What is Behavioral Science? Understanding the Foundations of Human Behavior


Behavioral science, also known as behavioral economics, delves into the realm of human actions and decision-making processes. It encompasses various fields of study, including cognitive neuroscience, psychology, economics, and behavioral aspects of biology, law, psychiatry, and political science. Behavioral science aims to explore and understand how humans truly make decisions in the real world.

The Influence of Emotions, Environment, and Social Factors

At the core of behavioral science is the study of how emotions, environment, and social factors shape our decisions. It examines how heuristics, biases, and framing can lead to what appears as “irrational” decisions. By analyzing these aspects, behavioral science sheds light on the underlying mechanisms driving human behavior.

Unraveling Decision Making

Behavioral science relies heavily on methodologies developed in the social sciences, particularly conducting experiments using randomized control trials. These experiments enable researchers to draw causal inferences about specific mechanisms that govern human behavior. The focus lies in understanding why people engage in certain actions, rather than merely observing their behaviors.

Enhancing Decision Making with Behavioral Science

Although humans are capable of making “irrational” decisions, behavioral science uncovers patterns in this irrationality. Armed with this understanding, we can create environments that facilitate better decision-making. Applied behavioral science plays a significant role in improving decision-making processes, whether in public policy, product design, marketing, or personal habits.

The Role of Choice Architecture

Human decision-making often operates on autopilot, relying on mental shortcuts and rules of thumb. When designing environments where decisions are made, behavioral scientists refer to it as “choice architecture.” The design of choice architecture significantly influences decision-making, intentionally or unintentionally.

Influencing Decisions through Nudges and Experiments

Behavioral science offers two powerful tools to shape decision-making: Nudges and experiments. Nudges are proven solutions devised by behavioral scientists to influence decision-making positively. Experiments, on the other hand, provide a controlled way to identify variables that impact human behavior and gather evidence about the effectiveness of changes to the choice architecture.

Popular Experiments in Behavioral Science

Over 290+ experiments in behavioral science have demonstrated the irrationality of human behavior. Some noteworthy interventions include:

  1. Loss Aversion: The pain of losing is psychologically twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining. Using loss aversion, behavioral scientists have shown why penalty frames can be more effective than reward frames in motivating human behavior.
  2. Endowment Effect: People tend to overvalue what they own, regardless of its objective market value, leading to reluctance in parting with it.
  3. Choice Overload: Having too many choices can result in unhappiness, decision fatigue, and a preference for default options or avoiding decision-making altogether.

The Caveats of Behavioral Science

While behavioral science offers valuable insights into human behavior, it is essential to avoid oversimplification or misunderstanding of the concepts. Applying behavioral science without a deep understanding of its nuances can lead to ineffective or even counterproductive results.

Behavioral Science vs. Social Science

While both behavioral science and social science study human behavior, they differ in scope, subject, and methodologies. Social science focuses on societal processes, organizations, and institutions. On the other hand, behavioral science seeks to understand the cognitive processes, decision-making, and communication within human behavior.

Getting a Degree in Behavioral Science

Behavioral science degrees are available from various institutions and often encompass social psychology as a crucial field of study. Graduates in behavioral science typically pursue careers in human services, public health, and occasionally within the criminal justice system.


Behavioral science offers valuable insights into the intricacies of human decision-making. By understanding the underlying principles that drive our behavior, we can design better environments and improve decision-making outcomes. However, it is crucial to apply these insights with caution and consider the complexities of human behavior.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions):

What are some applications of behavioral science in real-world scenarios?

Behavioral science finds applications in diverse fields, including public policy, product design, marketing, healthcare, and education, to influence behavior positively.

How do behavioral scientists conduct experiments to understand human actions?

Behavioral scientists use randomized control trials and other empirical methods to manipulate variables and observe the effects on decision-making processes.

Can behavioral science predict human behavior accurately?

While behavioral science reveals patterns and tendencies in human behavior, it cannot predict individual actions with absolute certainty due to the complexity of human cognition.

What is the significance of choice architecture in decision-making?

Choice architecture refers to the design of environments where decisions are made. By understanding choice architecture, one can influence decision-making processes effectively

How does behavioral science benefit organizations and businesses?

Organizations and businesses can use behavioral science to optimize decision-making processes, enhance customer experiences, and design products that align with consumer preferences.

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