For quite some time now I have been involved in bringing behavioral science into practice and the beauty of this (still emerging) field is its diversity. In essence, behavioral science is about understanding how we really think (make judgments and decisions) and what influences what we do. The practical applications of behavioral science are hugely diverse: it is applied in public policy, in marketing and connected fields such as advertising, market research retail design etc., in product and service design, in the financial sector etc. Recently I was invited to take part in a workshop on applying behavioral science in fisheries.
So it’s not exactly far-fetched to claim that Behavioral Science can be applied in any field where there is a human component.
There is, however, another dimension of diversity in applications of behavioral science other than the area of application. This is the depth of incorporating behavioral science into an activity.
Not seldom I was asked to present some cool tricks of behavioral science that can be used in field X. I’m seriously against seeing the applications of behavioral science as tricks and usually respond with the following phrase:
Tricks is what is done in the red lights district in Amsterdam. I am applying (behavioral) science, which is a bit different.
Although I am against seeing applied behavioral science as a bag of tricks, the reality is that many companies and organizations want just a magical silver-bullet to solve (almost) all their problems and to brag about how they are trendy and at the cutting edge of best practices.
The truth is that, quite often, applying patches (read tricks) is the only thing that can be done, at least at the moment.
One very good example is that of traffic fines. Thanks to the Behavioral Insights Team (UK) aka. The Nudge Unit, there is some solid knowledge on what can be done to increase the rate of people paying their traffic fines. Simple changes such as replacing “amount owed:…” with “you owe…” lead to an increase in the voluntary compliance.
This approach, however, doesn’t go very deep into solving the real problem which is traffic safety. But more on that later.
When faced with tricks, people say:
Behavioral science can, sometimes, be used to create cheats so that a company (organization) gets X dollars extra from the clients’ pockets or bank accounts.
This is not illegitimate. After all, in a market economy, companies try to maximize what they sell. All people who are uncomfortable with this should know that once you are in a shop, on a website etc. the organization that owns it will try to do anything possible (and legal) to squeeze as much cash out of you as it can.