Theme session B

Predictably Irrational – a new scientific research field for the science underpinning marine-resource management

Wednesday 21 September 08:30—13:30 in Beta 2
Sarah B. M. Kraak (Germany)
Dorothy J. Dankel  (Norway)​

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​Why are fish stocks overfished? Why can fisheries regulations be ineffective? How could the Discard Ban be optimized for compliance? These are examples of questions scientists and managers ask themselves today in fisheries. Little known to the fisheries and ICES communities are the tools, methods and experiments of behavioural science, which could give insights and innovations in fisheries management.

The title of Dan Ariely's book from 2008 characterises the essence of the discipline behavioural economics (BE): Predictably Irrational. While classical economics assumes that we have a comprehensive set of conscious preferences driving our decision-making, rationally calculating costs and benefits of different courses of actions, and serving our own best interests, BE challenges this view of human beings in two ways:

  1. Human beings are often not rational; as a result of cognitive biases and emotional reactions, they often fail to act in their own best interest
  2. Human beings are not only motivated by narrow, economic, self-interest, but may also have altruistic preferences, called "social motivations"

One of the pillars of BE is Nobel Laureate Kahneman's distinction of thinking fast (System 1) and slow (System 2). System 1 consists of processes that are intuitive, automatic, experience-based, and relatively unconscious. System 2 is reflective, controlled, deliberative, and analytical. Another pillar of BE is the "nudge" concept, popularised by Thaler and Sunstein: the active engineering of the choice architecture to change behaviour at an automatic level and in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives. To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. "Putting fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not." Thus, according to the findings of BE, human beings are often "irrational" but in a systematic way (as a result of the underlying biology of the brain), hence "predictably".

BE is an empirical science, basing its conclusions on experimental findings and has a potential to improve the effectiveness of governmental decisions.  BE sets out to measure human beings' unconscious, automatic behaviour.  By using BE findings in policy, it is possible to create better decisions by presenting things in a different way.

The implications of BE are far-reaching, and its ideas have been applied to various domains, including personal and public finance, health, energy, public choice, and marketing. In 2010, the UK government set up the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), a special unit dedicated to applying behavioural science to public policy and services. A similar "nudge unit" has been set up by the US government. This session would like to start a discussion on how BE science can help to improve fisheries management and policy.

The session builds on a workshop held in October 2014 (funded by the ICES Science Fund and the Fisheries Society of the British Isles) with the intention to explore whether and how "Behavioural-Science Applications to Fisheries Management" can be developed. Ideas for future research came up, but the group also felt that their workshop was only the start of a journey.

The Predictably Irrational theme session is a small session on a novel topic, which aims to demonstrate the usefulness of BE. In this way, this novel field can gradually grow and mature and become fully fledged in a few years' time. We call for papers providing insight in applying BE findings in the science that underpins marine-resource management. ​​​​

There will be a panel discussion on paternalism and the ethics of applying BE findings. The session will be enlivened by demonstrations of experiments carried out during the ASC to illustrate the salience of BE findings. Papers can be opinion/view-point/discussion as well as reports of empirical studies planned or carried out. In case a “live” experiment is planned, we ask to explicitly state this in the abstract and in addition to contact the conveners by email at an as early as possible stage to discuss the logistics.​

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Theme session B

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