As behavioural scientists we work at the intersection of several disciplines, including psychology, sociology, economics and neuroscience. We are interested in understanding human behaviour across different contexts and environments. Questions we ask ourselves include: What makes us happy? What makes us resilient? How do we make decisions at work, in love or health matters? What kind of behavioural patterns do we have and why do we have them, why are they so persistent and difficult to change? certain consumption/ behavioural patterns?
But, then, once we’ve understood how and why humans act in certain ways, how is that useful? The question then turns to using those insights to actually predict and change behaviour. How can we be happier? healthier? More effective at work? How can we make better choices in general for us as individuals and/or for the good of society?
So, change is really a core notion/aim here.
But, perhaps there’s also a need to take one step back and to critically reflect about this.
The first assumption we make here is that people are generally discontent with their present behaviour or the consequences that derive from it, and they would like to change one or several aspects about it – but they find it difficult to do so, because strong psychological mechanisms and constraints (like cognitive biases, behavioural spillovers…) are in their way. But in general, we assume, people would like to be fitter and healthier and they struggle to change.
The second assumption is that we know what is the best for others and their lives. We have strong ideas and narratives about what makes a good life, what it means to be successful and happy and we tend to transpose those narratives onto others. Those narratives (and norms) we have internalised are a product of socialisation, of how we grow up and others around us who have influence on us. It’s better not to drink and eat chocolates? It’s better to be in a relationship than single? But who is to judge?
But when we offer solutions or advice, So there is quite a strong presumption that we know what that ideal state, what happiness, resilience, life looks like for different people. And while one could argue that for some aspects like, wanting to lead a long, healthy life, to be healthy till the end of ones life, or avoiding health risks/diseases, wanting us and our children to live in a liveable, unpolluted environment those are like ubiquitously shared by most individuals. There can still be multiple ways and paths to achieving those goals Not controversial goals
-> and there are some mechanism that make good behaviour more difficult to endure: time: we have to forgo pleasures now to lead a better life in the future… common goods pb: we need to find mechanisms to internalise negative externalities of behaviour to account for the cost on the environment
It is still not evident if should take a normative approach and transpose our own views of happiness or s general view onto everyone.
This means we need to be more acceptant and tolerant of the choices and paths each individual makes, of the plurality and less judgemental.
Theres not a one size fits all approach…
Science can give us some clues based on research how cognitive and behavioural biases can be tackled: how long it takes to adopt a new habit, small steps are easier to take than big ones… meditation
j b foggs
Challenge the narratives: fit is better than fat, relationship is better than being single, youre worthless if you dont earn money… work is not work if youre not paid for it
Embrace difference and individuality
Be less judgemental of how other people lead their lives
Ive thought about this for a while now.
With behav and other sciences (psychology) we often try to understand humans better. Wed like to get a more realistic view and a fuller more colourful picture of humans and what motivates/drives their behaviour than what has been modelled as the perfectly rational economic agent (home economicus). And not simpy reduce humans to black & white eco agents.
We want to understand what makes people happy, resilient or better decision-makers? And if we identify elements, we want to look at how behaviour can be changed in a posiyive direction: beneficial for the individual and/or for society.
This approach seems to be justified for things like pro-environmental action, health prevention: we know that unless we dont …., people will not take action in the present (stick with the status quo), give pbs enough weight to tackle them now, not postpone them.
But for the question of happiness, personal choices, about how to lead your life and decisions on how on should lead a good life, it seems to me that we should be careful to assume whats the best for everyone else. Narratives about… shouldnt be so judgemental about what makes a happy life, whether one should be married and have children, have a career or…and allow for more individuality and diversity.