Interview d’Alberto Prati, ancien doctorant AMSE, post-doctorant, Wellbeing Research Centre, University of Oxford et chercheur associé, London School of Economics.
Par Aurore Basiuk et Lucien Sahl.
Alberto Prati did his PhD research at AMSE between 2016 and 2020 in behavioural economics, under the supervision of Stéphane Luchini and Olivier Chanel. His thesis, “Memory and Subjective Well-Being. Empirical Analysis of Workers’ and Consumers’ Endogenous Recall Behaviors” earned the Aix-Marseille University and the Ville de Marseille PhD Dissertation prizes. Today, he is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Wellbeing Research Centre, University of Oxford and an associate researcher for the London School of Economics.
WHAT WAS YOUR BACKGROUND BEFORE JOINING AMSE AND WHAT LED YOU THERE?
I completed my thesis in 2016 in health economics, I am Italian but I moved to Paris after secondary school to study philosophy and economics at Sorbonne Université. After my master, I did one year in the US but came back to Paris. I worked for a short time at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work in research so I did an internship, which ended up being a job, as a consultant. That was when I decided that it was really research that I wanted to do.
For my PhD, I wanted to stay in France. One of the options was AMSE, mostly because I had heard very good things about it. What struck me during the interview was how friendly people were. I arrived feeling a little stressed and everyone was incredibly friendly and smiling, saying things like “oh do you want a coffee”, “do you have any questions”, etc. Being so welcoming and friendly is more unusual that you might think. The few days spent in Marseille made me appreciate the city and I would say that my first impression was right. When I joined AMSE, the friendliness and inclusiveness of the place were confirmed.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON CURRENTLY?
I’m researching different things, but several which are related to my thesis work. One topic is the relationship between memory and decisions. In my PhD, I focused on the relationship between memory and judgments, so evaluations. Evaluations are also what, at the end of the day, lead to decisions. I am now exploring how these two relate.
I’m also studying well-being judgments and how to improve them. If I ask you how satisfied you are with your life today, and then I ask you again in two years, how do I know that you’re using the same scale? These kinds of methodological issues are very important and I’m trying to approach them based on what I learned in my PhD.
One thing that I’m doing at the moment involves people answering an online survey. It is a research I have been doing about the Covid vaccines based on a survey that we’re running in the UK. There’s been a lot of debate about the safety and the efficiency of vaccines. We surveyed people in June about how safe and how efficient they thought each legal vaccine was. People had different opinions about this. Then some of them decided to get vaccinated, and we are interviewing them now asking them again which vaccine they think is the safest and most efficient, and what they thought back in June, when we interviewed them the first time. The interesting thing is that, in the UK, you cannot choose the vaccine you receive. Therefore, if their opinions and memories shifted it would not happen because of their decision of getting a specific vaccine. But the research is still ongoing.
What we expect to find should be in line with the mechanism of people basically learning and remembering what they want to learn and remember. Different forces are at work there. Sometimes you want to learn something because it’s useful to you, which is called instrumental motivation. Sometimes you want to learn something just because it makes you feel better, which is called hedonic motivation. There are different reasons for wanting to learn different information and remember different information.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR TIME AT AMSE?
I had a very good time, it was a very good experience and the friendliness that I mentioned at the beginning is something which really affected my time there. During your PhD, you spend three to four years obsessed with your very tiny research topic… so it’s very important for that to happen in a good environment. AMSE is absolutely extraordinary in terms of social relationships and its very cheerful environment.
On top of the human aspect, there were also very good professional aspects.
First of all, I was left very free to explore my research. That doesn’t necessarily happen, it was largely due to my supervisors. Because I work on behavioural economics, not a major field at AMSE, it was unusual to recruit someone working on this topic and just leave him free to explore it, but that’s what happened. At the same time, the advantage was having a somewhat different background from the economists working around me, and also having access to awide variety of seminars. These seminars were not on behavioural economics topics, but from very different fields of economics, which allowed me to obtain a wide view while working tightly on my topic. I think this was really good.
Another important thing was the great conditions: having a desk (which might sound obvious, but it’s not true of many departments), being able to go to conferences, meet people, see how people work in other departments, think and exchange with other departments… I was given a lot of encouragement to do all this, and I think it did me a lot of good.
→ This article was issued in AMSE Newletter, Winter 2021.