Associate Research Professor and Research Area Coordinator for the Behavioural Economics area
I have an unusual background for an ESRI economist. I originally studied neuroscience and only retrained as an economist later during a spell in journalism. The potential overlap between the two areas led me back into research and, more specifically, to behavioural economics. Understanding how people make economic decisions is vital to understanding the workings of the economy as a whole.
I joined the Institute in 2006. Although my main aim was to establish research in behavioural economics within the ESRI, at that time there was very little behavioural economics being done in Ireland. I began by studying why some people participate in sport and physical activity and others don’t. I also did work on the formation and dissolution of couples and families. The focus was always on how people make decisions and what influences them.
"We are breaking new ground in the relationship between evidence and policy: pre-testing regulations before they are potentially rolled out."
After a time, opportunities came up to work on consumer behaviour, eventually leading to the setting up of PRICE Lab (Programme of Research Investigating Consumer Evaluation). The central idea is that well designed laboratory experiments can give insights into how consumers make decisions and how to help them to make better ones. We secured funding from the main economic regulators, who were becoming convinced of the importance of behavioural economics. The priority for PRICE Lab is to investigate how consumers cope with complex products, such as financial products and contracts for services like energy and telecoms. We are breaking new ground in the relationship between evidence and policy: pre-testing regulations before they are potentially rolled out.
Work on physical activity is ongoing and still interests me; it has a strong link to life outcomes and is of growing importance for public policy. One of the things that behavioural economics teaches us is that there is a surprisingly strong relationship between choosing whether to be physically active and, for instance, choosing to take out a loan – both are a trade-off between now and the future.
"I enjoy the access it gives me to international networks of researchers and policymakers in my field, mostly from the UK, Europe and the United States."
There is no such thing as an average day. I generally try to get all my administrative duties out of the way by coffee at 11am, but it’s not always possible. After that, I concentrate on research. I might discuss experimental designs with colleagues, analyse data or write papers and reports. Often days involve meetings and phone calls with funders and other stakeholders, or presentations of research findings.
The ESRI is a very comfortable place to work; it’s friendly, collegiate and has a clear mission that is well understood. I also enjoy the access it gives me to international networks of researchers and policymakers in my field, mostly from the UK, Europe and the United States. The Institute’s profile and its relevance to Irish society makes it an attractive place to work for anyone who is interested not only in doing research, but in doing research that matters.