they want, and make reasoned choices to achieve their goal of a better health and happiness. In this view, policies or interventions to promote behaviour change are only necessary when individuals are misinformed, or choice is limited.

In particular, two issues arise with this traditional approach to behaviour (change) that are the focus of this minor:

  • For most people health is very different from most other commodities. Questions of how to approach issues in health are the domain of health economics, which is one of the core components of this minor.

  • We all know that often people do not behave rationally when it concerns their own health and wellbeing. Understanding such non-rational behaviour requires insights from for example psychology and sociology, which are both central to behavioural economics – the second core component of this minor.

You will be introduced to the key concepts from behavioural and health economics, with examples related to health and healthcare. We will apply these concepts to i) understand health behaviour, both rational and non-rational, and ii) explore what this means for individuals, organisations and governments aiming to promote healthier behaviour (e.g., through nudging, boosting, incentives and regulation). Using these insights, you will select an actual health issue stakeholders from the field are trying to understand and change, in order to design an intervention, and reflect on it critically.

Learning outcomes

  • Explain and apply the traditional economic approach to rational choice, and discuss the merits and limitations of this approach for understanding and changing behaviour.
  • Apply basic economic and mathematical tools to demonstrate and/or explain how traditional assumptions about rationality are violated (e.g. using behavioural models).
  • Give examples of heuristics and biases in intertemporal choice, risky choice and social choice.
  • Apply these behavioural insights to understand and analyse health behaviour, in at least two settings: lifestyle choice, and patient and physician decision-making.
  • Differentiate between, provide arguments for and against, discuss challenges, and give examples of appropriate applications in health for the following five common (policy) interventions: a) nudging, b) boosting, c) (financial) incentives, d) taxation/regulation and e) information provision.
  • Apply insights from behavioural and health economics to develop and evaluate an intervention aimed at promoting health and/or wellbeing.

Good to know

  • Given that all teaching materials, lectures, working groups, exercises and exams will be in English, sufficient skills in understanding, reading, speaking and writing in English is a requirement for succesful participation in this minor.
  • You will work together in small groups on developing your own health behaviour change intervention.
  • Although the study load is based on fulltime, teaching activities are, in principle, scheduled on two weekdays on campus, with the remaining days reserved for preparation individual and group assignments.
  • Applying insights from health and behavioural economics will often involve the use of algebra and calculus. In this course, this will involve exercises requiring the equivalent of high school math skills. Nonetheless, there are no entry requirements, and material will be available at the start and during the course for students to acquire these skills.

Teaching method and examination

All lectures and work groups for this course will in principle take place in person. Each week will have several interactive lectures and working groups, in which students will work individually and in groups on cases specific to the learning goal of that week. For example, by analysing a specific health behaviour using the new knowledge covered in the lectures, or by debating positions on different policies for health behaviour change. Throughout the minor, students develop a portfolio that includes their weekly reflection on the covered material in various forms (e.g., short essay, slides, or vlog). Furthermore, they will apply an existing behavioural insights toolkit to a case to develop an intervention which is also presented to other students and teachers.

Teaching material
The teaching materials will be a selection of journal articles and book chapters. Suggestions for additional reading (mainly popular science books) will be offered during the course. Several case studies are discussed during the working groups, and students work on a case and intervention during the later weeks of the minor.

Students will be examined by means of a written exam (consisting of mostly essay questions and some numerical applications), through their portfolio and the behavioural health intervention. The portfolio contains reflection exercises focused on the material that should be completed each week. The behavioural intervention contains a case analysis for a specific unhealthy behaviour (potentially involving stakeholders from the field), and a suggested intervention to promote behaviour change in the case selected that is also presented.

The written exam counts for 50% of the grade. The portfolio with reflection exercises is worth 10% of the grade. The behavioural health intervention counts for 40% of the grade. To pass this course, students need a weighted average grade of 5.5 or higher, and get at least a 5.0 for each of the three parts.

The written exam can be retaken later in the academic year, but the weekly portfolio exercises cannot. Students that receive a grade lower than 5.0 for the behavioural health intervention can hand in a resit intervention. The maximum grade for this resit intervention is a 6.0. Participation in weekly working groups is not mandatory but recommended to achieve the learning goals and successful completion of the weekly reflection in the portfolio.

Link to more information

  • Credits
    ECTS 15
  • Level
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  • Start date

    2 September 2024

    • Ends
      8 November 2024
    • Term *
      Block MINOR
    • Location
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These offerings are valid for students of Erasmus University