My thoughts and answers to important behavioural science questions. A Self-interview blog.
I thought of writing my thoughts about the behavioural science and design in the format of question answer style. Hope you like the answers. Enjoy reading and do share.
Interviewer: Radhika nice to e-meet you! Let’s start our chat by discussing some excellent real-world use of behavioural science. Can you share some examples you have read or witnessed before?
Radhika: “Airports spend a lot of their budgets on machinery and engineering to solve luggage problems to reduce waiting time for the luggage at the carousel. They sometimes hire more baggage handlers which is usually an expensive problem. When looked from the behavioural science perspective, the real problem is that the passengers take about a minute to walk but spend more time waiting for the baggage.
The airport solves this problem by rerouting passengers after passport control so that they have to walk further. This meant that they spent about seven minutes walking and then only one minute of waiting time. The complaints dropped drastically. This is the real-world use of behavioural science that I have witnessed and it's the important one.
This behavioural solution has a combination of concepts-idleness aversion, Operational Transparency and Goal Gradient Effect.
People dread idleness and want to be busy. By walking a lot, they have this perception that they are doing something. Also, It’s been found that revealing to passengers what is going on after the arrival in the airport increases the perceived value of the service. If they clearly know on which belt the luggage is coming, there are enough signposts to reach the luggage point and they end up being more understanding and tolerant.
Our efforts to complete a task increase as we move closer to our goal. For the passenger, reaching the designated baggage counter is a goal and as they progress towards it, they feel more accomplished.
I think it’s one of the best real-world examples of behavioural science.”
Interviewer: Alright, that’s a nice example! Radhika, you have recently completed your masters in behavioural science and in this field, many behavioural concepts are often misunderstood or conflated. Can you name one?
Radhika: “Oh yes! See, when we have so many options at hand we feel paralysing and exhausting, it can cause decision fatigue. We make about 35,000 decisions in a day which means that our decision making energy is limited and with every decision we make we end up depleting our willpower which does not make us happier.
Now, this behavioural concept is often misimplemented or exploited by a lot of companies. The introduction of infinite scroll, unlimited swipes and constant new content by over the top platforms (Netflix etc.) adds to the confusion and undesirable results for the users. This is conflicted by the concept that especially in a social media environment, new creation and update of the content gives the perception that the content is credible and authentic. It increases their decision confidence. This creates a paradox for the professionals, especially those who are responsible for designing the social media and OTT platforms.”
Interviewer: Interesting! Due to these confusing concepts, people perceive that Behavioural science is kind of a manipulation game. How would you address this common concern?
Radhika: “We all know that half knowledge is dangerous. For example, sometimes stakeholders assume customers behaviours based on analytics and work under pressure, strict timelines and budget which leads them to execute certain decisions within constraints which makes end result seems manipulative or deceptive.
This can be tackled by employing the experts in the team, having a proper ethical research team. Behavioural change is an integral part and can’t be skipped. To ensure proper implementation, it is imperative that the relevant beliefs are identified. And making a priority list of which behaviour to tackle first and which is secondary. This activity of choosing the primary and secondary beliefs is crucial as focusing on this will not wander from the main objective of behaviour change.
Also, using the established frameworks like FORGOOD (Fairness, Openness, Respect, Goals, Opinions, Options, Delegation) ethics framework which asks questions like ‘Is the behavioural policy open or hidden and manipulative? This will ensure that behavioural changes don't feel coercive from an ethical point of view and they are serving good goals.”
Interviewer: Yes, Behavioural science is an integral part and can’t be skipped, but I don’t think it’s a silver bullet. Do you also agree?
Radhika: “Due to its interdisciplinary nature, taking its concepts from marketing, psychology, economics, the field acts as an umbrella term. This discipline is viewed differently when combined with different fields. For instance, combined with health, it focuses more on clinical and abnormal psychology aspects. When combined with user experience design, it becomes more of a Behavioural Design where we have to focus on applying the theories like ‘Theory of Planned Behaviour’, MINDSPACE, COMB models and tackling various cognitive biases.
