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Interview with Carlos Vazquez

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 Carlos Vazquez. Carlos is the senior behavioural research manager as part of the behavioural economics team within the decision and data science group at the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. He oversees the research portfolio with our academic partners, delivering cutting-edge applied research, while initiating new research projects that help improve the financial wellbeing of customers. In addition, Carlos is an adjunct Lecturer at the University of Sydney Business School, where he teaches and continues his academic research. His research focuses on the socio-cognitive conditions (i.e. structures of the environment/context and cognitive limitations), and interactions with technology that influence deliberative and intuitive decision-making. Carlos is particularly interested in the interplay of environmental structures and cognition when making decisions for the creation and/or extraction of economic value, and the role that interacting with technology has in making those decisions.


Who or what got you into behavioural science?

Well that’s a bit of a complicated question for me. I actually stumbled across the discipline. Before doing my PhD at the University of Sydney, I was heading the global innovation delivery function for a wine company. I was exposed to many types of decision making. There, I was exposed to how different stakeholders made decisions, and I started to think about cognitive limitations, styles, and heuristics (terms, which at the time, I did not know existed at all) while evaluating and making decisions. This motivated me to endeavour myself into studying and researching how people behave in the context of innovation. I found in behavioural science a language that allowed me to articulate and explain the reality I was exposed to as an innovation practitioner. I was immediately hooked with the ideas of heuristics and biases, and how these influence our everyday judgements. I think there is much to do to bridge behavioural science and innovation. Think, behavioural innovation.

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

I can only answer this question in two ways. First, I am definitely proud of finishing my doctoral dissertation and the possibility to keep researching and working in the space of socio-cognitive conditions influencing judgement and decision making. I am particularly proud of having two working papers out of my research, which I am about to submit for publication sooner than I expected. One of them, I contribute with the idea that heuristics and expertise, despite what people think, might have both a positive and a negative effect in the way in which we judge business situations. Second, the work that I do now as an applied behavioural scientist, which allows me to have one foot in academia and one in industry, and create bridge for both to interact and do meaningful research. In my eyes, linking academia and businesses, it is a much unexplored activity for behavioural scientists, and I am proud to be working in this space.

If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing? I’ve always been interested in human behaviour, its interactions, and the structures of the environment that influence both. I absolutely love technology and particularly computer science and artificial intelligence. I am sure I would’ve ended up doing research in that space. I am coupling my behavioural science training with artificial intelligence in the area of cognitive augmentation – I am hoping to explore whether there is such a thing as Augmented Human Judgment because of our interaction with technology. This is a field that I think it is not only fascinating, but has many applications that range from for profit activities to climate action, for example.

How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life? I tried to embrace some of my biases and heuristics. I mean embrace in the sense of acknowledging them. But, to be honest, I think the science of behavioural science is still to catch up with the reality of human behaviour, which far more complex than what the field can accurately and precisely explain. I am a natural tinker, so I am always observing how to modify my own behaviour. Sometimes for the better, often not so much.

With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make? Definitely, probabilistic thinking/reasoning. This is perhaps the most underrated skill in the field, yet one of the most talked about. I think that embracing the power of qualitative research is a must. It can drive us to think on the possibilities of basic and applied research. And, common sense. In my opinion another underrated skill. Particularly to identify real-world phenomena that can be explained through behavioural science. For example, I think there is much to understand how humans (not consumers, not managers) act in front of consumer decisions and managerial challenges. A love for reading and writing, and in this age, being skilful and knowledgeable in how to share your thoughts with the world through social media, are also valuable skills to keep honing. The latter (that is, social media presence) is something at which I am particularly terrible.

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

This is a very tough question. I would like to see more conversations in two dimensions. The first one is the academic, where I would like to see conversations and linkages between the various schools of thought from those that see, for example, biases and heuristics as fundamentally a bug in human judgement, and those who see it as a feature that often work for us. The second one is applied. I think as applied behavioural scientists we have a great opportunity to articulate real-world problems through the behavioural science language, and understand which insights can be drawn from current research, and which ones are an opportunity to do research on.

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

One of the big mistakes I made is to think of behavioural science as a monolithic field. In my opinion, it is not. There are so many branches and fields of specialisations. Perhaps, focus on those ones (or the one) that are more interesting to you. Learn, read, and share your lessons learnt with the relevant communities of practice and research. Behavioural science is an evolving field that can unify theories and practices from other fields that deal with human behaviour and judgement. Be bold and ask the big questions, and contribute to those organisations that are interesting in furthering our understanding of human behaviour.

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

Great question! From an academic perspective, I think someone from the Center for Adaptive Rationality (particularly, Ralph Hertwig) at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, would be a great candidate. From an applied perspective, I think the Chiara Varazzani from the OECD would be a great person to hear and learn from.


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

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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