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 Dan Goldstein.
Dan is currently Senior Principal Researcher and the local leader at Microsoft Research’s New York City lab, working at the intersection of behavioral economics and computer science. Before Microsoft, Dan was a Principal Research Scientist at Yahoo Research and a marketing professor at London Business School. He received his Ph.D. at The University of Chicago and has taught or researched at Wharton, Columbia, Harvard, Stanford and the Max Planck Institute in Germany. His academic writings have appeared in the top journals such Science and Psychological Review. Today he will tell us about his journey in behavioural economics.
Who or what got you into Behavioural Economics/Science? I met my advisor at a new student reception in grad school. When he heard I came from a computer science background, he gave me a programming challenge to solve, which I did over Thanksgiving break. He suggested working together and that little programing challenge became the core of my thesis. This is all to say I got into the study of decision making without really deciding to.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural economist/scientist? I'm proudest of the recent work I am doing with Jake Hofman in helping people comprehend the numbers that appear in the news. It stands to improve education and prevent the publication of erroneous figures. It's already baked into some Microsoft products.
If you weren’t a behavioural economist/scientist, what would you be doing? About 20 years ago I left academia for the burgeoning comedy scene in NYC. I was acting, writing, and producing theater. After a couple of years I decided between trying to make it in TV writing or trying to make it in academia. Observing friends who went down one road or the other, I was surprised to learn that TV writing was not as risky as I would have thought. Perhaps this is due to the proliferation of TV channels.
How do you apply behavioural economics/science in your personal life? I take the research on clinical vs statistical prediction to heart and like to use models to make consumer decisions. When we were buying an apartment, I constructed a pricing model to see if what the sellers were asking was reasonable.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural economist/scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make? If your are in school, take all the stats and data science courses you can. It is much harder to pick up that stuff up once you are out in the world, mostly due to a lack of time or support structure.
How do you think behavioural economics/science will develop (in the next 10 years)? Hopefully, we will have greatly reduced the publication of false positives and will have a much better sense of the size of effects. In addition, I think the predictive quality of psychological models will also be improved because we have more data, more data sharing, and better model selection practices.
Which other academic would you love to read an interview by? I would love to read an interview with either Katy Milkman or Joe Simmons.
Thank you so much for these amazing answers Dan! 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!