What Are the Most Impressive Developments in Behavioural Science?

Behavioural science is no longer the “child” it once was. Two Nobel Prizes later, having given rise to world-renowned research in both academia and industry, there’s lots to discuss! So I asked my Next Gen’ers: what do you think to the most impressive development has been in behavioural science, so far? And in addition to that colossal question, I also asked them about something more personal: who do they follow in behavioural science? Which research group, company or person do they keep up to date with, because their work has impressed them? Also make sure to read the previous next gen articles! Article 1 introduces the Next Gen, article 2 finds out why they went into behavioural science, article 3 finds out HOW they got into behavioural science, article 4 shows how they actually apply behavioural science, article 5 tells you what our new behavioural scientists actually want from behavioural science and article 6 tells you about the skills that make for a great behavioural scientist. Quite different perspectives!

Flora Finamor Pfeifer “The area has done a giant leap when it broke the academical setting barriers from lab experiments and managed to establish a practical methodology in a real-world setting. Testing interventions in the “wild” showed the real value of the area once it got extremely positive and cost-efficient results. The area managed to create an entire ecosystem with academics and practitioners, and I think this is something great comparing to other scientific areas.

Since I am currently working with behavioral interventions and evaluations in public policies, I closely follow the work from BIT, Ideas 42, the World Banks’s EmBed, and JPAL.

As for leading researchers, I really appreciate Cass Sunstein’s (Harvard University) and Adam Oliver’s (LSE) publications. Interesting perspectives about the history and methodological questions of the field come from Erik Anger, Floris Heukelom, and Alexandro Hortal.

Finally, the Center for Behavioral Change for Health, led by Professor Susan Michie, has recently drawn my interest. I have just got approved to UCL’s Msc Behavioural Change, its department, and I plan to initiate my studied there next year.”

Rebecca Amo “Behavioural Science practitioners being in the fore front of COVID-19 advisory for policy communication formulation in governments especially in the UK. Then with the #Nudgestock2020 pivoting to online conference because of COVID-19, brought with it the blessing of engaging over 120k people globally. We are definitely building a solid ground for generations to come which is a strength for a growing expertise.”

Robert Haisfield “Gosh, I don’t know. Can I say all of it? I’m constantly amazed at the body of work that I have to query and build on. I applaud the open science movement and all of the progress it is making towards making science more accessible and improving our scepticism of what has already been “learned.” I am grateful for the increasing popularity of podcasts and online communities for applied behavioral scientists. In general, I think the internet is phenomenal and I want more discussion on it.

I’m a bit biased but I think Spark Wave is an awesome organization and I want to see more organizations follow our general model. It’s a startup studio, so we’re frequently launching our own products that have a direct impact on people’s lives. We’re also conducting independent social science research to ultimately make better product decisions. Some of the products we produce are for the purpose of making social science easier to study and its findings easier to deploy (like GuidedTrack and Positly), while other products apply our findings and the findings of behavioral science more broadly (UpLift and MindEase). Long term, I want my own startup studio that follows a similar model with a consulting component.

I’d also like to point out that our Ten Conditions for Change are incredibly useful as a checklist for any behavior change initiative and our web page for it sums up and synthesizes so many theories, frameworks, and interventions that it’s more valuable than most of the psychology classes I took in college.”

Sarah Bowen “Technology seems to be speeding research up and offering new ways and environments to observe human behaviour and decision-making.

I guess I have to mention Susan Michie from UCL – her work on behavioural science frameworks (the TDF and BCW) is very influential in the process of applying behavioural insights in a policy space.”

Gabriella Stuart “One obvious milestone is Kahneman and Tversky’s findings that really facilitated for the creation of a new paradigm, which also created a foundation for behavioural science to become the interdisciplinary field that it is today. I would also say that the formation of the Nudge Unit in 2010 in the UK was a vital milestone for behavioural science in public policy. I am probably biased here, but I regard the Center for Behaviour Change (CBC) at UCL as pioneers in the field, primarily because they conduct cutting-edge research in Behaviour Change. In industry, I definitely consider The Behavioural Insights Team a key player that continues to push the boundaries of the field forward.”

