January 25, 2021
The first in a three-part series looking at behavioral science frameworks, and how they can be used to bridge the gap between theory and practical application.
You've likely heard of behavioral science. After all, we’re all in the behavior business.
Some think behavioral science is just a list of human irrationalities, often used to explain a point you’re already trying to make. Need to explain why people say they recycle when they don’t? Use social desirability bias. Need to explain why people won’t switch to your brand? Use status quo bias
Thinking of behavioral science in this way isn’t necessary problematic. But you may be missing out on ways you can improve your understanding of human behavior. The field has more to offer – much more. Marketing is all about human behavior. This means you should be using as much relevant behavioral science as possible. This includes behavioral science frameworks. These are an underutilized and more practical element of the field. Behavioral science frameworks help change behavior because they bridge the gap between theory (scientific study) and practical application (changing real-world behavior).
Frameworks structure processes and provide safety with their credibility and their social proof. Behavioral science frameworks structure the process of developing behavior change interventions (actions that try and change behavior). Interventions can be anything from mass media campaigns to changes in the physical environment.
Interventions are more effective when they’re based on theories of human behavior. Rather than just assuming the barriers or facilitators of a given behavior, theories tell us what the real influences are. This is useful. But theories are hard to apply in the real world. They seek to explain human behavior, not help change it. That’s where frameworks come in.
Many behavioral science frameworks exist. Three of the most prominent are:
I’ll explain what these frameworks are and how you can use them over two articles. A third article will look at testing the effectiveness of interventions that come from frameworks using randomized control trials (RCTs). Let’s start by looking at MINDSPACE.
MINDSPACE summarizes nine concepts that influence behavior. It was created by several leading academics, including David Halpern, lead of The Behavioral Insights team, in 2010. The Behavioral Insights Team, also known as the “Nudge unit,” was set up by the U.K. government. The team looks at where behavioral science can be used to improve public policy. MINDSPACE was a landmark document for the time as it made behavioral science accessible to those responsible for public policy.
MINDSPACE is an acronym that gives you a checklist of things to consider when trying to change behavior:
MINDSPACE was well received. But after two years, The Behavioral Insights team found the nine elements were “hard for busy policy makers to keep in mind.” Enter EAST.
If a nine-letter acronym is too much, try EAST. EAST is a continuation of MINDSPACE and further groups behavioral science research into four ways behavior can be changed. Make the target behavior easy, attractive, social and timely.
MINDSPACE and EAST can be used in two main ways.
Both MINDSPACE and EAST are summaries of behavioral science research. They satisfy a framework’s aim of making academic research practical. However, they aren’t comprehensive guides to developing interventions. They help generate ideas, but don’t provide step-by-step instructions.
The next article in this mini-series will cover the behavior change wheel – a more structured framework with designated steps for intervention development.