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 Bank, OECD, 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.
- In the Face of Massive Social Challenge, Start Small by Marie Lawrence, an MPP candidate at Harvard and the Content Chair of Harvard’s Behavioral Insights Student Group.
- What Works to Increase Disaster Preparedness by Stephanie Chan, a research associate at the Harvard Business School who is interested in the applications of behavioral science research.
- The Life Saving Science of Avoiding Temptation by Koen van der Swaluw, a PhD candidate at Tilburg University and the Dutch Institute for Public Health and the Environment.
- Undoing Tribalism: How Behavioral Science Can Sway Opinion and Reduce Conflict by Sylvie Stoloff and Anna Giannuzzi. Stoloff is a junior at Harvard College and is a research assistant at HKS’s Decision Science Labs. Giannuzzi is a sophomore at Harvard College and is a research assistant for HKS Professor Julia A. Minson.