Obama: Agencies Should Use Behavioral Science

September 17, 2015

Many congressional Republicans have mocked the idea of federal support for behavioral research (and tried to cut it). But President Obama this week expressed backing for such research. He signed an executive order that praised the value of behavioral science and told U.S. agencies to look for ways to apply behavioral science findings to make various policies and programs more effective.

"A growing body of evidence demonstrates that behavioral science insights -- research findings from fields such as behavioral economics and psychology about how people make decisions and act on them -- can be used to design government policies to better serve the American people," the executive order says. "Where federal policies have been designed to reflect behavioral science insights, they have substantially improved outcomes for the individuals, families, communities and businesses those policies serve. For example, automatic enrollment and automatic escalation in retirement savings plans have made it easier to save for the future, and have helped Americans accumulate billions of dollars in additional retirement savings. Similarly, streamlining the application process for federal financial aid has made college more financially accessible for millions of students."

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