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 Eva Krockow. Eva is Assistant Professor of Psychology, and the Health & Wellbeing Research Lead at the University of Leicester. Her work focuses on the psychology of judgement and decision making. She looks into cooperation and defection, and into health-related decision making.. Which is an interesting combination! Additional areas of interest include mental accounting, financial risk-taking, causal reasoning and human confidence. On top of all of this, she is also the author of "Stretching Theory", a regular decision-making blog for Psychology Today. Take it away Eva!
Who or what got you into behavioural science?
This is an easy one! I was inspired by an exceptional university professor, Prof Andrew Colman, who got me interested in the discipline during my undergraduate dissertation research. Even though I initially chose a different career, working in international development and human rights for a few years, I continued my behavioural science exchange with my ex dissertation supervisor long after my graduation. Our discussions were stimulating and made me realise how much I was missing research. In 2013, I made the difficult decision to quit my job, return to academia and complete a PhD in psychological game theory. I haven’t regretted it since!
PS: Andrew and I are still good friends and colleagues!
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist?
I have been involved in a lot of exciting research projects over the past years. A particular highlight was my research on antibiotic prescribing choices in the UK, South Africa and Sri Lanka, where I got to apply behavioural science theories (social dilemma theory and principal agent theory) to the very topical issue of antibiotic overuse. However, my proudest achievement to date is probably my regular blog on decision-making psychology at Psychology Today. I post several articles per month and always target lay audiences. Some people think non-academic writing is easy, but man, are they wrong! I love the challenge of presenting scientific knowledge in an engaging and accessible way. Writing general science articles has helped my own understanding of the underlying issues, boosted my creativity and improved my general writing skills. But the most rewarding of all are the letters and emails I receive from readers around the world. It’s great to see that I am able to touch people’s lives (albeit in a small way) and I love being able to stimulate thought and discussion.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
I would be a yoga teacher! In fact, training to become a yoga teacher is my secret back-up plan in case my academic career collapses or I get too fed up with writing applications for research grants. There’s nothing like a fast-paced vinyasa class to clear my mind and balance my mood. I practice every day, and would love to share this passion with others. I regularly attend yoga fairs and retreats, but so far I’ve never had the time to become a trained teacher. Well, there’s still time…
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?
I guess as a behavioural scientist, I am a lot more sensitive to choice contexts and the way that information is framed. I harbour a general hatred for “opt-out” tick boxes that try to trick you into receiving email subscriptions. I pay a lot of attention to the wording of media reports and, as a matter of principle, I deeply mistrust all targeted advertising I receive online. Overall, I’d say I have developed a more critical attitude over time. This was particularly noticeable during the unfolding of the recent Covid-19 pandemic. I’ve seen a lot of my friends (and strangers) give in to blind fear and irrational behaviours spurned by sensationalist media reports. And while I adhere to all recommendations on hand washing and self-distancing, I will certainly NOT start bulk buying toilet paper or discriminating against Chinese nationals.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
Um, this is a tough one. I don’t think there is one fixed skills set for becoming a behavioural scientist. Instead, a strong sense of curiosity and an intrinsic interest in people are crucially important! I generally believe that any career path is most influenced by motivation, passion and drive rather than specific skills or abilities. Although, a certain level of analytical thinking and creative problem-solving skills certainly help in the quest to becoming a behavioural scientist!
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
Personally, I hope that behavioural sciences will become even more applied over the next 10 years. As an academic researcher, I come across a lot of theory-focused research studies that generate interesting insights, but rarely make any real-life contributions or lead to actual change. I think that only a combination of fundamental science and applied behavioural research will keep behavioural science research current and relevant. I myself transitioned from conducting narrow research on abstract experimental games to investigating decision making in more applied contexts such as health care and risk communication. I have seen similar trends across research institutions and these are supported by the impact-driven application criteria for larger-scale research grants. Over the next decade, I hope to see more behavioural scientists using their skills and knowledge to improve real-life decision making ranging from policy design to recommendations about supermarket layouts.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
There are too many to list here! I’d love to read interviews with Katy Milkman, Wändi Bruine de Bruin or Caroline Webb.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write down these amazing answers Eva. I hope to do an interview with Katy Milkman soon, but no promises!
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!