Policy Lab

One of the most important insights to come from from behavioral science over the last 40 years is that the context in which people operate has an outsized impact on how people make decisions and do or do not follow through on those decisions.

Roughly 70% of the variation in individual decision making can be attributed to the difference in context in which people are operating, and only about 30% is attributable to differences in the people themselve. We all know that changing people is really, really hard, but changing the context in which they operate while not simple is much easier
Eldar Shafir, ideas42 founder and Princeton University Class of 1987 Professor in Behavioral Science and Public Policy

Examples of Context

Context can refer to something as small as the complex and often maddening forms required to qualify for a Federal Housing Authority mortgage or financial aid to pay for college. Or they can be as large as ongoing challenges of experiencing sustained poverty, or the extra complexities of growing up Black in America.

  • Complex Forms

    Common contexts: Federal Housing Authority mortgages, college financial aid

  • Bandwidth Limitations

    An ongoing challenge for people experiencing sustained poverty

  • Discrimination

    Being treated differently and unjustly based on factors such as race or income

While not the only force in shaping context, public policy is certainly one of the most significant. When changed, policies have the added effect of immediate scale, impacting the context for millions of people. Whether we like it or not, public policy shapes countless aspects of our lives, from how we access our money to whether or not we can get a college a degree, to how much government subsidy we get when we save for retirement or if we can afford a mortgage.

Many policies are well-intended, but more often than not they’re not designed to account for how humans actually behave, and they’re rarely designed to help those who need them the most: those with the fewest financial resources. Furthermore, many policies have advantaged certain groups over others, and specifically disadvantaged Black Americans.

Behavioral Science, fortunately has a great deal to offer in creating and designing public policy and therefore improving the contexts in which people operate.


Developing proven behavioral science-informed policies at the Federal, State, and Local level.

How will we do this?

The Policy lab for Shared Prosperity will specifically focus on using insights from behavioral science to make concrete recommendations on how laws and regulations can be either adjusted to improve the lives of under resourced people, or designed anew.