What we do

Human Behavior and Public Policies

Traditional public policies have been based on the theoretical assumption that people are rational actors who process all available information, carefully weigh costs and benefits, and select the best option based on thorough analysis. In contrast, scientific theories of actual human behavior show that our decisions are often automatic, biased, and heavily influenced by the context in which they occur. For this reason, for public policies to function properly and be adopted in practice by people, they must reflect and adapt to the real characteristics of human behavior.

Human behavior constitutes a key factor in the solution of social problems and the design of public policies, as shown by international developments in disciplines such as behavioral economics and the so-called behavioral insights. Thus, the application of scientific knowledge to understand the real behavior of people is one of the great promises of the last decade, backed by multiple experiences in many countries. Behavioral sciences allow the incorporation of models based on scientific knowledge of cognition and human behavior into the design and implementation of public policies, which leads to better results and more cost-effective public policies. The application of these ideas has contributed to the restructuring of public policies in various areas such as education, health, justice, citizen behavior, social and techno-cultural transformations, care for the environment, savings and payments. of taxes, and other applications of social interest.

From the experience of the pioneering group of the Behavioral Insights Team in the British government, different countries of the European Union have established teams of experts in behavioral sciences to inform their public policies. More than 150 governments in the world have applied procedures of this kind. The World Bank and the OECD have published reports that emphasize the importance of identifying and addressing the behavioral component in public policy, and in September 2015 President Obama explicitly called on all United States agencies to incorporate knowledge from the science of science. behavior and the neurosciences in the development of their policies. Outside of the organizations officially incorporated into governments, in recent years, independent organizations that provide advice and training in behavioral sciences applied to public policies and social problems have multiplied.

Taking into account the role of human behavior and knowledge in development and in solving problems of social importance, the need to disseminate and educate about a new type of competences that we can call behavioral competencies is well known. We can define them as a set of knowledge regarding the understanding and modification of human behavior that exceeds the restricted domain of psychology and that is applied to a variety of problems such as the economy, health, education, community behavior, justice, politics, among many others, and therefore useful for multiple professional disciplines. These behavioral competencies must be transmitted to those who fulfill functions of legislation, design and implementation of public policies.

The role of Neurosciences

Neurosciences, as an emerging and innovative field of knowledge, offer great potential to design new, more complex and exhaustive interventions, with profound implications in different stages of life and areas of society. By understanding the mechanisms involved in the interaction between the environment, the brain and human behavior, neurosciences contribute to the understanding of the cognitive, affective and social processes that guide our behaviors and decisions in society.

Phenomena such as learning, empathy, healthy aging, interaction with technologies and other problems of current interest have found in neurosciences new revealing and complementary approaches with other disciplines of knowledge and allow extending the field of applications beyond the scope of the classic nudges.

The relationship between neurosciences and public policies is new in the world and the INECO Foundation is pioneer in this interaction. There are numerous problems of great social interest that can be addressed from this point of view:














  1. Improve the cognitive and socio-affective stimulation of children, and the contextual conditions in which such stimulation occurs, taking into account the existing inequalities in the material and cognitive resources of early childhood.
  2. Reduce the gap that social differences imply in the acquisition of basic skills such as literacy and math.
  3. Promote scientific thinking and the bases for the study of careers related to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
  4. Develop complex cognitive skills throughout life (such as critical thinking, innovation and creativity, and cognitive flexibility, among others) and at different levels of education.
  5. Integrate human thinking with the use of new technologies in a harmonious way, which means understanding what the effects of technology are on human cognitive functioning, identifying the best ways to incorporate technology and preventing its possible deleterious effects.
  6. Promote technologically assisted human thinking (data analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence and robotics) and brain-technology interaction.
  7. Promote socio-affective and self-regulation skills throughout life.
  8. Promote behaviors related to citizen commitment, tolerance, equity and environmental responsibility.
  9. Correct myths, prejudices and biases associated with ignorance of the functioning of the brain and its biological, psychological and sociocultural dimensions.
  10. Improve behavior habits related to health and cognitive development.
  11. Respond to the new knowledge needs of people over 60 years of age.
  12. Prevent cognitive decline.
In turn, in an integrated manner, each of these problems is part of a general social good that has been recognized under the concept of mental capital. Mental capital encompasses a person’s cognitive and emotional resources: their cognitive, flexible and efficient learning capacity, their emotional intelligence, social skills, and their resilience to stress. Therefore, it conditions their quality of life and the way in which they are able to contribute effectively to society. Mental well-being, on the other hand, is a dynamic state that refers to the ability of individuals to develop their potential, work productively and creatively, build strong and positive relationships with others, and contribute to their community. Finally, social capital can be defined as the sum of actual or potential resources incorporated, available through and derived from the social structure that facilitates exchange and social interaction. The development and care of these three interconnected components is a fundamental social task and neuroscientific knowledge can be of great help in that task.


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