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How behavioural sciences can help us understand why and how we make decisions

This article is based on the speech by Crawford Hollingworth (The Behavioural Architects) at CERTAMENTE 2020

Behavioural sciences are a scientific model that recognizes, observes carefully and welcomes the biases and distortions that characterize the human judgment and decision making, making us rediscover ourselves a little different from the rational man we thought we were.

Behavioural sciences aim to find out which concepts and strategies operate in the brain during the choice. By investigating these strategies, you can then find sense and understand any behavioural patterns we are interested in.

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How behavioural sciences can help us understand decision making

Most of our behaviours are born under the threshold of our rationality, in the non-conscious. In order to better understand how we act, it is then necessary to look at what are the deep and not rational influences that move us, attributable to four pillars.

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The four pillars of behavioural sciences

These include certainly priming (first pillar), an unconscious mental process that happens when our behaviour is influenced by particular stimuli without us realizing it, such as what we smell, eat, see and feel. Any brand should take into account the unconscious stimuli it conveys to its audience. For example, the cutlery used to eat influences the experience of a taste as a whole: by eating with cutlery of excellent quality, the taste of the food is generally considered much better than doing the same with cheap cutlery.

How our actions change according to the context

Since very often it is the most instinctive and automatic part of the brain that moves us quickly towards action (second pillar), the way we behave is strongly influenced by context (third pillar). We look for anchors and shortcuts dictated by stimuli to reach some decision: for this reason, the way information is presented can drastically change the reaction we have towards it. By changing the frame, you can change the meaning of an information, thus modifying the end result: there are infinite ways to expose a concept and make it more “appealing”. If a hamburger is defined as “91% fat free” it will certainly attract more attention than another that presents itself as “9% fat”, because it will be immediately perceived as healthier, even though the two messages are actually saying the same thing.

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Behavioural sciences and cognitive biases

Our judgment is also ultimately influenced by widespread cognitive bias (fourth pillar) such as aversion to loss, scarcity, the instinct to follow the mass: all shortcuts that help our brain to make a decision in the shortest time possible, which is not always the best available.

The behavioural sciences, taking into account the four pillars, can not only be useful in devising more effective communication strategies and able to address people more directly, but also go to correct more complex social problems and stimulate virtuous behaviours in individuals.