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 Rebecca Walker Reczek.
Rebecca is the Dr. H. Lee “Buck” Mathews Professor of Marketing at the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University. Her research focuses on the area of consumer behavior, specifically, exploring consumer lay theories and inference making, self-perceptions, and ethical decision making. She has explored these theoretical interests in the substantive domains of food and health decision making and sustainability, as well as online consumer behavior and consumer response to promotions. Both herself and her work have received a plethora of rewards, and she now has the very “honour” of doing this interview! 😉
Who or what got you into behavioural science?
I’ve always been interested in how people think and what drives their behavior. When I was growing up, this meant I read all the time…mostly fiction, where I could really inhabit characters’ inner lives. I never thought this would have any connection to my career, though, as I was 100% certain I wanted a career in business. When I got to college, where I majored in business, I discovered marketing and consumer behavior and realized that there was a path forward in business that would let me truly understand human behavior. After a brief detour into industry (where I worked at Enron before it collapsed!), I ended up in the marketing Ph.D. program at The University of Texas at Austin where I focused on consumer behavior.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a Behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?
Much of my research is focused on consumer well-being. This is actually quite common among consumer behavior scholars in business schools in 2020, but it was much less common when I started my Ph.D. in 2001. The accomplishment of which I am proudest actually happened quite recently. One of my papers was selected as one of the inaugural winners of the 2020 AMA-EBSCO Annual Award for Responsible Research in Marketing, and another of my papers was named as a finalist. I am really proud of being recognized with this award because it honors outstanding research in marketing that produces “both credible and useful knowledge that can be applied to benefit society,” with the goal of “better marketing for a better world.” That’s been the goal of my research since the beginning of my career and continues to be a key goal going forward.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
I would either be a literature professor or an author. That’s probably my biggest daydream, to write a best-selling novel. I’ve started writing several novels…but only in my head. One of these days I’m going to have to actually put pencil to paper, so to speak. I’d probably only publish it under a pseudonym, though! Too much of my real-life usually ends up in all of my novel ideas.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?
I am hyper-aware of the planning fallacy, both at work and at home.
At work, I keep a calendar not just for appointments and meetings but for the actual work I have to do. Actually assigning tasks to specific blocks of time makes you realize how quickly your times gets used up, which reduces the tendency to be overly optimistic about when you’ll get things done/how much you can accomplish. As a result, I end up saying no to things when I truly don’t have the time to do them, but the things I say yes to end up being less stressful, more enjoyable, and (I hope) higher quality.
At home, I have three children under five, so I can’t simply walk out the door when it’s time to go. Snacks need to be packed, everybody has to go to the bathroom, and you never know when someone is going to have a meltdown! It would be all too easy to underestimate the amount of time it takes to just to get everyone into the car, let alone to get where we are going. So at home I try to create rules of thumb based on past experience and stick to those as hard deadlines (e.g., we absolutely have to start getting ready 30 minutes before we want to walk out the door!).
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
I think you have to be genuinely interested in how people work and truly open-minded. It may turn out that how most people think/behave or what types of nudges are successful in shaping their behavior may not line up with how you think and behave or what you think ought to work. We know people aren’t always rational; I think being able to approach that from a place without judgment is important in understanding how to help people make better choices. I’d also encourage any prospective behavioral scientists out there to read…and not just non-fiction work on behavioral science! Read fiction and live in the minds of people very different from you with very different personalities, social contexts, goals, etc.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
I think we are going to see more research focused on the intersection of artificial intelligence, privacy, marketing, and behavioral science. Right now consumers are not necessarily making informed decisions about when/how they allow firms to use their data. I think we need a better understanding of what drives consumer decisions in this space and what interventions might be effective in giving consumers meaningful control over their personal data. What constitutes meaningful control is an interesting question in and of itself, as firm data collection practices and the algorithms that use this data become more sophisticated and opaque to the average consumer.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
Leslie John at Harvard Business School. She is doing really fascinating work on how people make decisions about privacy, including what factors influence whether they decide to disclose or withhold their personal information and how they respond when firms use their data.
I’ll also add Carey Morewedge at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. He recently published some incredibly interesting work exploring why humans are resistant to medical artificial intelligence, and I would love to hear what he’s studying next in the AI domain.
Thank you for these great answers Rebecca! I too suffer the planning fallacy. Badly...
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!