The next decade of behavioural science: a call for intellectual diversity


Jason Collins


November 14, 2019

Behavioral Scientist put out the call to share hopes, fears, predictions and warnings about the next decade of behavioral science. Here’s my contribution:

As behavioral scientists, we’re not exactly a diverse bunch. We’re university educated. We live in major cities. We work in academia, tech, consulting, banking and finance. And dare I say it, we’re rather liberal. Read the twitter streams or other public outputs of the major behavioral science institutions, publications and personalities, and the topics of interest don’t stray too far from what a Democratic politician (substitute your own nation’s centre-left party) would discuss in a stump speech.

In that light, we need to think more broadly about both the questions we tackle and the answers we “like”. We need to ask what problems matter to the large swathes of the population that we don’t encounter in our day-to-day. We need to be self critical, open to being wrong, and not cheerleaders of our own narrow conception of the world. We must find and listen those who don’t share our points of view. We must question our orthodoxies.

In practice, that’s not easy. But its vital to our relevance and to our intellectual foundations.

I had a few stabs at the ~200 words. Here’s another attempt on a similar theme:

Through the replication crisis, some prominent concepts in behavioural science have been challenged. The priming literature is in ruins. The concept of willpower as a finite resource is scarcely alive. Experiments in areas from disfluency to scarcity have failed to replicate.

The shaking of the behavioural foundation is not over. More tenets of behavioural science are going to bite the dust. Many will be exposed through ongoing replication attempts. They are built on the same foundations as those that have already crumbled: publication bias, the garden of forking paths, among other things. New findings that continue to be built on those same foundations will also tumble down.

I suspect there will be dismay when some ideas crumble, as they align with core beliefs of the behavioural science community. Yet those beliefs will be at the core of the weakness. Ideas of a different alignment would have faced a more serious challenge. We accept too many ideas because we “like” them.

Thankfully, I am confident that infrastructure is being built that will allow us to challenge even cherished ideas. Let us just make sure that when the scientific foundation no longer exists, we are willing to let them go.

You can read contributions from the broader behavioural science community here.