Interview with Gordon D.A. Brown

Behavioural Economics is a rapidly expanding field and everyday new research is being developed in academia, tested and implemented by practitioners in financial organisation, development agencies, government ‘nudge’ units and more. This series (a collaboration between Etinosa Agbonlahor and Merle van den Akker) features 12 behavioural economists and behavioural scientists whose work and research is at the forefront of the field. In today's interview the answers are provided by Gordon Brown.

Gordon Brown (not the politician) is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Warwick. You could say Gordon is doing pretty well for himself as he recently won a huge (think over one million pounds) grant from the ESRC. Gordon has published many a paper on models in psychology, and it is likely yyou have read, or are aware of these papers and models. Moreover, Gordon was key in the setting up (and continious to teach on) the MSc Behavioural and Economic Science. So let's hear it from Gordon:

Who or what got you into Behavioural Economics?

First, I’d probably classify myself more as a behavioural scientist than a behavioural economist – “Behavioural Economics” suggests “economics qualified by an adjective”, whereas many of us would regard behavioural science as a more radical departure from traditional economic approaches, and one that takes a different starting point. 

But to answer the question: On the research side, it became clear that our simple mathematical models of judgement and decision-making were relevant to some of the central concerns of economists and policy-makers. On the equally-important “people” side, the influx of several exceptional behavioural scientists and behavioural economists into Warwick (Psychology Department and Business School) created the ideal interdisciplinary research environment.

What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural economist?

Helping Neil Stewart set up and teach on Warwick’s unique MSc in Behavioural and Economic Science. 

If you weren’t a behavioural economist, what would you be doing?

Probably being a cognitive/mathematical psychologist.

How do you apply behavioural economics in your personal life?

I use a number of strategies from the “save more tomorrow” and “mental accounting” research traditions, and have also changed my consumption patterns in response to research on consumption and subjective well-being.

With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural economist? Are there any recommendations you would make?

An ability to develop, or at least understand, formal models is important, along with an open mind. 

How do you think behavioural economics will develop (in the next 10 years)?

Again thinking of behavioural science more generally rather than specifically behavioural economics, I think we will see more and better models of the individual-level psychological effects of inequality. I hope we will see models that go beyond the “critiquing and tweaking” approach; there is still a tendency to identify problems with the “standard model” and then modify that model in minimal ways, rather than looking for a positive alternative approach. I predict that economic models of identity will come much more to the foreground. 

Thanks Gordon! Want to read more? The previous interview was done with Graham Loomes. Originally this series was supposed to have only 6 academic interviews, but as it turned out to be quite popular, I will make this a more regular part of the blog. So, expect another interview later this month, done by Chris Starmer! Want to get a more business-focus viewpoint for BE? Etinosa has done the same interview with BE practitioners in business, read those here.