What Does “Behaviour Change Science” Study?

This is an introductory post about this paper. The paper introduces to the object of study in “behaviour change science”, i.e. complex systems – which include most human systems from individuals to communities and nations.

In a health psychology conference many years ago (when we still travelled for that sort of thing), I wandered into the conference venue a bit late, and the sessions had already started. There was just one other person in the hallways, looking a bit lost. I was scared to death of another difficult-to-escape presentation cavalcade about how someone came up with p-values under 0.05, so I made some joke about our confusion and ended up preventing his attendance, too. Turned out he was a physicist recently hired in a behavioural medicine research group, sent to the conference to get his first bearings about the field. Understandably, he was confused with a hint of distraught: “I don’t understand a word about what these people talk about. And I’ve been to several sessions already without having seen a single equation!” (nb. if you don’t think this is funny, you’re probably not a social scientist.)

Given that back then I was finding my first bearings on network science, we had a lot to talk about during the rest of the conference. I don’t remember much about the conference, but I remember him making an excellent point about learning: The best way to learn anything is to talk to someone who’s just learned about the thing. While not yet mega-experts, they still have an idea of where you stand, and can hence make things much more understandable than those, who already swim in a sea of concepts unfamiliar to you.

In a recent paper about behaviour change as a topic of research, we tried to do exactly this. I know I’m crossing the chasm where I’m not yet the mega-expert, but am already losing the ability to see what people in my field find hard to grasp. I presented the paper in a research seminar and people found it quite challenging, but on the other hand, I’ve never seen such ultra-positivity from reviewers. So maybe it’s helpful to some.

This impeccably written manuscript provides a thorough, state-of-the-art review of complex adaptive systems, particularly in the context of behavior change, and it does an excellent job explaining difficult concepts.

– Reviewer 2

Here’s a quick test to see if it might be valuable to you. Have a look at this table, and if you think all is clear, you can skip the piece with good conscience:

I also made a video introduction to the topic. If you’re in a rush, you can just run through a pdf of the slides.

If you’re in an even bigger rush, the picture below gives a quick synopsis. To find out more, check out this post: www.mattiheino.com/besp.

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