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 Ximena Garcia-Rada.
Ximena is a behavioral researcher currently completing her Doctorate in Marketing at Harvard Business School. She will be joining Texas A&M University Mays Business School as an Assistant Professor of Marketing in fall 2021. Ximena studies consumer behavior and well-being in the context of close, personal relationships using laboratory experiments, field studies, archival data, and in-depth interviews. Before joining Harvard, she worked as a research associate at Duke University, where she studied how social and cultural factors impact decision-making and dishonest behavior. Ximena received a Bachelor of Business Administration from Universidad de Lima and an MBA from INCAE Business School.
Who or what got you into behavioral science?
Before academia, I worked as a consultant and marketing manager for about five years. In 2012, I met Dan Ariely, who offered me a job in his behavioral economics lab at Duke University. I worked with him for a couple of years and that is when I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: the job was so much fun and I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to study questions I was passionate about. So, I applied to graduate school and ended up pursuing a PhD in marketing at Harvard Business School.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioral scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?
I just defended my dissertation last month and I feel proud about the work I’ve done at Harvard over the past six years studying consumer behavior in the context of close, personal relationships. For example, in one of the essays of my dissertation, I study why people have a preference for effort when caring for close others: for example, why parents feel bad about themselves when they use effort-reducing products like premade meals or robo-cribs to take care of their children. After conducting a series of online and lab experiments, I contacted a company that sells parenting devices, told them about my research and we ended up running a field study together! After receiving the field study results, they changed their marketing materials to implement suggestions from my research…that was pretty cool!
I want to continuing doing research I feel passionate about, and hope my works has an impact on academics, practitioners, and communities across the world.
If you weren’t a behavioral scientist, what would you be doing?
I would be a travel journalist or blogger. I love to travel, write, read, experience new cultures, and meet new people.
How do you apply behavioral science in your personal life?
I constantly remind myself that changing behavior is hard. We are all full of good intentions but when it comes to actually doing things, we often fail because there are so many external factors that can derail us; for this reason, I often try to change the environment where I make decisions. For example, I love desserts but whenever I am trying to lose weight, I just won’t buy them. This means that when I craving for a chocolate or cookie, I can’t have one because I don’t have one at home. At one point, I even had a cookie jar with a lock (like this one!)
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioral scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
First, I think empathy is an important skill to identify important real-world problems. As a behavioral scientist, I try to think how can we make the world a better place where people live happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives. Second, I think creativity is important to design clever studies to understand the phenomenon of interest and interventions that aid with reinforcing desired behavior. Finally, perseverance is also key: research can take time, and the road to get something published can be bumpy.
How do you think behavioral science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
I think more people will use a mixed-methods approach combining lab studies, field experiments, analysis of archival and text data, in-depth interviews, observational studies, etc. to understand important questions in a more holistic manner.
Which other behavioral scientists would you love to read an interview by?
I would love to hear from strong women in academia I admire, including Leslie John (HBS), Tami Kim (UVA Darden), Kate Barasz (ESADE), and Ovul Sezer (UNC Chapel Hill)!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Ximena!
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!