FEATURE20 April 2018

Behavioural science myth busting

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Behavioural science helped to convince us that diamonds are forever, but is still plagued by myths and misconceptions. Richard Shotton challenges a few of the most common objections.


“If you’re a planner and you don’t employ behavioural science in your day job, then you’re a bloody idiot. It would be like being a pilot and forgetting to use your eyes.”

So said Kevin Chesters, CSO Ogilvy & Mather. It is a bold statement, but behavioural science is more than relevant: it’s robust and has identified a breadth of biases. So whatever a client’s communication challenge, there’s a relevant bias that can help you solve it. 

There are three common objections to behavioural science:

Myth 1: It doesn’t work 

The main reason behavioural science is rejected is that people claim not to be influenced by small nudges. This can be seen in a follow-up to perhaps the most famous experiment in behavioural science. 

In the original test, Robert Cialdini investigated what messages would be most effective in persuading hotel guests to re-use their towels. His first message simply stated the environmental benefits, and persuaded ...