Attentional and Perceptual Foundations of Economic Behavior

Welcome to a program dedicated to a new approach to understanding economic behavior.

Over the last few decades, behavioral economics has grown into one of the most important branches of economics. Yet the behavioral revolution remains incomplete. It is not yet reflected in the “core” curriculum of many departments of economics in proportion to its growth and influence, and some applied subfields of the discipline have yet to incorporate it to any great extent; little work in macroeconomics, for example, makes use of the models, methods, or findings of behavioral economics. This is partly due to a perceived lack of unifying principles.

It is time to bridge the gap and develop these principles. We believe that the time is now ripe for a program of unification. Much-needed unifying principles can be found in theoretical and empirical research on how attention and perception shape human decision-making. The goal of this program is to help facilitate, shape and energize this process of unification. Through a series of workshops, symposia, and summer schools, the program aims to build a research community working to link psychological, neural, and behavioral aspects of attention and perception with individual and aggregate economic behavior.

Linking psychology and neuroscience with behavioral economics.

This project, led by economics professors from NYU, Columbia University, and the University of Zurich, and sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Nomis Foundation, seeks to facilitate and energize interdisciplinary research linking psychological, neural, and behavioral aspects of attention and perception with microeconomic behavior and macroeconomic outcomes.

The high promise of unification and fundamental change will not be realized spontaneously. Because the work that needs to be advanced is fundamentally interdisciplinary, we must help researchers from the different disciplines to become familiar with the language, the methods, the focus and the primary questions posed in each of them. Fundamental progress will not occur unless there is a sufficient common understanding among the involved disciplines, and that will not occur unless there is a coordinated effort that establishes continuous exchange and interaction between the relevant communities.

Opening new research possibilities.

The Sloan-Nomis Program on Attentional and Perceptual Foundations in Economic Behavior will accelerate and shape research of at least four particular types:

  1. New measurement methods linking behavior with attention. By adapting methods from psychological research to economics, researchers will be better able to evaluate their potential to improve understanding of economic behavior.

  3. New theoretical foundations for behavioral biases firmly grounded in attentional constraints. Once these new measurement methods are introduced and integrated into economic analysis, more empirically guided theories can be developed that ground otherwise diverse heuristics and biases, perhaps even unifying them under newly developed theoretical frameworks.

  5. Causal measurement of how attentional constraints impact behavioral biases and insecurities. We must explicitly measure and manipulate attention and perception to evaluate the causal impact of attentional and perceptual constraints on economic behavior.

  7. Attentional foundations for inefficient aggregate adjustment. As an example of a more applied issue for the program’s focus, we expect to address the question of how economists should understand both apparently inefficient delays in the adjustment of people’s behavior to some kinds of changes in market conditions, and over-reaction to others.

An event series that brings economists, psychologists, and neuroscientists together to exchange ideas.

To achieve these objectives, this program will organize a series of interdisciplinary research symposia, in addition to more pedagogical events, to build durable bridges between economics, psychology and neuroscience. These events will involve senior researchers as well as junior faculty and Ph.D. students across the relevant fields, helping to facilitate the exchange of ideas across disciplines, encourage and accelerate publications relevant to the program’s agenda, and help to train new students, post-doctoral researchers and faculty in these emerging methodologies.

To support the program, we have also created this website which, in addition to providing information about events and symposia, should provide a central site at which to post and maintain teaching materials, conference presentations, and important research aids, such as resources related to reproducibility. We hope that using this site will allow a larger group of scholars and students to benefit from the program, and further facilitate the research community’s growth.

To see past and upcoming events, please visit the Events page.

This site is administrated by the C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics.