How do you apply Behavioural Science?

As part of the Next Gen interview series, I asked our young behavioural scientists how they apply behavioural science themselves. Which field are they in, and why did they choose that field? If you haven't read the previous articles yet, make sure to check them out! Article 1 introduces the Next Gen, article 2 finds out why they went into behavioural science, whereas article 3 finds out HOW they got into behavioural science. Quite different perspectives!

Flora Finamor Pfeifer “I am currently involved, both in my research as well as in my work, in the behavioral public policy area. I have worked with finance, urban, and health-related challenges so far. From those, my main interest focuses on preventive health behaviors.

Behavioral public policy consists of applying scientific knowledge to solve societal issues, based on evidence. The “nudge” research and all the following kinds of behavioral sciences applications forged a pathway to academics to penetrate in the public sector, which is an amazing example of how to integrate different sectors to improve society.

Applying that specifically to preventive health behaviors can have a huge impact on people’s lives and well-being at a very low cost, which, in my opinion, is one of the most noble and important objectives. (Also, I am a runner, so maybe this makes me personally drawn to the area once I experience the daily benefits of preventive health-related behaviors).

Rebecca Amo “I’d say my work is all in behavioural change. I am a restaurant owner and during this COVID-19 window, I am focused on customers behaviour change as we adhere to the health protocol in view of disease spread reduction.”

Robert Haisfield “I work in behavioral product strategy and gamification in software. I define behavioral product strategy as being about making better product decisions through the many lenses of behavioral influence. How might we shape the design of the product and the rules of interaction with it so people use it better? Gamification is about taking inspiration from the areas where game designers and behavioral scientists are thinking about the same subjects so we can influence people to behave in certain ways voluntarily.

Designing better products is a fundamental step towards creating a world where people are able and willing to do hard but necessary things. There’s relatively little red tape and there is a direct impact on people’s lives.

Behavioral product strategy is a new field that has incredible potential and much to be discovered. Gamification, in concept, is incredibly powerful, but has been systematically misunderstood and misapplied since its beginning. Gamification is not one monolithic thing, but it has been treated as such for far too long. When you break it down to these core questions: How can we make products better through the lenses of influencing behavior? What are the sorts of evidence we can take into account that will lead to more reliable lenses?

Game design should be looked at as an incredible source of validation and inspiration for different behavioral science concepts because they focus on a lot of the same subjects as we do. How do you influence people to pursue and reach challenging goals? How do you encourage them to restart rather than give up when they fail? How do people learn the right thing to do? How do you shape a digital environment to influence user behavior so people “play the game” in the best possible ways? There are thousands of games that tackle these questions in unique and effective ways, so stopping our analysis at their usage of points, badges, and leaderboards is truly bizarre to me. If you play games, you realize that mechanics live in systems, not in isolation. They aren’t interventions that can be understood one at a time, independent from their context.

Game designers have been designing for digital behavioral influence longer than anybody else because they completely control your in game environment and the rules that govern your interactions with it. Pay attention to that, not points and badges.”

Sarah Bowen “So far, I have spent a lot of time looking into health behaviours, adherence, and patient-health provider interactions. My interests are vast and sprawling – I haven’t had enough time to properly work on them yet!

I just study things that give me pause for thought. Is that too simple an answer?”

Gabriella Stuart “I work in Behavioural Insights and Behaviour Change, primarily towards the public sector. I chose behaviour change and behavioural insights most relevant for my ambitions since this provides an opportunity to work with behavioural science in practice and to work with all required steps when developing behaviour change interventions. I find this work rewarding as it typically allows for going in-depth in a specific topic and ultimately generates an output (i.e. intervention or strategy) in the end.”

Garrett Meccariello I focus on digital product design, innovation, and experience optimization in the insurance industry. A little bit of UX, a little bit of architecting digital interventions, and a lot of experimentation.

I chose this field as insurance is almost as complex as the human mind. It’s an intangible product that many never benefit from. In fact, the best return on an insurance investment is actually no return at all. It’s for this reason that I love helping customers understand their coverages and get the right amount of coverage for their needs. When we think about how customers buy insurance in the digital economy, it gets even more exciting as there’s a well defined choice architecture that, through experimentation platforms, we can augment in the moment. This practice yields real time insights into human behavior, at scale, with a benefit for both the customer and the company.”

