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 Hal Hershfield. Hal is a researcher and Associate Professor of Marketing, Behavioral Decision Making, and Psychology at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. His research, which sits at the intersection of psychology and economics, examines the ways that people consider their future selves, and how feelings of connection to these distant selves can impact financial decision-making over time. He earned his PhD in psychology from Stanford University and his BA from Tufts University. Hal is committed to the work of helping people make better long-term decisions.
Who or what got you into behavioural science? My graduate advisor, Laura Carstensen. She has taken a psychological approach to studying some of the most pressing policy problems, and I’d be happy if I could emulate some of her success and ability to make changes in the world.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve? For a few years, I’ve been working with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to develop a tool that will help financial educators better advise their clients on saving and budgeting behaviors. The tool is based on research that I and my students / colleagues have done, and I love the idea that something that was theory-driven will have a real applied home in the world. This is just one tool though. What I’d really love is if at some point, I could provide insights that could affect change at the policy level.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing? Probably hanging out on a beach in Hawaii? Or maybe that’s a biased answer after spending ~11 months inside. In reality, I’d probably want to be a consultant or work for a think tank. Part of what excites me about behavioral science is the process of identifying a problem and then trying to determine solutions. To some extent, consulting involves a similar process.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life? I mostly just fret about all the ways that I should be doing things differently if only I had the discipline to interject more behavioral science into my personal life. But beyond that, I’ve tried my best to remove as much friction as I can for doing unpleasant short-term tasks that have positive long-term consequences.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make? Curiosity about people, and curiosity about solving problems. I feel lucky that I have been encouraged all of my life to ask questions, and being rewarded for doing so has (I think) led to me being a better social scientist. On a more boring level, being able to quickly answer emails is probably an important skill for a behavioral scientist in the 21st century and that’s something I’m still trying to get better at (recognizing that you asked me to respond to these questions 4 days ago).
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)? I think we’re already starting to see some exciting developments where researchers are testing the effectiveness of behavioral campaigns not just in broad, general settings, but in ones that appreciate individual differences as well. I’m hopeful that in the years to come, we’ll see more and more individualized approaches to behavioral interventions.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by? There are so many great folks doing great work these days! But, I find the work of Allie Lieberman (my new colleague at Anderson!), Wendy de la Rosa, and Abby Sussman particularly exciting.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Hal.
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!