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Brussels, 28 November 2008

Why Consumers behave the way they do: Commissioner Kuneva hosts high level conference on Behavioural Economics

Today EU Commissioner for Consumers Meglena Kuneva, welcomed top international academic, business and political experts to a conference in Brussels to discuss the role that Behavioural Economics can play in the development of policies that better serve the consumer. Behavioural Economics is a relatively new, but rapidly expanding discipline that combines economics and experimental research on behaviour in order to examine and explain why consumers choose to shop and buy the way that they do, what influences them in their purchasing decisions and how these affect the market. The European economy needs empowered consumers to boost its performance and drive competition. However, the complexity of today's markets may limit the ability of consumers to make optimal choices. Today's conference will focus on examples of where behavioural economics has already led to better policies which reflect these complexities, and participants will be invited to debate how behavioural economics can help to shape EU legislation in the future. This event could be the starting point of a increasing use of behavioural tools to improve policymaking in Europe.

Commissioner Kuneva said: "We are constantly working to improve the marketplace for Europe's consumers and ensure that they have access to the best that is on offer. But we need to understand the consumers we are working for if we are to fully meet their needs. Behavioural economics offers very interesting insights which could help us to achieve this. Moreover, today's conference is a chance to break down the wall between researchers and policy-makers, so that they can learn from each other and exchange ideas, and complement each other in their work to the ultimate benefit of the consumer."

Behavioural economics studies how people actually make everyday choices, challenging traditional economic assumptions and relying on field and laboratory experiments to investigate the actual reasons for people's decisions. It may help explain why people's behaviour is not always selfish (e.g., they donate money), why they may not always act in an economically logical way (e.g. staying with a more expensive energy provider rather than changing to a cheaper competitor) or why they put a greater value on some items over others of an equal real value.

Behavioural economics could become, in the future, the equivalent to what the "wind tunnel" is for cars: a tool to test, optimise and streamline EU policies that seek to influence consumers in a wide array of fields, from consumer affairs, to energy, to health, to environment. It offers the opportunity to better understand the anomalies of human behaviour and responses, so that policies can be shaped to best suit consumers' needs.

The conference today will focus on examples of where behavioural economics has already led to better policies – both in the EU and elsewhere – and will invite debate on its potential use and impact. Participants will also debate important questions such as whether it is really the right or responsibility of policy makers to intervene in consumers' decisions.

The conference can be followed by webstream at:

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