Kathryn Ambroze “My work is in Applied Consumer Neuroscience and Behavioral Change. This interests me as products are embedded in lifestyles. Applied Consumer Neuroscience helps create beneficial alterations or validations to products, packaging, and communications to better meet consumer preferences. Ergonomically improving these facets of life can thus influence decision-making and buying behavior.”

Peter Judodihardjo “I make YouTube videos. I suppose that’s educational. I teach what I know about behavioural science. I like to explore lots of different topics, marketing, health, finance, social change etc. Behavioural Science is extremely broad, which is why I never seem to able to learn enough.

As such I haven’t chosen a subfield at all! My undergraduate degree was very sustainability focused. My dissertation for example analyzed how defaults affect energy plan decision making. Sustainable behavioural science is certainly one subfield I am quite invested in.”

Natasha Oza “I’m currently working in online adult education (ed-tech). Specifically, I’m looking at enhancing workplace-readiness in lower-middle-income youth.

I have chosen this specific subfield because of how relevant and pressing the need is.

Korn Ferry’s Talent Crunch report estimates a talent shortage that will cost the global industry a staggering $8.5 trillion by 2030 if left unchecked. In a country like India - where the average age is 29 (the world’s “youngest country”), its population could be an asset or a liability. Ensuring these millions are appropriately equipped for the world of work will help tip the scales in favour of the former - and there’s no better way to do so than to leverage a deep understanding of their behaviour in conjunction with technology!

Furthermore, the fact that a “learning environment” doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical space is fascinating for me. We’re in an age where the restrictions of what is physically possible don’t exist anymore. This opens up a whole new category of interventions that can help people make better decisions and, therefore, actions. Using technology also tackles the challenge faced in many countries where opportunity, exposure, and quality of education are still highly dependent on socio-economic class, by increasing access and affordability - making it available for those who deserve it, sans an income filter.”

Sofia Mardiaga “I’m currently working in public policy on the academic side of my life with an ongoing research project in Latin America and upcoming ones also taking place in the region, particularly in social norms. I’m mainly focusing on projects that can provide clear policy recommendations and guidance for governments in the region. On the professional side, I’m working with Behaviour Change mainly in consulting projects to help NGO’s and startups implement behavioural insights in their business practices (this is also something I’m going to be doing in my day job, but probably shouldn’t disclose it, just so you know). I’m also going to be teaching some basic frameworks for behaviour change back home to start driving the conversation on the multiple uses that behavioural science can have in my country and for the region. As you may see, my curiosity just drives me to several fields within behavioural science. I do see myself later on going to fintech or UX as some of my upcoming personal projects may involve some of these areas and behavioural insights will be a natural match for this.

I have chosen public policy and social norms in Latin America for my academic research because I feel the region could use more understanding of psychology and behaviour to improve its current efforts to tackle issues like poverty, gender inequality, corruption, disease prevention, and more. Public policy is of particular interest to me because it is where I believe behavioural science can have some of its biggest impact to improve people’s lives. You can do a lot of good with the discipline in this space.

Improvements in policy are also very salient in the media, so it also brings the advantage that it helps to spread more knowledge and generate interest about the field. I’m also very passionate about having more women participate in science, data, and technology as a whole, so applying this in a field that is highly conspicuous should (hopefully) inspire other young women to also undertake studies or work in these areas. As women I firmly believe we can bring valuable perspectives to interventions, so it’s fair to say I’d love to see more women in Behavioural Science.

There is also not as much research about this region as there is for other countries, especially the developed world. While this trend is certainly changing as more researchers from the so-called “global south” undertake more research, there is still much to do and explore. The region’s cultural nuances and mixture of traditions that was brought about by the colonization of the Americas make it a very compelling case study as we still have several.”

So many different applications of behavioural science. This is what we like to see! In our next “Next Gen” article, we are going to talk about ambitions. Do our Next Gen’ers want to stay in their current (sub)field? Do they want to branch out? Do they want to revolutionize the whole of behavioural science? Stay tuned to find out more!

And if you haven't read the previous articles yet, make sure to check them out! Article 1 introduces the Next Gen, article 2 finds out why they went into behavioural science, whereas article 3 finds out HOW they got into behavioural science. Quite different perspectives!

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