Six Prescriptions for Applied Behavioral Science as It Comes of Age

Article by Dilip Soman and Nina Mažar: “…But it has now been over 14 years since the publication of Nudge and more than 10 years since the first behavioral unit in government started functioning. While we have made a lot of progress as a field, we believe that the applied science is at a critical juncture. Our efforts at this stage will determine whether the field matures in a systematic and stable manner, or grows wildly and erratically. Unless we take stock of the science, the practice, and the mechanisms that we can put into place to align the two, we will run the danger of the promise of behavioral science being an illusion for many—not because the science itself was faulty, but because we did not successfully develop a science for using the science.  

We offer six prescriptions for how the field of applied behavioral science can better align itself so that it grows in a systematic and not in a wild manner. 

1. Offer a balanced and nuanced view of the promise of behavioral science 

We believe that it is incumbent on leaders in both the academic and applied space to offer a balanced view of the promise of behavioral science. While we understand that the nature of the book publication process or of public lectures tends to skew on additives to highlight success, we also believe that it is perhaps more of a contribution for the field to highlight limitations and nuances. Rather than narratives along the lines of “A causes B,” it would be helpful for our leaders to highlight narratives such as “A causes B in some conditions and C in others.” Dissemination of this new narrative could take the form of traditional knowledge mobilization tools, such as books, popular press articles, interviews, podcasts, and essays. Our recent coedited book, Behavioral Science in the Wildis one attempt at this.

2.Publish null and nonsurprising results 

Academic incentives usually create a body of work that (a) is replete with positive results, (b) overrepresents surprising results, (c) is not usually replicated, and (d) is focused on theory and phenomena and not on practical problems. As has been discussed elsewhere, this occurs because of the academic incentive structure, which favors surprising and positive results. We call on our field to change this culture by creating platforms that allow and encourage authors to publish null results, as well as unsurprising results…(More)”.