Using Insights from Behavioral Economics to Strengthen Disaster Preparedness and Response

Published in: Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness, 2016

Posted on RAND.org on June 02, 2016

by Sebastian Linnemayr, Claire E. O'Hanlon, Lori Uscher-Pines, Kristin Van Abel, Christopher Nelson

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Behavioral economics is based on the idea that individuals' decisions are affected by systematic and predictable cognitive biases and that these same biases can be leveraged to change behavior and improve decision-making. Insights from behavioral economics have been used to encourage a range of desired behaviors but have rarely been used in disaster preparedness and response, though traditional efforts by public health practitioners have failed to increase adoption of key preparedness behaviors. In this work, we aim to show how some of the key concepts in the behavioral economics literature are applicable to behaviors related to disaster preparedness and response, and we present ideas for behavioral economics-based interventions that we vetted with public health officials. Two of the best-received interventions were applications of social norms approaches, which leverage social influence bias, and commitment devices, which leverage present bias and loss aversion. Although the current evidence base for the applications of concepts from behavioral economics in disaster preparedness and response is weak, behavioral economics has achieved positive results in similar decision-making contexts. The low cost and potentially high impact of behavioral economics-based interventions warrant further investigation and testing.

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