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Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00342

How to measure behavioural spillovers? A methodological review and checklist

  • 1London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom
  • 2Cardiff University, United Kingdom

A growing stream of literature at the interface between economics and psychology is currently investigating ‘behavioural spillovers’ in (and across) different domains, including health, environmental, and pro-social behaviours. A variety of empirical methods have been used to measure behavioural spillovers to date, from qualitative self-reports to statistical/econometric analyses, from online and lab experiments to field experiments. The aim of this paper is to critically review the main experimental and non-experimental methods to measure behavioural spillovers to date, and to discuss their methodological strengths and weaknesses. A consensus mixed-method approach is then discussed which uses between-subjects randomisation and behavioural observations together with qualitative self-reports in a longitudinal design in order to follow up subjects over time. In particular, participants to an experiment are randomly assigned to a treatment group where a behavioural intervention takes place to target behaviour 1, or to a control group where behaviour 1 takes place absent any behavioural intervention. A behavioural spillover is empirically identified as the effect of the behavioural intervention in the treatment group on a subsequent, not targeted, behaviour 2, compared to the corresponding change in behaviour 2 in the control group. Unexpected spillovers and additional insights (e.g., drivers, barriers, mechanisms) are elicited through analysis of qualitative data. In the spirit of the pre-analysis plan, a systematic checklist is finally proposed to guide researchers and policy-makers through the main stages and features of the study design in order to rigorously test and identify behavioural spillovers, and to favour transparency, replicability, and meta-analysis of studies.

Keywords: Behavioural spillovers, experimental design, mixed methods, lab-field experiments, spillovers

Received: 24 Sep 2018; Accepted: 04 Feb 2019.

Edited by:

Margareta Friman, Karlstad University, Sweden

Reviewed by:

Michela Le Pira, Dipartimento Ingegneria Civile e Architettura, Università di Catania, Italy
Ricardo G. Mira, University of A Coruña, Spain  

Copyright: © 2019 Galizzi and Whitmarsh. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Matteo M. Galizzi, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, United Kingdom, m.m.galizzi@lse.ac.uk