Behavioural Science is a rapidly expanding field and everyday new research is being developed in academia, tested and implemented by practitioners in financial organisations, 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 Ayelet Fischbach. Ayelet is is the Jeffrey Breakenridge Keller Professor of Behavioral Science and Marketing at the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business, and the author of GET IT DONE: Surprising Lessons from the Science of Motivation. She is the past president of the Society for the Science of Motivation and the International Social Cognition Network. She is an expert on motivation and decision making. Her groundbreaking research on human motivation has won the Society of Experimental Social Psychology's Best Dissertation Award and Career Trajectory Award, the Society of Consumer Psychology’s Distinguished Scientific Contribution award, and the Fulbright Educational Foundation Award.
Who or what got you into behavioural science
I was a psychology major, which is hardly a unique start. It’s one of the most popular majors in Israel (where I studied) as well as in the USA. I was mostly interested in social psychology, and I never wanted to leave school. Put these two together and it’s a recipe for becoming a behavioral scientist.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist?
As a field, we have much more recognition and impact today than when I started my career. Whether you’re an educator, policy maker, or a manager, it’s now considered essential that you consult the behavioral science (or scientist) if you want to change people’s behavior. You can’t just follow your intuition. That happened over the last couple of decades and it’s huge for our field.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing? I would’ve loved to be a physicist or a physician, which is what my daughters do (my son is still in school). But realistically, I probably would’ve been a teacher. It’s my second passion after research.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life? I apply it everywhere. I motivate myself and others (students, family, friends, and colleagues) using the principles of behavioral science. From the food that we eat, to our financial decisions, career and school, and everything else, I consult my knowledge as a behavioral scientist.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
To be a scientist, and behavioral science is no exception, you need thick skin. As a researcher, you’re testing many false hypotheses, running experiments that fail and writing papers that are (at least initially) get rejected. You need to believe in yourself and the purpose of your research to stay motivated and push forward.
How do you think behavioural economics will develop (in the next 10 years)? I don’t know. I’m a social psychologist, which means that my degree is in psychology, not economics. I work with behavioral economists and I’m happy to report that they’re more interested in psychology and are getting more sophisticated in their psychological understanding of human behavior. Behavioral economics improves social psychologists thinking and vice versa. Hopefully, that trend will continue.
What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field? Don’t take advice from others too seriously. Successful scientists are almost always those who curved their own path and followed it. They weren’t following any advice too carefully. So, yes, it’s important to read and be open-minded but that’s pretty generic advice. The rest is on you.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by? I’ll take the fifth on this one because there are too many behavioral scientists that I admire, and many of them are my friends. I know I’ll forget someone and kick myself for forgetting to mention their names.
What are the greatest challenges being faced by behavioural science, right now? In behavioral science, the challenges tend to come from the world outside of our field. We address the main issues for society in a given place and time. Issues such as racism and inequality are (unfortunately) timeless for behavioral scientists. We would always study them. Other issues, such as promoting environmental action, adherence to health recommendations (covid vaccination, healthy eating, opioid addiction, fighting misinformation, etc.) are relatively new but they might stay with us for a while.
What is your biggest frustration with the field as it stands?
I’m not easily frustrated. Science doesn’t always progress linearly. There are setbacks and there are many times when we seem to “reinvent the wheel”, that is, rediscovering something we forgot we already knew. But that’s only frustrating for a short while. I move on.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Ayelet!
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!
Keep your eye on Money on the Mind!