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Interview with Andrew Timming

Behavioural Science is a rapidly expanding field and everyday new research is being developed in academia, tested and implemented by practitioners in financial organisation, development agencies, government ‘nudge’ units and more. This interview is part of a series interviewing prominent people in the field. And in today's interview the answers are provided by Andrew Timming. Andrew is Professor of Human Resource Management in the School of Management at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia. He has served in various leadership positions, including Head of Department and Deputy Dean of Research and Innovation. He holds a PhD in Economic Sociology from the University of Cambridge, but now mostly researches at the intersection of evolutionary, social, and organizational psychology. Take it away Andrew!


Who or what got you into behavioural science?

I’m an accidental behavioral scientist. I just fell into it. As a kid, I never sat around think, “I want to be a behavioral scientist.” But that’s where I ended up. My PhD was in Economic Sociology, so I’ve always been interested in work and employment. But it wasn’t until later in my career that I ended up collaborating with Prof. Dave Perritt on some tattoo studies. Using the methods of experimental psychology, I saw a need for experiments in the context of human resource management (HRM). The rest, as they say, is history. I’ve been hooked ever since.

What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?

I am most proud of my book, Human Resource Management and Evolutionary Psychology: Exploring the Biological Foundations of Managing People at Work. HRM, as a field of study, has a strong tradition of qualitative methods. More recently, scholars have been using survey research to model the antecedents and determinants of HRM. But this book is one of the first studies to explore the biological foundations of HRM using an intersection of behavioral and evolutionary science. What do I most want to achieve? Looking forward, I’d like to build a model using predictive analytics that can detect suicidal ideation. I want my research to be able to prevent the tragedy of suicide.

If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?

Honestly, I can’t really see myself doing anything else. If I won the lottery, I’d still be doing behavioral science. I probably won’t bother much with peer reviewed publications, but I would certainly write book after book. I can’t imagine myself in any other job.

How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?

Good question. We are all, of course, behavioral scientists. We have been so since we were babies. We are constantly conducting experiments throughout the day. If I do X, what will be the effect on Y? By adulthood, we have a pretty good understanding of cause-and-effect, but we can still be surprised from time to time. When we are surprised (“I can’t believe they didn’t laugh at that joke?” or “He was pretty angry when I said that.”), we just build that newfound knowledge into our mental models and proceed with a better understanding. I suppose, following on from Erving Goffman’s dramaturgy, we use a type of behavioral science to better help us “define the situation.”

With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?

The future of behavioral science will center around predictive analytics and artificial intelligence. Mark my word. I’ve been working to develop my skills in this area. Recently I posted an open access tutorial on Youtube describing how to build a multi-layer perceptron in SPSS. I’m slowly but surely expanding my skills in deep learning. Behavioral science is increasingly less about explanation (how does X related to Y) and more about prediction. That’s where the true value lies. If you want to be a good behavioral scientist, brush up on your predictive analytics. That’s where it’s at.

How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?

As noted above, behavioral science will become much more concerned with predicting outcomes. This foresight will allow us to manipulate outcomes just by putting the right configuration of predictors in place. In many ways, predictive analytics offers us God-like powers. I see advances in artificial intelligence leading to amazing outcomes. We should see dramatic improvement at the level of individuals, organizations, and societies.

What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field?

Here is my best advice for young behavioral scientists. : )

Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?

I would love to see an interview by Prof. David Buss. He has a new book out on sexual harassment and assault.


Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Andrew!

As I said before, this interview is part of a larger series which can also be found here on the blog. Make sure you don't miss any of those, nor any of the upcoming interviews!

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