The impact of behavioural sciences on research methods

by Marlena Zakrzewska on October 28, 2014

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Many organisations now engage with the idea of applying behavioural insights to their organisational challenges, since  these issues  require behaviour change of some kind. What is more, many companies, charities and public bodies are recognising the power of  testing their products and policies in real world environments. Therefore, it is crucial to acknowledge the  increasing recognition of the impact of behavioural science on the research methods, and be aware of the limitations of traditional  market research and customer insight.

Dual Process Theory

In both cognitive and social  psychology we talk about a dual process theory and the distinction between two kinds of thinking, one fast and intuitive, the other slow and deliberative. It is proven that cognitive tasks evoke two forms of processing that contribute to observed behaviour. Often, the two processes consist of an implicit (automatic), unconscious process and an explicit (controlled), conscious process. The dual-process accounts of reasoning posits that there are two systems or minds in one brain. The broad terms System 1 and System 2 were coined by Stanovich and West.

Basically we have two brains. One to respond to the environmental influences and another one that  we have a  conscious access to.

Slide10System 1 (unconscious reasoning) – this is our  limbic reptilian brain, which  is a hardware that evolved over billions of years of evolution, it is a hardware to respond to the environmental and situational  influences .

System 2 (conscious reasoning)  – is the part of the brain that we think  drives most of what we do as we have an access to  this part. It is known as the rational system because it reasons according to logical standards. Some overall properties associated with System 2 are that it is rule-based, analytic, controlled, demanding of cognitive capacity, and slow.

What can behaviour science do to design more effective strategy and  intervention policies ?

We often do not have an insight into what drives our actions. Everyone’s life, personal life and work life is really about influencing people, isn’t it ?

The dual process theory has influenced social studies in the following areas: stereotyping, categorization, and judgment. In particular it has the biggest impact on a person’s perception. People usually perceive other people’s information and categorize them by age, gender, race, or role

If we can find out how best to tweak System 1 , we could have broadly similar effect on everyone with no difference to gender, age or race. With this knowledge we could create more effective strategy and intervention policies. By using methods drawn from psychology, economics, philosophy, mathematics and statistics, we could  conduct  applications for business and policy.

51BXJNFVkjL Behavioural science asks fundamental questions including:

  • Are people rational?
  • What principles govern human behaviour?
  • What interventions lead to behaviour change?
  • How and why do people cooperate and coordinate with others?
  • How do culture and institutional factors interact with individual behaviour?
  • What are the psychological and economic foundations of value?

These kinds of questions are of fundamental importance to firms, governments, and society.

I strongly recommend Paul Cozby’s book on  Methods in Behavioural Research  which presents helpful pedagogy and rich examples of concise and strategic approach to methodological decision-making.

About Marlena Zakrzewska :

Marlena is a consultant with Bearing, with a strong background in analysis, cognitive and behavioural studies and innovation.

Marlena was educated at King’s College London and Humboldt University Berlin, and has been involved in extensive studies regarding social psychology and consumer behaviour.

She believes that by understanding what affects behaviour and, by extension, how to influence behaviour, both organisations and individuals can become more successful. Understanding exactly how small changes to the details of an offer can influence the way people react to it is crucial to unlock significant value.

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