Paul Dolan is an internationally renowned expert on happiness, behaviour and public policy. He is currently a Professor of Behavioural Science in the Department of Social Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
There are three main themes to his work. The first focuses on developing measures of happiness and subjective well-being that can be used in policy. He was recently asked to write the questions that are now being used in large surveys in the UK to monitor national happiness. He is currently looking at the happiness hit of the 2012 Olympic Games by measuring happiness in London, Paris and Berlin across three years. Earlier in his career, he was responsible for the generation of the tariff of health state values that are used by UK health policy makers in the calculation of quality-adjusted life years. The current UK estimates of the economic and social costs of crime are based on his work. Amongst other professional activities, he is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences Panel on measuring wellbeing, a member of the National Wellbeing Advisory Forum for the Office for National Statistics in the UK, and is Chief Academic Advisor to the UK Government on economic appraisal. He has advised most government departments in the UK on how to value benefits that are hard to measure, like health.
The second theme to Paul’s work considers ways in which the lessons from the behavioural sciences can be used to understand and change individual behaviour, and to add to the evidence base in this regard. Informed by the latest evidence that most of our behaviour simply comes about rather than being thought about, he is focussing on how situations and contexts influence behaviour. He is currently looking at how people change their energy consumption in response to information about other people’s energy consumption (and it changes quite a bit), and also at whether people eat more when they are incentivised to exercise (and they do eat more, quite a lot more in fact). This work is summarised in the ‘Mindspace’ report for the Cabinet Office. At the request of the head of the UK civil service, he was seconded into the Behavioural Insights Team in 2010 to help embed the ‘mindspace way’ into policymaking. Amongst his current professional activities, he is a member of the Cognitive and Behavioural Sciences Panel of the World Economic Forum and an expert advisor to Ofgem. He has worked with many clients on behaviour changes, including Aviva, ABN-AMRO, and Shell.
The third theme to his work is to use lab and field experiments to address major challenges, such as the impact of interventions on people’s lives and on their behaviour. Lab experiments, where participants are subject to tightly controlled tests of choice and behaviour, are widely used in the social sciences to determine the underlying mechanisms of preferences. Natural field experiments, where people are randomised to different interventions in natural field settings, are fast becoming the gold standard way of establishing causality in the social sciences. Human beings are not especially good at predicting their behaviour, and not much better at recalling the reasons for it, and so, where possible, we must observe the human animal in its natural environment. We need to more like David Attenborough and a lot less like Michael Parkinson in our approach to gathering evidence. Amongst his current professional activities, he is co-director of the Centre for the Study of Incentives in Health. He has worked with many clients on experiments, including the Department for Education, Money Advice Service and Nestle.
Position: Professor of Behavioural Science
Address: Department of Social Policy, LSE, Houghton Street, London, WC2A 2AE
Visit his profile at the LSE Website: Click Here
Degrees and awards
Philip Leverhulme Prize in Economics (2002) for contribution to health economics
D.Phil. Econ, University of York “Issues in the valuation of health outcomes” (1997)
M.Sc. (Econ, with distinction), University of York (1991)
B.Sc. (Econ), University of Swansea (1989)
Current professional activities
- Chief Academic Advisor on Economic Appraisal, Government Economic Service
- Member of Measuring National Wellbeing Advisory Forum
- Member of Advisory Panel on subjective wellbeing, National Academy of Sciences
- Co-director, Centre for the Study of Incentives in Health
- Co-investigator, Understanding Behaviour Change Research Centre, DfE
- Visiting Professor, Imperial College London
- Associate, Institute for Government
- Associate Editor, Journal of Economic Psychology
His first achievements were in developing ways of valuing health so that resources can be allocated more efficiently. The most important innovation has been the explicit consideration of preferences for health states, which has led to the widespread use of quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) around the world. His work on QALYs has also led to advances outside of health e.g. in the way the UK Home Office values the intangible victim costs of crime.
His research then focussed on how to account for fairness in measures of benefit, developing ways to weight QALYs according to potentially important characteristics of the recipient.
These contributions were recognised in a professorship in health economics in 2000 (at the age of 32) and a Philip Leverhulme Prize in Economics in 2002 for his contribution to health economics and QALYs.
The policy impact of his work in health was recognised more widely by his appointment in 2008 as Chief Academic Advisor to the UK Government Economic Service on Economic appraisal, which involves developing the Treasury Green Book (the manual for cost-benefit analysis).
His international reputation has been further advanced by an invitation from Nobel Laureate Professor Daniel Kahneman to work with him at Princeton in 2004-5. Their 2008 paper in the Economic Journal is the most cited paper in that journal since that year.
Since his time at Princeton, he has focussed on more direct measures of wellbeing. He has been developing measures that capture hedonic and non-hedonic experiences. Accounting for the ‘reward’ (purpose and meaning) associated with daily activities and capturing the effects of ‘intrusive thoughts’ on wellbeing both go beyond what is being captured by existing measures and are at the cutting edge of wellbeing measurement.
Paul Dolan is a member of the National Wellbeing Advisory Forum for the Office of National Statistics in the UK, and was lead author of a report that made the recommendations to the ONS about what happiness questions to include in large-scale national surveys. He is also advising the National Academy of Sciences in the US on measurement issues in happiness research.
Over the past few years, he has begun exploring the influences of automatic responses on individual behaviour, and how these relate to our preferences, health and wellbeing. Last year, he was an author of the “Mindspace” report for the UK Cabinet Office. “Mindspace” is a mnemonic for the nine most robust effects on behaviour that operate largely, but not exclusively, through our automatic system (the part of our brain that responds unconsciously to contextual influences).
He has always worked collaboratively and across disciplines: his work is driven by important research and policy questions, not by disciplinary silos. In many ways, most of his research has been at the cutting edge of the interface between economics and psychology (loosely called behavioural economics). He has published papers and won research grants with economists, psychologists, philosophers, criminologists and medics.
He was Founder-Director of the Centre for Wellbeing in Public Policy at the University of Sheffield, which brought together, for the first time, colleagues from across all the social sciences and public health, and is still considered as one of the leading inter-disciplinary research centres on wellbeing.
At Imperial College, he is a Visiting Professor and has developed joint research with colleagues in the Medical School, including Lord Ara Darzi. At LSE, he is associated with the Behavioural Research Lab, bringing together behavioural researchers from all departments of LSE. He is Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Incentives in Health and a lead on the Centre for Understanding Behaviour in Education, both interdisciplinary centres.
Current professional activities
Visiting Professor, Imperial College London
Chief Academic Advisor on Economic Appraisal, Government Economic Service
Member of National Academy of Sciences Panel on wellbeing
Member of Measuring National Wellbeing Advisory Forum
Co-director, Centre for the Study of Incentives in Health
Co-investigator, Understanding Behaviour Change Research Centre, DfE
Associate, Institute for Government
Expert Advisor, Ofgem
Associate Editor, Journal of Economic Psychology
2010-2011 Seconded member of Behavioural Insights Team, Cabinet Office, UK.
2006-2009 Professor of Economics, Imperial College Business School
2000-2006 Professor of Health Economics, University of Sheffield.
1998-2000 Senior Lecture then Reader in Health Economics, University of Sheffield.
1994-1998 Lecturer in Economics, Universities of Newcastle and York.
1991-1994 Research Fellow, Centre for Health Economics, University of York.
Other previous positions
2005-2006 Founder-Director, Centre for Well-being in Public Policy, Sheffield.
2004-2005 Visiting Research Scholar, Princeton University (with Prof D. Kahneman).
2000-2003 Professor II in Health Economics, University of Oslo.