Behavioral science has become a fad in the business world. While behavioral science insights can be useful, they are equally likely to be counterproductive. This is because up to 64% of the behavioral science studies published fail replication. A more realistic estimation of the reproducibility rate of studies is 50%. So the next time you encounter a behavioral science study, flip a coin. It’s just as likely to be false as true.
In addition, most behavioral science effects are quite small. While many consultants or popular science books will tell you stories about people who made a small tweak and got a 40% improvement in some metric, most of the time these figures are either misleading or false. For example, behavioral economics nudges have a 1.4% effect. That’s nothing close to the inflated outcomes trumpeted across the internet. Would you hire someone if they promised you a mere 1.4% impact on your problem? Probably not.
If any behavioral economics consultant promises anything more, they’re either being disingenuous or they’re not familiar with the most up-to-date studies on the matter.
Given all this, I recommend two things.
Hire a Behavioral Strategist:
These are individuals who help companies incorporate behavioral science research and thinking into their project and product plans. Behavioral science research, tactfully applied, is most useful at the planning phase. Beyond that, it’s hard to be useful.
Hire a Behavioral Science Advisor:
Work with someone who has a critical understanding of the field, including its replication failures. Have them come in and do a Behavioral Science Audit for the product as a whole, or to do a critical review of the work of a previously hired behavioral scientist. A huge portion of the advice dispensed by behavioral scientists is based on overturned or shoddy science. You should never accept their recommendations uncritically (especially if that person has a background in Behavioral Economics, which has a poor track record). Have a Behavioral Science Advisor review their work.