Behavior and Policy (2015)

11.478 Behavior and Policy: Connection in Transportation

This course examines the behavioral foundation for policy design, using urban transportation as examples. We introduce multiple frameworks of understanding travel behavior, rational or irrational, contrasting the perspectives of classic economic theory with behavioral economics and social psychology, and suggest corresponding policy interventions: a behavior--theory--policy mapping. Then we present a spectrum of ten instruments for positively influencing behavior and improving welfare: from manipulating information and changing perceptions of time and space, to pricing and framing, to inducing emotions of pride and shame, exploiting peer pressure or enhancing self-control and motivation, as well as nudging and preference shaping. Most importantly the course challenges students 1) to critique, design, implement and interpret experiments that nudge travel behavior; and 2) to bring behavioral insights to creative design of transport polices, programs and plans—making them not only efficient and equitable but also simpler, consistent, transparent, acceptable, and adaptive to behavioral changes.


Part I: BP in a Nutshell

  • 3-Feb Unreturned Cafeteria Trays
  • 5-Feb Ten Instruments for Changing Behavior
  • 10-Feb My Brain at the Bus Stop: EEG & Waiting
  • 12-Feb Methods, Measurements and Technology (Bruneau)
  • 19-Feb Behavior Foundation of Public Policy (Madrian)

Part II: Behavioral Theory from Simon to Kahneman

  • 24-Feb Choice Architecture
  • 26-Feb Maps of Bounded Rationality
  • 3-Mar Prospect Theory

Part III: Time, Space and Information

  • 5-Mar Re-Interpreting Time: Dali and Einstein
  • 10-Mar Is Travel Time Wasted? ICT, Transit and Driverless Cars
  • 12-Mar Power of Information and Nudging with Maps

Part IV: Policy Design I

  • 17-Mar Salience in Transportation Pricing
  • 19-Mar Decision by Default: Active Choosing or Default Rules
  • 31-Mar Reference class forecast; Planning Fallacy; Transportation Planning as Preference Shaping

Part V: Emotion and Transport Policy

  • 2-Apr Happiness: Experience or Memory
  • 7-Apr Emotion and Urban Planning (Thompson)
  • 9-Apr Car Pride, Bicycle Decline and Failure of Life

Part VI: Is Travel Social?

  • 14-Apr Socially Influencing System (Stibe)
  • 16-Apr E-hailing, Humanizing Travel and Shared Mobilty
  • 23-Apr Help People Help Themselves

Part VII: Policy Design 2 Market Failure and Mechanism Design

  • 28-Apr Market Failure and Governing the Common
  • 30-Apr Game Theory and Mechanism Design
  • 5-May Auction or Lottery: Reference and Perceived Fairness
  • 7-May Impossible Elasticity! A Hybrid Policy Example
  • 12-May Clearinghouse for Urban Mobility Service; Bridj
  • 14-May Project Showcase 


  1. “Unreturned trays” in Transportation 
  2. One Sub-optimal Policy 
  3. EEG experiment design in transportation? 
  4. Option A: Prospect Theory; Option B:Nudge Design 
  5. Option A: Productive Use of Travel Time; Option B: Define Quality of Multi-tasking
  6. Option A: Mathematize a Concept; Option B: Theorize an Idea (Transportation Planning as Preference Shaping)

Guest speakers

  • Brigitte Madrian, Aetna Professor of Public Policy and Corporate Management, Harvard Kennedy School
  • Emile Bruneau, Research Scientist, Saxelab: Social Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, MIT
  • Agnis Stibe, Postdoctoral Associate, MIT Media Lab
  • Philip Thompson, Professor, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT
  • David Block-Schachter, Chief Scientist, Bridj 


  • 11.478 Behavior and Policy: Connections in Transportation
  • Department of Urban Studies and Planning, MIT, Spring 2015
  • TR 11-12:30pm; 9-450B; Credits: 3-0-9
  • Instructor: Jinhua Zhao Office 9-523, Office Hour: R 2-3:30pm;
  • Assistant: Phil Sunde, 9-316,
  • TA: John Prichard; Office hour: E38-474, Wed 3:00-4:00pm,
  • TA: Zhan Zhao; Office hour: 1-235