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Interview with Katherine White

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 Katherine White.

Kate White is Professor of Marketing and Behavioural Science at the Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia, Canada. She is the Senior Associate Dean of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the UBC Sauder School of Business and is Academic Director of the Peter P. Dhillon Centre for Business Ethics. Kate’s research focuses on how to encourage ethical, prosocial, and sustainable consumer behaviours. Kate currently serves as Associate Editor for the Journal of Marketing Research and is on the editorial review boards of the Journal of Consumer Research, the Journal of Marketing, and the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Kate has consulted on various behaviour-change projects with clients such as The City of Calgary, Health Canada, BC Hydro, Big Rock Brewery, the SPCA, Lululemon, and Starbucks. Let's see what she makes of the interview!


Who or what got you into behavioural science?

Originally, my interest in behavioural science was sparked by my Psychology 101 instructor, who was an amazing teacher and storyteller. I ended up harassing him for three years until he hired me as his research assistant! (Take-away: polite persistence can pay off!).

My transition into marketing from social psychology was a little more accidental (and non-linear). When I was doing my PhD in social psychology at the University of British Columbia, I ended up taking a course on Consumer Behaviour in the business school and I really appreciated applying research insights to real life phenomena. However, when one of the professors first suggested that I apply for marketing faculty positions when I was going on the job market my first response was: “Um… no, marketing is evil.” But I came around to realize that a marketing lens is a very powerful way of thinking about behaviour change, which is where my passion lies. And, of course, I could use marketing for good. I did softly go on the job market in marketing, but I refused to send out 100+ applications (which is typical in marketing academia) and I only sent 6! In retrospect, I was a bit of a brat. But here I am today, so it obviously all worked out.

What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?

My proudest accomplishment is my review paper and accompanying practitioner piece with Rishad Habib and David Hardisty, on encouraging sustainable consumer behaviours. It was very big undertaking and the first version of that paper had over 400 references! Recently, I have been doing some advising with brands and organizations who are sincere and passionate about making changes for the better, which I am really enjoying. I am looking forward to moving the needle more on tackling sticky behavioural issues like climate change.

If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?

I would be a graphic designer. It was a toss-up for me to go to university or art/design school, but I had a small scholarship to go to university, so I figured I would try that first.

How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?

Ugh… I actually might need some more behavioural science actually applied my life! I think the things I use most are around planning, implementation intentions, and goal setting. I definitely take note of when I fall prey to heuristics and biases and try my best to overcome these. I try to think about situations from different perspectives and de-bias myself.

I will often try to impart small pieces of knowledge to my twin daughters, who will sometimes then turn around and use their knowledge to influence me. One thing I often tell them is that experiences make us happier than tangible goods. When we were looking at places to stay on a recent vacation, they wanted us to spend more on an upgrade on the accommodations (better swimming pools!), they said – “but mom, the research shows that experiences make you happier!”

With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?

In terms of completing a PhD and being a behavioural scientist in academia, I think you have to be naturally curious and able to spot interesting phenomena and generate questions as a result of observing everyday occurrences. You need to be a natural observer of human behaviour. I also think that doing the PhD and working in academia isn’t for everyone. To put it bluntly, you have to work your butt off. And you need to know that you will receive a lot of rejection and negative feedback. Nobody ever tells you about this when you start—at least nobody ever told me.

How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?

More generally, I think that more and more organizations are going to want to harness behavioural science to optimize outcomes. This includes outcomes linked to goals around sustainability, equity and diversity, customer retention, employee engagement, change management, and health and well-being. Thus, I do think that we will increasingly see more organizations using behavioural science to optimize their programs and initiatives.

More specifically, I think two big influencers of where behavioural science is going to go are technology and climate change. I think new technologies are going to drastically change what people are doing and this is going to be intrinsically interesting from a behavioural science perspective. What are our smart devices doing to people, psychologically speaking? How are people reacting to artificial intelligence across different contexts? I also think that we as a species are going to need to make bold changes to deal with climate change and that behavioural science is going to be one very important piece of the behaviour change puzzle.

Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?

Cait Lamberton and Sonia Kang.


Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Kate!

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!


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