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 Marco A. Palma. Marco is Professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University. He is also the director of the Human Behavior Laboratory, a transdisciplinary facility that integrates state of the art technology to measure biometric and neurophysiological responses of human decision making. The "HBL" aims to facilitate the integration of neurophysiological responses to traditional methods of studying human behavior in the social sciences. Marco's main research interests focus on consumer economics, food choices, and experimental, behavioral and neuro-economics.
Who or what got you into behavioural science?
I have always been interested in diverse topics from multiple disciplines. I think at the core of almost any discipline there is behavioral science and human interactions with other humans, other species and even intelligent machines. Behavioral science gives me flexibility to explore new topics of research and to keep learning new things all the time.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve? I am proud of working with amazing students who push the boundaries of knowledge. Part of my job is challenging my students to find their passion and to pursue it relentlessly with bravery and devotion. Any achievement or important discovery is meaningless if it is not serving the greater good or helping someone. I want to put everything I do at the disposal of people so they can use it to make better decisions and improve their health and well-being and have longer and happier lives. My personal life code is “Dream big, Work hard and Help others.” I want to inspire my students to pursue the truth and to become agents of positive change and hope.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing? This question reminds me of an old story about a Greek general facing impossible odds in battle. After crossing the sea he instructed soldiers to burn the ships that took them to the shore of the battleground and told his army they would be returning home in the conquered enemy ships or not returning home at all. I burned “my ship” so long ago that it is difficult for me to imagine myself doing something different. I love music and I love sports. Maybe I would be doing something related to music, sports and education.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life? To me studying behavior is a lifestyle. I see the world as a big experiment. We live dynamic lives and we are constantly adapting in response to changes in our environment and social interactions. I apply behavioral science to try to do things that make me and those I love and care about happy.
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make? Curiosity, inquisitiveness, and keeping an open mind. Be inspired by nature and learn behavioral aspects of simpler organisms. Do not take anything for granted and question everything. Read broadly, especially from disciplines outside of your expertise. Sometimes new knowledge comes from connecting existing ideas that sparkle revolutionary thinking and new paradigms.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)? I think it is an exciting time to work on behavioural science given all the technological advances that allow us to study behavioral aspects of decisions and choice process data to better understand the underlying motivations of human decision making from multiple disciplines. I believe the integration of neuroscience, economics, psychology, endocrinology, genetics, anthropology, and other disciplines will add to our understanding over the next decades. I am looking forward to engage in more global collaborations where studies can be simultaneously conducted in multiple locations around the world in order to ensure the replicability of the results and also to better understand the role of culture and social interactions on decision making.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
I would love to hear from people working on behavioral science of non-human species and maybe some artificial intelligence designers and how anthropomorphic features influence their designs.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write down these amazing answers Marco.
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!