So when we say behavioural science terms we should be aware of the domain and the specific problem statement we are solving. In practice, it's sometimes more about management, timelines, tools, team interpersonal communications, company policies and organisational politics terrains (Woods, High Ground, Weeds, Rocks) to influence our decisions and actually implement to see its impact.
Also, the target population which we want to change behaviourally sometimes don’t act according to our expectations. Abhijeet Banerjee in his book ‘Poor Economics’ mentioned that people have ‘Time Inconsistency’ in their minds when it comes to adapting to new behavioural changes. They focus more on the present rather than the future. They procrastinate or are hesitant towards the vaccinations thinking it's not affecting their present so they don’t work towards their future. But these social characteristics are not generally in the researcher's hands and may act as totally distorted data in labs. So it gives a perception that one behavioural intervention that worked in one setting doesn’t work in a different setting.
If we take care of these things and are aware of the domain and constraint this field has a lot of potentials and then Behavioural science can become a specific gold bullet.”
Interviewer: Yes, that’s true! Concepts in behavioural science rarely operate in a vacuum. Instead, they interconnect and play off one another. Can you share a good example of 3 behavioural concepts you've come across that interrelate?
Radhika: “Social Psychology and behavioural concepts in social context have a lot of concepts that I find interrelated. For example, during group decision making, if one of the group members starts and anchors the discussion, first social desirability bias comes into play. And if that person has a prominent position, authority bias comes into play which ultimately leads to groupthink and group polarization and conformity. These concepts are theorised as different phenomena but they don’t operate in a vacuum. These settings happen a lot in stakeholder corporate round table conferences or meetings where for example a certain feature should be included in an app or not.”
Interviewer: Intersections are interesting. You have both academic and practical experience, so what is the main challenge that you anticipate when operating at this intersection in the behavioural science world?
Radhika: “There is increasing evidence that applying academic results is not achieving the desired results in the practical world. It focuses mainly on falsification and the creation of new knowledge. This is not to say that behavioural science concepts don’t work, but it's because the real world typically ignores the contextual aspects of the actual decision to be influenced. Experienced practitioners and academics know that behavioural interventions are not always the best fix for behavioural problems and even when they are silver bullet solutions it feels like a distant dream or utopia.
It requires multidisciplinary evidence, system thinking and logic models/frameworks. The inclusion of multidisciplinary subjects at the initial graduation level creates exposure and helps students to practice bounded imagination. There should be a hybrid setup in universities that allow industries and experts to give talks. Also in industries, there should be ample job openings for research positions.
The solution would be to have a framework that considers these aspects and helps develop more effective behavioural interventions with an interdisciplinary approach.”
Interviewer: There is an exponential number of behavioural research papers being published, with no two being the same. Some papers' samples are larger, yet others are focused on more practical or impactful outcomes. What is your process or considerations for selecting the "best" research?
Radhika: “The process of selecting the best research is mostly based on decision-making ability and experience. Going by the concept of subject probability, the process involves basically personal judgement and my past experiences and deciding if the respective research is apt for the situation or requirement. Although this decision-making style doesn’t involve the previous settings, I also try to judge if the particular research has certain citations, mentions in social media or slack groups like Habitweekly slack group. This gives a slight hint and a kinda checklist that I should be aware of in the latest talks about researchers.
Selecting the best and apt research is a crucial process and I make a priority list and weigh my alternatives by giving the weightage to each. I also give room for my heuristics to come naturally so that I can select from the most unbiased mindset possible. These heuristics are based on most recent year research, if the domain is covered, a number of mentions, google search. Also, I read about the journal status, whether it's a Scopus or open access, paid, h-index, who are authors, which country, from which year the journal is active, these variables are important in deciding the best research.
Interviewer: Please can you share an important behavioural research paper published recently?
Radhika: “Yes sure! It’s one of my favourite research papers.
