Can Behavioral Science Save Humanity?

The behavioral science revolution is officially underway. Nudge, one of the discipline’s most influential books, is now on more than 750,000 bookshelves worldwide, and its co-author Richard Thaler is a new Nobel laureate. The Behavioural Insight Team’s (BIT) successful effort to encourage Brits to pay £210 million in overdue taxes found its way into a popular episode of Freakonomics.

“Nudge units” and efforts to experiment inside government agencies across the United States soon followed, set up by in-demand behavioral science consultancies like BIT and ideas42. Now, even the World BankOECD, and United Nations are keen to the idea that easy, low-cost tweaks to the decision-making environment can reap huge rewards for governments and citizens.

Yet for all of behavioral science’s successes, skeptics remain. Will behavioral interventions ever achieve more than incremental, context-specific change? Can the techniques of behavioral science really tackle the most pressing, life-threatening issues of our time?

This special series explores how behavioral scientists break down major social issues into solvable problems, with dedicated stories on disaster preparedness, chronic disease, and international conflict.

The series was conceived in partnership with the Behavioral Insights Student Group (BISG), which engages students across the Harvard community in behavioral science scholarship and practice.

The article in the series are listed below in order of publication.