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 Ido Erev. Ido joined the Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management in 1990 as a Lecturer and was promoted to Full Professor in 2004. Ido is a member of the Laboratory for Human Factors and Safety at the Technion and of the Max Wertheimer Minerva center for Cognitive Research. In addition he was a visiting research associate in Economics at Pittsburgh University and in Harvard Business School, and the incumbent of the Michael A. Gould Visiting Israeli Professorship at Columbia Business School. His research focuses on three related lines of research; Observation of a large difference between decisions that are made based on a description of the incentive structure, and decisions that are made based on experience, difference between anomalies and forecasts and the practical implications of the basic research summarized above.
Who or what got you into behavioural science? After high school I spent one year organizing educational social activities in a low income neighborhood. During this period, I learned that the key for effective organization is good prediction of the impact of alternative designs, and I also noticed that I enjoy this prediction part the most.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve? I am most proud of the discovery of the description-experience gap (the finding that experience reverses the initial tendency to overweight rare events, and triggers underweighting of rare events), and the observation that the main effect of experience can be predicted with simple models that assume reliance on a small set of the most similar past experiences. In my future research I hope to demonstrate how prediction oriented behavioral science can help create a better world. I also hope to arrive every day to my desk with the feeling that today I might find an important phenomenon.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing? Programmer that tries to develop new products.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life? When I make costly mistakes, I am often glad to see that they reflect my tendency to underweighted rare events. So, the mistakes support my research, and can help extend it. This habit was enhanced by Duncan Luce’s answer described in my Answer to Question 8.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
The use of computer simulations to derive models that provide clear and useful predictions of human behavior. Yet, remember that models come and go, but robust phenomena stay (I first heard this sentence from Amnon Rapoport). Models are most useful when they can help discover new important phenomena.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)? Stronger focus on predictions.
What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field? Try to start a new project only if you believe that it will be possible to summarize the most interesting possible results with two or three easy to understand sentences, and it might be possible to use the results to create a better world.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
Scientists that focus on estimating models that do no not provide useful predictions using sophisticated statistical tools. I want to understand why they think that this activity is important.
When I started studying the effect of experience, in the 90s, I asked several famous researchers why they have stopped studying this effect. Here are some of the answers that affected me the most (as I remember them): Duncan Luce: Now that I am old, I am more interested in my own mistakes. In particular, I try to understand why I exhibit the Allais paradox. Herb Simon: I got more reinforcements from studying bounded rationality. Amos Tversky: It is clear that if you hit subjects with a 5Kg “feedback hammer” they will learn to be rational. I want to study what people learn before they arrive at the lab. Alvin E. Roth: There is no good answer, let's study it.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Ido!
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!