Economic Substitutability: Some Implications for Health Behavior
Edwin B. Fisher Jr.
Behavioral economics combines the experimental methodology of operant psychology with the theoretical constructs of economics. This conjoining of interests has enriched both disciplines: The methodological rigor of the psychological laboratory has been adapted in order to provide exacting experimental tests of economic models; the theoretical constructs of economics have broadened psychological theories of choice (e.g., Allison, 1983; Kagel, Battalio, & Green, 1995). Beyond its contributions to both disciplines, the experimental and conceptual richness of behavioral economics has led to its application to a variety of complex behaviors. One particular application is the study of behaviors that are considered risky because of their potential for long-term, deleterious health consequences to the individual.
Cigarette smoking clearly is a major health-risk behavior, and increasing evidence that diet contributes to major health problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer (see, e.g., Drewnowski, 1992b) places food choice in the same category. Given the successes of behavioral economics in advancing our understanding of such risky behaviors as the self- administration of drugs of abuse (see, e.g., Green & Kagel, 1996; Hursh, 1991), we propose that concepts within behavioral economics, specifically the concept of economic substitutability, may provide intriguing new insights regarding diet, smoking, and nicotine consumption.