The Science of Context: Understanding the real role of behavioral scientists

Feb 27, 2023

I still cringe at my first attempts to design a behavior change intervention. It was like I had looked at a Behavioral Science textbook and thrown all my ideas at the problem, hoping something might stick. As a result, the solutions I developed were uninformed by the problem, the goal, and the constraints of the situation.

This is a common mistake for aspiring behavioral scientists, a group who I find often memorizes biases, heuristics, and nudges as if a collection of facts were the critical thing differentiating novices from experts. They approach the world of Behavioral Science thinking our primary role is nudge design, so when they get a client it is the first thing they do. Similarly, many clients think of Behavioral Science as "nudge."

Those in the field know this is inaccurate and a very narrow view of Behavioral Science, but we struggle to effectively communicate the true essence of what we do. I suggest an alternative way to view our field: Applied Behavioral Science is the science of context.

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