|Christina Gravert is an Assistant Professor at University of Copenhagen and one of the directors of the Copenhagen Experimental Laboratory. Se also cofounded the behavioural science management consultancy Impactually.
What motivated you to work on Behavioural Science?
I have always been interested in how and why people make decisions the way they do. But rather than focusing on the individual person, I was interested in how policy can affect decision making and how behavior can be affected on a large scale. So I decided to study economics in 2006. My Bachelor’s and Master’s was in classical economics and mostly assumed rational decision making. The very last course of my studies was on decision science and from then on I was hooked. When I found out that behavioral economics and experimental economics were topics I could do a PhD in, I knew I had found the right topic for me. Keep in mind that I took my last Master’s course in 2010 – the same year the Behavioral Insights Team in the UK and the first team of its kind was founded.
What do you think is the future of Behavioural Science in the next five, and ten years? What major challenges do you foresee?
Given that Behavioral Science in the way it is used now is only around 10 years old, I think much will happen in the coming years. One of the main questions we will have to work on will be to understand where and when behavioral tools such as nudges will be appropriate and when other policy tools will be better. From a practical side, I am confident that the quality of behavioral scientists will improve. More people are going into the field, the training will get better and those who are not well trained will be pushed out of the market.
Which behavioural scientist(s) do you admire the most and why?
Reading Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely is what got me hooked on the subject. My first published research paper extended some of his earlier work on cheating. The times I have met him he has been extremely kind and inspiring. So he will always be a special role model. If I could magically acquire any behavioral scientist’s skills it would probably be Hunt Allcott’s though. I always look forward to reading research papers by him and his co-authors. Many people won’t know his name, but he wrote the first OPower social norms comparison paper.
What advice would you give to a beginner in Behavioural Science? What are some of the crucial skills one has to develop to succeed in this field?
Good behavioral science will be all about using the increasing amounts of data we have available in a clever way. So the main skills you need are statistics and programming. Everyone enjoys reading the Nudge book or other pop-science books on cute behavioral quirks. That will not set you apart. You will never become an expert in the field from books you can buy at the airport. Those books can peak your curiosity, like Predictable Irrational did for me, but then come the many years of hard work. The hard skills will set you apart. I am now teaching a course on the design of field experiments, which is also a skill that many will need and only few have currently. The course load is 206 hours of studying and even then the course requires advanced knowledge in econometrics to qualify to take it.
If you were starting your career again today, what would you do differently?
As I mentioned before, Behavioral Science is a completely different field now than it was when I started studying. At the University of Copenhagen, we have a new study program called Social Data Science. I think I would study something like that to gain better skills in statistics and working with large data sets.
What books/publications would you like to recommend to our readers?
I very much enjoyed reading The Undoing Project, because it gives an insight into how “behavioral economics” became part of economics and how that wasn’t easy. I also like the book by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, Good Economics for Hard Times because it reminds readers of the challenges we are facing and that evidence-based policymaking is the best way forward. There are so many times our hunches are wrong. I love the books by Emily Oster. “Expecting Better” is the first one of the series. She does her best to present medical research in a clear way to help the reader make better decisions during pregnancy and raising a child. Even if you are not planning for a family, I recommend reading one of them and pay attention to how research is presented. The book “How not to die” by Michael Gregor has a similar style and is also recommended. Finally, “Factfulness” by Hand Rosling should be read by everyone who wants to work with behavioral science!
Tell us something interesting about yourself most people don’t know.
During my four months stay as a Ph.D. student at the University of California, San Diego in 2013, I had a guest office next to Richard Thaler. I had no idea who he was and I had not read the nudge book. I then spend 2 months at the University of Chicago and there he was again… Turns out he had a joint appointment, spending the winters in San Diego and summers in Chicago. I am still amused at myself sometimes that I was so clueless. Luckily, I got more chances, later on, to chat with him 😀
How do you apply the notions of Behavioural Science in your personal life?
One small example is that I try to increase friction to reduce my social media use. My social media apps are on the second screen on my phone in a folder, so getting to them takes a few clicks and they don’t catch my attention when answering a text message etc. My Headspace app on the other hand it right on the first screen to make it easy to access. I have also set app limits on my phone which remind me of when I have spent half an hour on Twitter.