Lades, L. K., & Delaney, L. (2020). Nudge forgood. Behavioural Public Policy, 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1017/bpp.2019.53
When we talk about impact in the real world, we are envisioning behavioural science practitioners and researchers applying theories and models to our applications or the end-user products and services. This means the behavioural policies, interventions and nudges have to have some framework that can be considered ethical and can respect the user freedom, privacy and control. As with more data and carbon footprint, the future will be more about careful behavioural interventions. So this research paper by Lades and Delaney about Nudge for Good is one of the many behavioural research papers published in 2020 in the Behavioural Public Policy journal. They have provided FORGOOD framework which is taking care of all the ethical issues and in my opinion will be used a lot alongside the MINDSPACE, COMB models and have a significant impact.”
Interviewer: That’s really insightful. Knowledge of frameworks is important yet complex. There are several behavioural concepts that are not easy to understand. As a designer, you like to simplify things. So, just for a fun question, how would you explain Prospect Theory to a 6-year-old?
Radhika: “See, to explain to 6-year-old this theory, it has to be simple as per his/her understanding. A 6-year-old child understands gains in terms of family, food and entertainment; that’s what his/her entire world is all about.
Let’s take a scenario.
There is a family which consists of a mother, father and 2 twins (6 years old). The twins go to the same school. They get an assignment from school. Now, the parents have to get them to work. The twins are fond of chocolates. So, they call the twins and tell them whoever finishes his/her assignment first will get 2 chocolates and the one who finishes the second will only get 1 chocolate. So, chocolate is the reward which they will get to eat if they finish their assignment on time.”
Interviewer: Wow! That’s easy. So to conclude this interview can you inspire us and throw some light on the ultimate impact upon others of your work as a Behavioural design consultant?
Radhika: “I explored various courses in my Behavioural Science degree. The university’s laboratory real-time sessions of the Behavioural Decision-Making class were exciting to attend. The concepts like Iowa Gambling Task, Trust Games, Prospect Theory and such were thrilling. A few subjects that were my favourite were Human-Machine Interaction, Consumer Behaviour, Career Decision Making and Neuroscience of Behaviour. This made me realise that it's a challenge to explain these complex theories to layman language.
My penchant for user experience design and behavioural research stems primarily, I believe, from my work experience in the user experience design field which is an applied field in itself and focuses on how users will perceive the information on the screen (app or web).
For the team members, I add value in coming up with new ideas around the product, new ideas of envisioning business models and revenues for the stakeholders and providing fresh theory article and presenting it in form of beautiful aesthetic presentations.”
Interviewer: Thank you so much Radhika for patiently giving answers to questions. Loved your thoughts.
Radhika: Oh I loved giving answers too. I hope this will help the budding behavioural practitioners to think more about these points and can ignite the conversations around them. Also, after a small stint at Cowry consulting as a Behavioural summer school participant, I am looking forward to joining a new company as a UI UX designer or Behavioural design consultant.
Interviewer: Lovely! I will share the required job opportunities with you.
Radhika: Thank you! :)
Stone, A. (2012, August 18). Opinion | why waiting is torture. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/19/opinion/sunday/why-waiting-in-line-is-torture.html
Ma, C., Au, N. & Ren, L. Biased minds experience improved decision-making speed and confidence on social media: a heuristic approach. Inf Technol Tourism 22, 593–624 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40558-020-00184-0
Kok, Gerjo. (2014). A practical guide to effective behaviour change: How to apply theory- and evidence-based behaviour change methods in an intervention. The European Health Psychologist. 16. 156-170.
Lades, L. K., & Delaney, L. (2020). Nudge forgood. Behavioural Public Policy, 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1017/bpp.2019.53
Banerjee, S., Savani, M., & Shreedhar, G. (2021). Public support for ‘soft’ versus ‘hard’ public policies: Review of the evidence. Journal of Behavioral Public Administration, 4(2). https://doi.org/10.30636/jbpa.42.220