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Interview with Roos van Duijnhoven

Behavioural Science is a rapidly expanding field and everyday new research is being developed in academia, tested and implemented by practitioners in financial organisations, 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 Roos van Duijnhoven.

Roos is a behavioural scientist and co-founder of Nuance. Her expertise lies in behaviour change and neuropsychology. She uses this knowledge to create (digital) behaviour change solutions that address societal challenges. Roos has experience with applying behavioural science across diverse sectors — from cyber resilience and digital literacy to mental health and habit formation. Her goal is to have a lasting and positive impact on society — one behavioral step at a time.


How did you get into behavioural science? I wanted to study something that I find really interesting, but I wasn’t entirely sure yet about what type of work that was going to lead to. When I started my bachelor in psychology your main prospects were to become a clinical psychologist or do something else. But what that something else was, was not so straightforward at the time. I then did a master program in behaviour change -- which I found fascinating, but still had no clue what kind of job this would result in. After that, I did another master in applied neuropsychology. And then slowly but surely applied behavioural science became more up and coming, and more behavioural science related job opportunities came up. And that’s how I entered the space of applied behavioural science.

What is the thing you are proudest of as achieving as a behavioural scientist? Starting out as an independent consultant was quite a leap of faith. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I thought, let's just give it a try and see how it goes. It was a good decision in hindsight because I’ve been enjoying the work that I’ve been involved in. I'm actually quite proud of just giving it a try and how everything has turned out so far.

That being said, I’m also super proud to be part of the founding team of Nuance, a behavioural science advisory service focused on supporting organizations in how to apply behavioural science in designing digital tools and interventions for behaviour change. We’ve been developing new approaches to addressing the most common challenges faced in product design these days. I’m proud of all the progress we’ve made so far and the whole process from getting together to discuss ideas and concepts to now having launched Nuance.


What is it that you're still looking to achieve as a behavioural scientist? Well, with Nuance, we’re aiming to translate scientific insights into actionable strategies, in an accessible way, without losing the scientific rigour and complexity of behaviour. We hope to do that through our nuanced processes, which we’ve systemized and optimized for designing digital products. There are a lot of tools out there that claim to change behaviour in a scientifically backed way, but it’s still hard to assess objectively how effective all those tools are. We’ve been developing and iterating an assessment method to do that. In the end, the goal is to design products that effectively support people in improving their decisions and behaviour, aligning design features with behavioural goals, without things like dark patterns or addictive design. So working with companies who share that vision and achieving a positive societal impact through effective product design is something I’m looking to do more of!

What is a frustration of yours with the field of behavioural science? One of my biggest frustrations is a focus on vanity metrics, such as user engagement without actual behavioural change. But another concern is a focus on the list of cognitive biases or simplifications of what behavioural concepts are. And because people are talking about it in such a simplified way, the actual essence behind it often gets diluted or misused. And that can lead to misapplication or not a fully correct application of behavioural principles. They then don't get the results that they want or expect and that's why people think behavioural science is broken, that it doesn't work. The dangers of this simplification also mean that people can think, ‘Oh, we don't need a behavioural scientist because I just read this post or this listened to a podcast on behavioural science. And now I am also a behavioural scientist, so I can do it myself.’


What challenges is behavioural science likely to face in say, the upcoming 10 years? Behavioural science as a discipline shouldn't be in a silo. There are so many other disciplines that have different perspectives on behavioural topics. And I think we should really learn from each other and not be like on our ivory tower of behavioural science, but talk to other practitioners or other scientists and learn from the challenges that they face and the perspectives that they have. So I really think that you should sometimes take a step back to see the forest through the trees. I think sometimes you should take a step back and see all the influences that are at play, not only from a behavioural perspective, but from other disciplines too. To come up with effective solutions for complex societal issues, we need to look at behaviour from multiple angles, and that requires working together with people in other disciplines, and people in different roles and functions.

What are you hoping behavioural science to develop into in the next 10 years, do you think is actually realistic? I'm hoping that we find a better balance between making things actionable and practical, but still keeping everything scientifically sound. That's a fine line, but I hope that we find the right balance.

Also, I'm not even sure if people will really be called behavioural scientists if they work for a company a decade from now. I can imagine that behavioural science gets integrated into the role. For example, if you're working in a product team, developing a digital tool, that it's not necessarily behavioural scientists that work in this team, but maybe UX/UI designers who also have a background in behavioural science.

I don’t think behavioural science is something that should replace UX or design methods by the way. I really see it as something that is an additional layer, a lens through which you can look at a problem from a more behavioural perspective. I don't think we should see it as if we're competing with product design or with what is already there, but we should find some common ground and see how we can work together to combine the best of both.


What do you think is the skill set required to be a great behavioural scientist? I think a lot of people are talking about being more of a generalist. You need to be able to do a lot of different things, like a certain level of research skills, but it’s also really important that you can explain what you're doing in a way that's understandable for someone without a background in behavioural science. You need to be able to speak the language of the person that you're dealing with, and explain how behavioural science can add value to them and their line of work. You need to be able to understand where the other person is coming from, like figuring out what they find important and what are they trying to achieve. And then link that to how can you contribute to those goals with your behavioural scientific knowledge and skills.

If someone is now looking to get into behavioural science, what would you recommend they do? I think ‘getting into behavioural science’ is quite a broad thing to aim for, right? There are so many different directions that you can take within the field of behavioural science. I talk a lot about designing products, but you also have this whole field of say international development or public policy, and that's kind of a different game. It's still related to behavioural science, but it is very different. So I think if your goal is to get into behavioural science in general, then the next step would be to zoom in on what exactly it is that you would love to do within this broad space.

Once you know this, you can look for people who are working for companies or working on projects that are related to your specific interests. Then start networking and engaging with them. That could be a way to learn about their experiences and challenges, and then you can start to look for ways how behavioural science could add value.

What do you think you would have become if you hadn't found behavioural science? What do you think you'd be doing instead? I read in an old diary from when I was a child that I wanted to become a teacher, but I don't know what I should be teaching! I did like maths at school, I never followed up on it. I think maybe something creative would be great. Having a small studio somewhere, just working on something with my hands, like something with paint or clay. Or a little bakery to bake bread and make pastries.


Do you apply behavioural science to your own life? I do, but I also have to say that sometimes I know that I should be doing something else because science says that this is better, and I’m just like, nah… I don't feel like that right now. For example, I had to do a literature study on overcoming procrastination which I was ironically procrastinating.

But in general, I do apply it to the way I plan my day, for example I do use temptation bundling when I'm in the gym, listening to a good podcast during a cardio session. But other times I don’t like temptation bundling, because I also just want to be able to enjoy this podcast in a relaxing way and not sweat my ass off at the same time! Sometimes it's better to switch off and leave work at work, right?

But who do you recommend for me to interview next? Which behavioural scientists do you really admire? I read some work of Lydia Roos, she focuses on digital health and wearables. And she started doing this Wearable Wednesday blog. I think that's how I started following her. I would love to hear more about her work. Then I’m sure you’d enjoy talking to Hassan Aleem. He is also part of Nuance. He has a background in cognitive neuroscience and he's just a very bright person. And I always learn a lot from his view on things.

And Sander van der Linden would also be great, but I'm not sure if he identifies as a behavioural scientist. He studies fake news, misinformation and inoculation theory, and I find that super interesting!


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

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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