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 Jonathan Berman. Jonathan is an Associate Professor of Marketing at the London Business School. His research primarily focuses on judgment and decision-making and consumer behavior. His specific areas of research look at (a) consumer ethical decision-making and (b) personal financial decision-making. Before joining London Business School, Professor Berman completed his PhD at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. His research has been published in top Marketing and Psychology journals including in Psychological Science, the Journal of Marketing Research, and the Journal of Consumer Research.
Who or what got you into behavioural science? I was working for a literary agency a few years after my undergraduate degree when I happened upon a few popular science books on decision-making. These books introduced me to the science of decision-making. Even though I was an economics major, I never encountered these topics before. I found myself reading more and more, and decided that, while illuminating, reading a few books would not satiate my craving to deeply understand these topics. I eventually decided to pursue a Masters Degree at the London School of Economics in Decision Sciences, which started me down this path. That specific Masters program is now defunct, but it was such a great primer to behavioral sciences. There I met Daniel Read who supervised my first research project and inspired me to pursue this as a career. What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve? Curiously, I feel the greatest pride in the papers I write that fly under the radar and aren't as known as I think they deserve to be! As far as the future is concerned, I'd really just like to contribute to clear thinking about what it means to be a human being and live in this world. The world is so confounding in so many ways, and I believe that research can help gain greater clarity on what really matters and why.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing? Oh geez, this is not a question I like to think about. I felt lost in my professional career before pursuing academia and I don't really know where I'd be if I didn't pursue this path. Perhaps the most likely outcome would be that I'd end up in "middle management" in an otherwise unfulfilling job. As you can tell, I feel truly grateful for finding my way to the behavioral sciences. How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life? I deeply believe that studying behavioral sciences has made a major impact on my personal life. I see this the most in the way I regulate my emotions and manage my expectations. When I was younger I was prone to extreme bouts of fear and anxiety that would negatively impact my day to day life and would inhibit me from being able to think clearly. Understanding and internalizing a few major behavioral insights has helped me realize that much of my negative emotions are unfounded. For instance, in referring to the Focusing Illusion, Daniel Kahneman points out that "Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it." We tend to think our succeses and failures will impact our well being a lot more than it does in reality. We believe that both losses hurt more than they do and gains will feel better than they do. Knowing that in the end that different outcomes won't matter as much as I think brings a much needed calm to the way I go about living in the world. This is just one example, but there are so many more ways in which I take on the insights from behavioral sciences. There is a wealth of useful knowledge out there that has helped me obtained increased clarity about the way I interact with the world.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make? I tend to think that this question really depends on the person and what their goals are. There are many types of behavioral scientists and many skills that that are useful. My suggestion is generally for young researchers to make sure that they have a minimul degree of competency one typically covers in a Masters or PhD program. Then, one likely should focus on on the a few areas where they see themselves having particular strengths. For some that is having deep stats knowledge while for others that is devleoping and running field studies and for others its project management or even writing. This is a collaborative field. People will want to collaborate with you if you've got a strength that they lack.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)? I honestly have no idea. My hope is that behavioral sciences gets much more sophisticated about understanding how to work with, understand, and impact policy. I believe that making an impact on policy is the most direct way to make the world a better place. Let's try to do that.
What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field? Be picky about choosing which projects you want to follow through with. Being stuck with a bad project can be demotivating and suck up too much of your time. Our time in this world is all too short. No one wants to spend it on work projects they have serious misgivings about. Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by? Are you really going making me choose?!? No matter who I choose I'll ultimately feel bad about leaving off so many people. So I'm going to take the easy way out and punt on this question.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Jonathan!
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!