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 Zsofia Belovai. Zsofi leads MoreThanNow’s Organisational Performance practice, focusing on projects related to psychological safety, performance management, and reskilling. Working her way up from an intern to a practice lead over the last three years, she has conducted 11 randomised controlled trials. She’s helped to improve the working lives of tens of thousands of people across companies and industries in collaboration with academics from Harvard Business School, INSEAD, UCL and LMU Munich. Prior to being a part of MTN, Zsofi received a BA in Psychology from Cambridge University, and an MSc in Behavioural Science from LSE.
Who or what got you into behavioural science?
The whole story started with me being a bit torn about what to study for my undergrad. Initially, I was set on doing law, but my school mentor asked me – “Are you sure you want to do law? Is there anything else that you might want to explore?” At the time my mum was studying psychology, and pretty much just off the whim I told my mentor maybe that’s something I could read more about.
Long story short, I fell in love with the discipline, studied Psychological and Behavioural Sciences at Cambridge and was very set on wanting to work in the field.
The big moment for behavioural science happened during a lecture by Helena Rubinstein in my final year. She talked about how they use behavioural science at Innovia to create change across industries and companies. Those 50 minutes made me realise that this is exactly what I want to do. Following this experience, I angled my entire approach to my career to make sure I end up working in behavioural science, starting off with a master’s degree at LSE.
What is the accomplishment you are proudest of as a behavioural scientist? And what do you still want to achieve?
I’m proud of having done 11 RCTs since I have started working at MoreThanNow with the most amazing academics and organisations. And I am especially proud that one of our projects from earlier this year has been written up as a working paper and presented at conferences, including one for NBER. This is arguably the first RCT on psychological safety every done – pretty cool if you ask me.:)
As for the future I’m that annoying person who has a lot planned. I would like to make sure that we can publish many more papers on our work at MoreThanNow with the support of the professors we work with, because I genuinely believe in the value of what we do. I would also like to contribute to behavioural science and RCTs becoming a common practice in multinational organisations to improve employee wellbeing. And my big long-term goal is to become someone who has the means to invest in growing the applied behavioural science industry and leave a positive mark on the discipline.
If you weren’t a behavioural scientist, what would you be doing?
I like to get very nerdy about what I do in and out of the gym to improve my performance. I would probably retrain in sports nutrition and exercise physiology, and work with professional athletes.
How do you apply behavioural science in your personal life?
In all honesty, most of the time I just acknowledge the type of bias or heuristic I’m using and still fall into the pitfalls of my System 1.:)
But jokes aside, I always try to be aware of my present bias. When it comes to money, life decisions, or thinking I will remember something without writing it down I always stop and ask myself – “what will future me think of this?” It’s been a very helpful way to work towards my goals in all areas of life (and towards not forgetting to buy washing up liquid when I run out).
With all your experience, what skills would you say are needed to be a behavioural scientist? Are there any recommendations you would make?
Being able to communicate research findings to non-academic audiences has been something I find very important. Additionally, having the ability to look beyond frameworks and mnemonics and understanding the target population when designing interventions is going to be a key skill for our future colleagues.
Finally, do your statistics homework! It’s a data-driven world, and being able to run and understand data analysis will make it a lot easier to find your place in it.
How do you think behavioural science will develop (in the next 10 years)?
I hope we will see more rigorous testing rather than just “selling nudges”. I genuinely believe that our field has a huge opportunity to change the world for the better, so I hope that the next generation of private and public sector leaders will also invest in making sure that the behavioural science approach is incorporated into their policies and strategies.
What advice would you give to young behavioural scientists or those looking to progress into the field?
Do your networking! There aren’t many of us out there yet, but everyone is very keen to help each other out. Make sure you set up chats and make yourself known to others. This way, finding your place will be easier than you imagined.
Which other behavioural scientists would you love to read an interview by?
I would love to read one from MoreThanNow’s founder James Elfer, and from my fellow Hungarian behavioural scientists – the founders of BeHive.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions Zsofia!
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!