Garrett Meccariello “The rise of field experiments as a method. I’ve always looked at university lab experiments as biased. By moving experiments into the field, and to a larger scale, we are able to understand human behavior “in the wild” without the experimenter demand effects and incentive incompatibilities that plague small scale experiments. A lot went into this shift for our industry, notably, the amount of resources that various institutions have devoted to field-based experiments. This is a strong indicator of the investments that people are making in the behavioral science domain, a testament to the impact that interventions and insights have made over the years.

I love what the BIT and Ideas42 are doing in their respective domains. Their work transcends industry silos and makes a noticeable impact in people’s lives.”

Kathryn Ambroze “The mold of a career in behavioral science is gaining a structure. Companies are starting to encourage employees to take courses or attend webinars pertaining to behavioral science. Formalized educational programs, such as the MBDS program, are a great springboard for individuals looking to gain additional schooling. Bringing together thought leaders will advance the field to have provoking conversations and lead to real-world changes.

This may be a cop-out, but HCD Research works diligently to promote validated research. When choosing a company to begin my professional career, I felt morally obligated to find a research team who optimized methodologies to cater to the client’s question, as opposed to just selling cool technology.

HCD has emphasis on education by being present (or contributing) to conferences, publications, webinars, blogs and many other outlets. Furthermore, the company also hosts a symposium every year, NeuroU, to bring together leaders from various industries to learn the basics of Applied Consumer Neuroscience and its application to modern market research, featuring speakers from technologies companies and academia.

Additionally, I am also fascinated by Felipe De Brigard, PhD’s Imagination and Modal Cognition Lab at Duke University, which analyzes memory and hypothetical thinking in different contexts.”

Peter Judodihardjo “I think just the wide acceptance of the field in recent years is perhaps the most impressive development, more than any one insight within the field itself. Social Psychology until recently has been a largely ignored and solely academic endeavor. But the rise of behavioural science and behavioural economics has meant that social psychological insights are now being applied in government policies and corporate decision making worldwide. I find that very exciting.

I look up to so many people in the industry. I already mentioned Dan Ariely as my first inspiration. However, Rory Sutherland and his practical applications of the theoretical have perhaps been the biggest influence on my thinking. I recently had the pleasure of sharing a zoom call with Rory, which was a little surreal given I first watched his talks 7+ years ago. However, there are so many others I admire, Wendy Wood, Robert Cialdini and Angela Duckworth to name a few.”

Sofia Mardiaga Some of the most interesting developments have been the application of data science to behavioural science (i.e. Behavioural Data Science) and the usage of biometrics and neuroscience (i.e. Neuroeconomics). They have both opened up new possibilities for the field, especially data science as it has allowed for more sophisticated analyses.

New behaviour change frameworks that have been appearing are also very interesting. Analyzing data generated by users in their daily lives through tech has also been quite interesting as several applications of this have been seen.

It may sound cliché, but I find the Behavioural Insights Team very interesting. They are involved in several policy problems and have been one of the key organizations to push the field into public policy. That makes them deserve a place on the list. The BIT has also created (and keeps churning out) very interesting resources that are very helpful for the field. Their publications have also proven quite useful both as inspiration and guidelines. On the business side, I find both Ogilvy Consulting and BVA Nudge Unit as super interesting companies (Who doesn’t love Rory Sutherland and Eric Singler? They’re both characters and super passionate about behaviour). Both organizations also generate good content to inspire and educate people from outside the field. I find this super valuable and also important for younger generations to jump into it. I say this quite personally, because without Ariely’s and Kahneman’s books I may have never become fascinated by this field.”

There we have it. A scala of different answers of what has impressed the Next Gen’ers. PLUS, some great suggestions for people/groups/companies to stalk online, to get your behavioural science fix! In the next article we’re going to get a bit more critical. I’ve asked the Next Gen’ers what they think the current limits are of behavioural science, and how to improve the field as a whole! Stay tuned 😊 Also make sure to read the previous next gen articles! Article 1 introduces the Next Gen, article 2 finds out why they went into behavioural science, article 3 finds out HOW they got into behavioural science, article 4 shows how they actually apply behavioural science, article 5 tells you what our new behavioural scientists actually want from behavioural science and article 6 tells you about the skills that make for a great behavioural scientist!

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