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Behavior Change for Good Spring Newsletter

We’re excited to share an update about our team’s work (including early results from two of the largest studies in history on encouraging vaccination). We hope you’ll enjoy!

Katy Milkman and Angela Duckworth
BCFG Co-Directors 

New BCFG Mega-Study: Nudging Vaccination


In collaboration with the Penn Medicine Nudge Unit, we've released findings from two of the largest-ever studies on nudging vaccination. Conducted with Walmart and two regional health systems (Penn Medicine and Geisinger), these studies show a cost-effective way to encourage vaccination: sending simple SMS reminders mentioning a flu vaccine is “reserved” or “waiting for you”. Our findings have clear implications for COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Check out the press release about these findings or visit our website for the latest.

Speaking of our collaboration with the Penn Medicine Nudge Unit, you may be interested in their Nudges in Health Care Symposium, which will be held virtually on May 20, 2021. Those interested can sign up here.

Selected News Coverage of our Vaccination Mega-Study

Want to hear more from BCFG Team Scientists on how to increase vaccination uptake? Check out the Remarkable People podcast below!

Remarkable People: The Psychology of Vaccination

QUESTION: How do we ensure as many people as possible get vaccinated? 9 experts, including BCFG Team Scientists Bob Cialdini, Gretchen Chapman, Neil Lewis, Jr., and Katy Milkman share ideas here.

BCFG Events: Our Virtual Behavior Change Seminar Series Continues

Back by popular demand, we’re hosting a new lineup of research talks by BCFG team scientists this spring. Join us on Mondays at noon ET for live seminar presentations and Q&A moderated by BCFG Co-Directors Angela Duckworth and Katy Milkman.

The seminar is free and open to all. You can join us by registering here to receive a zoom link, or you can watch video recordings of previous seminars on our website.

Spotlight: Changing Behavior with Team Scientist Neil Lewis, Jr.

Neil Lewis, Jr. is a behavioral, intervention, and meta-scientist at Cornell University and Weill Cornell Medicine, where he is an assistant professor in the department of communicationdivision of general internal medicine, and graduate field of psychology.

BCFG: You’ve recently written about the need to be cautious in applying behavioral science findings to public policy. Could you explain what criteria policymakers should use to assess whether behavioral science findings are ready to be applied to policy?

Neil Lewis, Jr.: There are three features I always look at when thinking about applying behavioral science findings to policy and practice. First, I look at the study context: where and how was the study conducted, and how similar or different is that context from the practical context at hand? For instance, was the study conducted in a highly controlled university laboratory or was it done in the field or in an organizational setting? Second, I look at the sample composition: who was included in—and who was excluded from—the study, and how similar or different are they from the people who would be affected by the policy? Is this a study of American undergraduates or a more representative sample? Third, I look at the study outcomes: did the researchers measure actual behavior or some other proxy variable that is only weakly associated with behavior?

I look at these things not because I expect to find a perfect study for any particular policy issue, but because these details matter for mapping studies onto real-world issues. Behavior is a function of people and their environments, so we need to understand what features of people and their environments were actually studied to know whether and how to translate findings into action.

BCFG: There has been much discussion of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among minority groups in the U.S. What are some of the reasons that this hesitancy exists and how could behavioral science help?

Lewis: Hesitancy has been driven by a number of factors. First, there were concerns about the speed of the vaccine development process, which makes sense given the somewhat inconsistent messaging about it. In March and April, 2020 experts said it would take 18 months to develop an effective vaccine, but then by December said we have safe vaccines ready. Those messages are internally inconsistent, so without explanations of how we got safe vaccines so quickly, people were nervous. The most readily available explanation was that the process moved at “warp speed,” which is unfortunate; things that move at warp speed are not generally things people think of as safe. Beyond the process, there have been concerns about side effects, as well as structural issues of access. 

To help, behavioral scientists can partner with healthcare workers, trusted community leaders, and policymakers to develop interventions that address the multiple barriers to vaccination. I want to be clear that we should approach this task with humility, as we certainly do not have all of the answers. But, by working with stakeholders who know the local context, we can gather relevant information that allows us to figure out which scientific findings are most useful for application. Research-practice partnerships, I think, are the most optimal way to use our skills in the pandemic response.

BCFG: What project are you most excited about that you’re working on right now?

Lewis: There are a few projects that I’m really excited about that are all looking at how macro-level factors influence perceptions of equity and justice, and support for policies to foster greater equity in a few different domains in society. We’re looking at the role of media in shaping attitudes and perceptions of equity; how the framing of laws shapes judgments and decisions in the legal system; how educational institutional structures shape feelings of inclusion; and how geographic segregation affects environmental attitudes. I know those sound like wildly different topics, but together they’re starting to give me a better understanding of how different dimensions of context affect judgments and decisions, which is useful for thinking about interventions to foster social equity.

To learn more about Neil's research, check out his BCFG virtual seminar, Whose Minds Matter? Sampling, Measurement, Inference, and Application Considerations as we Diversify the Behavioral Sciences.

Books: New Releases Written by BCFG Scientists

We’re pleased to share two new books written by Team Scientists. In Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know, Adam Grant explains the wisdom of learning to question your own opinions and open your mind. In Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, and Why It Matters, Ethan Kross provides insights into how to use our inner voices to lead happier and more satisfying lives. Check out Ethan's recorded BCFG seminar presentation about the science behind his book, Self-Talk: How You Do It Matters.

Hear More From BCFG Team Scientists in These Podcasts

Freakonomics Radio: Are You Ready for a Fresh Start?

Get a sneak preview of Katy Milkman's new book, How to Change, (available on May 4) in this episode of Freakonomics with Stephen Dubner. And hear from fellow BCFG Team Scientist Hengchen Dai, too.

TED Business: The unexpected habits of original thinkers

Team Scientist Modupe Akinola hosts as fellow BCFG Team Scientist Adam Grant describes why most of our ideas about what leads us to creative thinking are wrong, and how we can learn to channel our creativity.

Armchair Expert: Ethan Kross

Ethan Kross talks about his new book, Chatter, and shares insights about the "usefulness of our inner voice." 

Choiceology: Some Assembly Preferred

Katy Milkman talks with Team Scientist Mike Norton about how satisfying it feels to have a hand in building something yourself and how that can inflate your value of it, producing what he’s dubbed “the IKEA effect.”

About BCFG

The Behavior Change for Good Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania is co-led by Psychology Professor Angela Duckworth and Wharton Professor Katy Milkman. BCFG unites a world-class, interdisciplinary team of academic experts with leading organizational partners to advance the science and practice of behavior change.

We’re always interested in hearing about new areas to explore and potential collaborations. Contact us anytime.
Copyright © 2021 Behavior Change for Good, All rights reserved.

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