Behavioural science Source

Behavioural science is one of the hottest topics in business recently. Organisations try to take advantage and understand customer’s motivations and behaviour to establish stronger relationships and persuade them more effectively. 

Knowledge about human decision-making is powerful and should be used ethically. Persuasion is one of the fundaments of communication. Understanding what motivates people and influence their decisions is crucial to deliver messages effectively.

Behavioural science is an emerging subject but already well-developed. It is impossible to explain it in a single blog post. Today I will introduce some fascinating theories and biases that could be useful in everyday communication job.

Nudge in behavioural science

Probably the most famous aspect of behavioural science in communication. According to this theory, ostensibly minor suggestions can influence consumers behaviour and encourage them to desirable actions. Nudges theoretically are simple and easy to avoid but apparently very powerful. 

There are many examples of nudging in practice. One of them is encouraging people to donate organs. It could be simplifying the registration process and asking for becoming a donor during, e.g., renewing a driving licence.

It could also be an automatic opt-in clause. If somebody does not want to donate their organs, they must explicitly state it. There are voices that nudges like that are close to social engineering, and communicators must use them ethically. The debate about ethics is vivid among behavioural scientists to make sure people are not manipulated, and their decisions are free.

Narrative bias in behavioural science

Have you ever wondered why storytelling has become such a thing recently? People tend to understand the world through stories. Our brain tries to bring different inputs to make the narrative and drops out information not fitting it. It is connected to the confirmation bias, which I will describe below.

The story of our organisation must be consistent with our values. If the narrative is detached from what we do and say, nobody will believe it and harm the organisation’s reputation. We need to show our mission and how we do it, but the most important – why we do it. Making the meaning of our mission is crucial to build a compelling and engaging story.

Anchoring bias

The anchoring bias results in heavy reliance on the first piece of information we receive about the topic. We interpret the new information regarding what we have heard the first time. 

It is a common practice in price strategies. When we see a discount from £500 to £250, statistically we are more eager to pay it than when the price would be just £250 without a discount. 

This heuristic is also crucial in crisis communication. When an organisation communicates first about a concerning issue, it is setting up a narrative. When an organisation controls the story, there is a much lower chance for severe damages to the reputation.

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is a tendency to accept information confirming our views and beliefs while rejecting those denying our perception. It connects with anchoring and narrative bias. All are significant reasons for the fake news plague.

When people receive information about, for example, vaccines, and it is fake news saying that it causes autism, it is difficult to convince them that vaccines are safe. 

Modern medicine is so advanced that without years of studies, it is impossible to understand it entirely. We need authorities we can trust, such as scientists who will explain complex issues in an accessible way. 

But sometimes, there is a crisis of trust, or fake news are just more persuasive and easier to understand. After reading the first fake news, there are other incoming convincing people that it is accurate and government or scientists are lying because they are corrupted. And there are other fake news confirming this story.

The further it goes, the more difficult it is to make people change their mind. Clear, accessible, and fast communication from authorities is the key to prevent or at least diminish disinformation plague.

There is much more

As I said at the beginning, behavioural science is impossible to explain in a single blog post. There are many more theories equally intriguing, such as:

And many more… What is the most fascinating bias for you? Share your thoughts here or below the social media post!

Behavioural science in PR – what makes the difference?

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