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Behavior Change PSA: Read this before you waste millions on Consumer Research


Want to change Behavior? Could be your own, or the behavior of customers, clients, family, peers, bosses, co-workers, your country’s leaders or all of humankind? Of course we do – who doesn’t? As anyone who has tried to change anyone’s behavior would know, it’s an uphill task, right up there near the seemingly impossible and futile. But hold up, all hope is not lost. Here are some FUNDAMENTAL TRUTHS that we HAVE to understand (no emphasis is too much emphasis, trust me) about Human Behavior, before we attempt any Behavior Change journey.

Behavioral Science has for years now, attempted to understand what drives human behavior – what drives the decisions we take, why we do the things we do and, below, are the few pillars that all Behavior Scientists agree on. If you are a researcher, or a company that spends millions of dollars in understanding your customers and their behavior (are you listening Retail, Healthcare, Fin.Serv., Development Sector, Public Policy?), here are some hard to ignore facts that would help you save some of those millions.

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Smokers overestimate the dangers of smoking, we all know we should eat healthier, exercise, get off those OTT platforms, read more, slow down, meditate, sleep well, get enough sunlight – the list is endless. We KNOW this, we are even are all revved up to do this – at least every new year, 😉 – but it just plain isn’t enough. If this Awareness and Motivation were enough, we would all be super fit, well-read, calm, relaxed Monks – but we aren’t – so there has to be something missing. It’s called the Awareness-Action Gap and the Intent-Action Gap. Being aware and being motivated does not ensure the desired behavior. So those new year resolutions, those focus groups, the pieces of research where people say that the lack of access to something is why they don’t use it – beware!


One of the WORST ways of figuring out what drives decisions, or choices, or probability estimations is to ask people why they do what they do. Well, maybe worst is too strong a word, but it is notoriously unreliable – simple reason being that there is a lot of automatic and non-conscious processing that influences our decisions in ways that we might not even know. Our brains are wired to make quick judgments and decisions based on limited information. This means we rely on heuristics or rules-of-thumb and are prone to systematic errors in processing that can lead to cognitive biases which for the most part we’re not even aware we’re resorting to. This can make it difficult for us to completely understand why we do what we do – and for that reason any research that relies on asking people why they made certain decisions or what can change their minds is bound to result in heart-break.

  1. WHAT WE SAY IS NOT WHAT WE DO (again, researchers, listen up!)

This is a direct fall out of the previous point. In most cases, we call these ‘Lies people honestly tell’. Most people honestly believe they change their toothbrushes every two months and will claim they do so, but a quick peek at their brushes will tell a different story. This is because our values and beliefs and self-image often conflict with a million other priorities, other more pressing immediate goals. And we rely on our belief-systems to answer most questions (who we think we are). So always always be wary of creating questionnaires that ask people about their behavior – you’re just not going to get accurate information – memory is a tricky thing!

  1. THE SITUATION IS AS IMPORTANT AS THE PERSON (if not more) in determining Behavioral Change Outcomes – CONTEXT is KING

If you’ve spoken to any Behavior Science Practitioner, you’ve probably head the word CONTEXT a MILLION times. And for good, reason – a person does not exist in a vacuum – the person exists in a situation and that situation has a HUGE bearing in the decisions that the person takes. A person who is in financial difficulty, for example, makes choices and decisions very differently than he would normally make. The decisions you take or the risks you take in a social context could be very different from those you take, if you were alone. And for this reason, the context or situation in which a decision is made can have a profound impact on the decision-making process and the resulting Behavioral outcomes and cannot be ignore while understanding behavior.


Emotions play an integral role in decision-making because they provide valuable information about how we feel about a particular situation, person, or decision. Emotions can influence our thoughts, behaviors, and judgments, and can help us make decisions that are in alignment with our values, beliefs, and goals.

For example, when we feel afraid, we may be more likely to make a decision that prioritizes safety and security. When we feel excited, we may be more willing to take risks and pursue new opportunities. Similarly, when we feel angry or frustrated, we may be more likely to make decisions that seek justice or revenge

And these, folks, are the first things that anyone that is trying to understand behavior or change behavior must deeply deeply imprint!

If this interests you and is of use to you, come join the Behavior Change Learning Group at Mentza ( and be part of these fascinating, mind-blowing, and incredible conversations – curated by Behavioral Science Practitioners, and learn something that might help change the way you think about yourself and your customers TODAY!

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