Skip to main content


  • Till Grüne-Yanoff (a1)

Proponents of behavioural policies seek to justify them as ‘evidence-based’. Yet they typically fail to show through which mechanisms these policies operate. This paper shows – at the hand of examples from economics and psychology – that without sufficient mechanistic evidence, one often cannot determine whether a given policy in its target environment will be effective, robust, persistent or welfare-improving. Because these properties are important for justification, policies that lack sufficient support from mechanistic evidence should not be called ‘evidence-based’.

Hide All
Andrews, G. 1999. Efficacy, effectiveness and efficiency in mental health service delivery. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 33: 316322.
Benartzi, S. and Lewin, R.. 2012. Save More Tomorrow: Practical Behavioral Finance Solutions to Improve 401(k) Plans. New York, NY: Penguin.
Berg, N. and Gigerenzer, G.. 2010. As-if behavioral economics: neoclassical economics in disguise? History of Economic Ideas 18: 133166.
Beshears, J., Choi, J. J., Laibson, D. and Madrian, B. C.. 2009. The importance of default options for retirement saving outcomes: evidence from the United States. In Social Security Policy in a Changing Environment, ed. Brown, J. R., Liebman, J. B. and Wise, D. A., 167195. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Brown, J. R., Farrell, A. M. and Weisbenner, S. J.. 2012. The Downside of Defaults (No. orrc12-05). National Bureau of Economic Research. (Accessed 22 March 2015)
Cain, D. M., Loewenstein, G. and Moore, D. A.. 2011. When sunlight fails to disinfect: Understanding the perverse effects of disclosing conflicts of interest. Journal of Consumer Research 37: 836857.
Cartwright, N. 2009a. What is this thing called ‘efficacy’? In Philosophy of the Social Sciences. Philosophical Theory and Scientific Practice, ed. Mantzavinos, C., 185206. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cartwright, N. 2009b. Evidence-based policy: what's to be done about relevance? Philosophical Studies 143: 127136.
Cartwright, N. 2012. Will this policy work for you? predicting effectiveness better: how philosophy helps. Philosophy of Science 79: 973989.
Cartwright, N. and Hardie, J.. 2012. Evidence-based Policy: A Practical Guide to Doing it Better. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Clarke, B., Gillies, D., Illari, P., Russo, F. and Williamson, J.. 2014. Mechanisms and the evidence hierarchy. Topoi 33: 339360.
Craver, C. F. 2006. What mechanistic models explain. Synthese 153: 355376.
Felsen, G. and Reiner, P. B.. 2015. What can neuroscience contribute to the debate over nudging? Review of Philosophy and Psychology 6: 469479.
Frederick, S., Loewenstein, G. and O'Donoghue, T.. 2002. Time discounting and time preference: a critical review. Journal of Economic Literature 40: 351401.
Gigerenzer, G. (2008). Why heuristics work. Perspectives on Psychological Science 3: 2029.
Grüne-Yanoff, T. and Hertwig, R.. 2015. Nudge versus boost: how coherent are policy and theory? Minds and Machines. doi: 10.1007/s11023-015-9367-9.
Halpern, D. 2014. Nudge unit: our quiet revolution is putting evidence at heart of government. The Guardian, 4.2.2014. (Retrieved 26 February 2014).
Illari, P. M. 2011. Mechanistic evidence: disambiguating the Russo–Williamson thesis. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 25: 139157.
Illari, P. M. and Williamson, J.. 2012. What is a mechanism? Thinking about mechanisms across the sciences. European Journal for Philosophy of Science 2: 119135.
Johnson, E. and Goldstein, D.. 2003. Do defaults save lives? Science 302: 13381339.
Levitt, S. D. and List, J. A.. 2009. Field experiments in economics: the past, the present, and the future. European Economic Review 53: 118.
Loewenstein, G. 1996. Out of control: visceral influences on behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 65: 272292.
McKenzie, C. R., Liersch, M. J. and Finkelstein, S. R.. 2006. Recommendations implicit in policy defaults. Psychological Science 17: 414420.
Park, C. W., Jun, S. Y. and MacInnis, D. J.. 2000. Choosing what I want versus rejecting what I do not want: an application of decision framing to product option choice decisions. Journal of Marketing Research 37: 187202.
Raz, J. 1986. The Morality of Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sah, S., Loewenstein, G. and Cain, D. M.. 2013. The burden of disclosure: increased compliance with distrusted advice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 104: 289304.
Sozou, P. D. 1998. On hyperbolic discounting and uncertain hazard rates. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences 265: 20152020.
Steel, D. 2008. Across the Boundaries: Extrapolation in Biology and Social Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Strickland, S. 2014. Does it work to pay people to live healthier lives? British Medical Journal 348: 24582459.
Sunstein, C. R. and Thaler, R. H.. 2003. Libertarian paternalism is not an oxymoron. University of Chicago Law Review 70: 11591202.
Thaler, R. H. and Benartzi, S.. 2004. Save more tomorrow: using behavioral economics to increase employee savings. Journal of Political Economy 112: 164187.
Thaler, R. H. and Benartzi, S.. 2013. Behavioral economics and the retirement savings crisis. Science 339: 11521153.
Thaler, R. H. and Sunstein, C. R.. 2008. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth And Happiness. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D.. 1991. Loss aversion in riskless choice: a reference-dependent model. Quarterly Journal of Economics 106: 10391061.
Woodward, J. 2003. Making Things Happen: A Theory of Causal Explanation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Economics & Philosophy
  • ISSN: 0266-2671
  • EISSN: 1474-0028
  • URL: /core/journals/economics-and-philosophy
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 7
Total number of PDF views: 170 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 624 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 19th March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.