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Regular version of the site

New Research Trends in ‘Biology and Behaviour in a Political Economy’

On March 14, 2014, the HSE is running a workshop ‘Biology and Behaviour in a Political Economy’. Philip Keefer, Lead Economist, Development Research Group, at the World Bank, will present a study of the social motivations of public sector workers compared to private sector workers using experimental data and Eren Arbatli, Assistant Professor at the Department of Economics, HSE will present some of his latest work on genetic diversity and conflict.

John Nye, Academic Supervisor at the International Laboratory for Institutional Analysis of Economic Reforms, HSE which is organising the workshop, spoke to the HSE English-language News Portal about working at the HSE in this research area.

— What are the present research trends in behavioural sciences in political economy?

— In recent decades, economists and political scientists have expressed great interest in combining insights and ideas from psychology and biology with more traditional methods to study some classic problems in political economy. Behavioural economics is obviously the clearest case where economists and social scientists – most famously Daniel Kahneman – have merged psychology and economics. But there is also interest in incorporating biology (such as hormonal influences or genetics) into different studies.

— Could you tell us about the latest work by International Laboratory for Institutional Analysis of Economic Reforms of the HSE?


— Our laboratory is continuing its exploration into the determinants of performance in education and the workforce using results from surveys that take into account both standard measures of endowment of human capital (i.e. education or ability) with biological and personality indicators (prenatal testosterone, scores on the Big 5 personality tests, BMI, etc.). 

We continue to find that there are intriguing links between prenatal testosterone and performance in both school and in the labour force that are consistent in very different samples. Women in particular with slightly above average exposure to prenatal testosterone seem to do best in terms of both GPA and wages while the same is not true for men. We have found results that suggest that students’ weight and appearance (using BMI) matter more strongly when the students come from out of town and have a harder time finding friends. Those who come from the city where the university is located are not influenced by BMI probably because they have a pre-existing social network and are less dependent on school friendships.

We continue to find that there are intriguing links between prenatal testosterone and performance both in school and in the labour force that are consistent in very different samples

Other work has investigated the role of peer effects on student performance. Maria Yudkevich and her co-authors, for example, have not found some of the strong effects from peers at HSE that other published work in North America has found for students randomly assigned to groups or roommates. We are also investigating the link between education and liberal attitudes towards the market economy and social behaviour. In most countries, even those with overall anti-market attitudes such as Russia, the more educated are more likely to be pro-market and socially liberal. We want to compare the Russian results from the RMLS data with other data from Central and Eastern Europe.

Finally, we are about to begin an exciting collaboration between the HSE psychology department and our laboratory in which we hope to explore at a more micro level the psychology and neurobiology of performance that draws upon both our own work and the large behavioural literature in economics and social science. However, I can’t discuss the details at this time.

— What is most interesting and inspiring for you as a researcher working with Russian scientists?

— I am very impressed by the dynamism and sense of opportunity that exists at HSE. I have never visited a school before which has made as great strides in its efforts to modernize and improve its research base as HSE. Of course there are challenges at all levels from coordination of efforts, to lack of expertise in many needed areas, to the need to cooperate across great distances, but it is impressive how much HSE has accomplished in such a few years. Also their willingness to hire many new and upcoming researchers from around the globe is also very impressive. Finally the faculty and students are outstanding. They all work hard and seem eager to try new approaches. When I give lectures to both the graduates and the undergraduates, I often find HSE students to be more attentive and engaged than in many other places.

On top of all this, there is a mountain of Russian data, and great opportunities to obtain new data from surveys, experiments, or official statistics that few have studied or that have not been thoroughly analyzed by researchers.

— How would you describe the main challenge in your area of expertise?

— Well, the problem with doing interdisciplinary work is that I always feel I am not an expert in anything. I constantly depend on interaction with colleagues at HSE and abroad to get a better sense of what we need to do in order to refine our work and to pursue other interesting questions thrown up by our research. Empirical work is always a bit frustrating. You start out looking for one result and quickly find out that you are mistaken or that your early ideas were not quite right. 

You have to follow the clues that are presented to you and reshape your research questions accordingly. This makes it hard to say in advance exactly which problems you will be writing on. Sometimes a promising avenue will lead to a dead end. Conversely, ideas or questions that would never have occurred to you to study become potential gold mines. One has to be patient and take the good with the bad. Research progress does not come in a straight line or on a set schedule and there is a great deal of luck involved.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for the HSE news service

See also:

‘ICEF Is Doing Everything to Ensure That Scientists Are Engaged in Research, Not Paperwork’

Tatiana Mayskaya, a graduate of Moscow State University (MSU) and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), began working at HSE University in 2017. She currently teaches courses at ICEF and FES and researches behavioural economics and information economics. In this interview, Ms Mayskaya explains how throwing darts can help in the choice of a PhD programme, how the ‘multi-armed bandit’ phenomenon is useful for business and why HSE is the ideal place to do research.

Which Incentives are Needed by the Bureaucracy and Elites to Promote Economic Growth?

The fourth annual conference of the HSE International Centre for the Study of Institutions and Development recently concluded. Leading researchers from Russia and abroad discussed the effect that institutions, elites and collective action all have on the economies of countries, especially developing economies. 

International Scholars Reflect on HSE Political Science Conference

The 4th Annual Conference of the International Center for the Study of Institutions and Development (ICSID) ‘Institutions, Elites and Collective Action in the Developing World’ took place at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow on June 30- July 1, 2015. It was preceded by an EACES-HSE Workshop ‘Political Economy of Development: New Challenges and Perspectives’ on June 29, 2015. Several international researchers have spoken to HSE News Service about the conference and their research projects.

Russian Political Economy Discussed in U.S.

At Columbia University in New York, a seminar on ‘The Political Economy of Russia’ was held jointly by the International Centre for the Study of Institutions and Development at the Higher School of Economics and the Harriman Institute at Columbia University.

Economics and Gender

On Wednesday, December 11, 2013, Nancy Folbre, Professor  of Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA, will give a talk at the Faculty of Sociology of the HSE within the International Research Seminar Series ‘Sociologies of Morality’. She is a feminist economist who focuses on economics and the family (or family economics), non-market work and the economics of care. We spoke to Nancy Folbre before the lecture.

Irrationality in the Acts of Humans, as Well as Bees

On May 21st 2011, Robert Aumann, Nobel laureate in economics and Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, spoke at the HSE on ‘Rule Rationality vs. Act Rationality’. The lecture was organized by the HSE together with the Embassy of Israel in Russia.