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 Lasana Harris.
Lasana is a social neuroscientist who takes an interdisciplinary approach to understand human behaviour. His research explores the brain and physiological correlates of person perception, social learning, emotions, and inferences, prejudice, dehumanization, anthropomorphism, punishment, and decision-making. He is appointed in the Experimental Psychology Department in Psychology and Language Sciences at University College London, where he is the Vice Dean for Global Engagement in the Faculty of Brain Sciences (FBS). He is also the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Lead for Post-Graduate Taught (PGT) Academic and Workforce Programmes at the Anna Freud Centre, a council member at the United Kingdom Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), a Fellow at the Turing Institute, and a Visiting Professor at the Institute of Philosophy, School of Advances Studies. He completed his undergraduate education at Howard University, USA, and received post-graduate training at Princeton University, USA. Let's see how Lasana sees behavioural science!
Who or what got you into behavioural science?
I stumbled into behavioural science really. I studied film as an undergraduate, before deciding that I wanted to do something else. The Psychology Department happened to still be in the communication building, so I went in and had a conversation with he chair about psychology. Even then, my early research was qualitative, focused more on personality rather than behaviour. I only started doing behavioural science as a doctoral student. I liked the experimental method, and the ability to answer causal questions about people’s behaviour. But at first, I hated it because the judgment and decision making research in social psychology seemed so limited. I swore I would never do decision-making research, yet here I am.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve? I was thrilled to be part of a group of people who stimulated research two sub-fields: dehumanisation and social neuroscience. I still want to improve have we measure human behaviour, and much of my work now focusses on this issue. If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing? I would be making movies in Hollywood, telling stories about human behaviour rather than scientifically studying it. How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life? I don’t, at least not intentionally. For me, academic research is separate from my life. I know many scientists who use the principles of their research to inform how they live their lives, but I am happy being a flawed human bumbling through life. I feel like that gets me the full human experience. With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make? Behavioural science is still science, so scientific skills are a premium. In addition, studying human behaviour is perhaps the hardest science because we are studying ourselves. So at best, we a re looking in a mirror, and have to keep all of our humanness out of the research, which is near impossible. So an open mind is important, perhaps more so than other scientific pursuits. Also, people usually study human behaviour because there is something personally meaningful to them that they want to address.This is a gift and a curse, so be aware of your personal biases and how they influence the questions you ask and your ability to interpret data objectively. How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)? The field is in the midst of a computational revolution, which comes on the back of a neuroscience revolution. I image we will be much more computational in the future, relying even more on mathematical models and algorithms to explain behaviour. What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field? The field changes really quickly, so don’t be wedded to ideas or concepts; they become obsolete quickly. Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by? Sheena Iyengar! I find her work fascinating and would love to know how her humanity impacts her approach to behavioural science.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Lasana!
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!