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Insights from a Neuroscientist!

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Got a minute to hear how neuroscience guides rich insights? Here’s a quick Q&A with our Principal Neuroscientist // Director of Research, T. Sigi Hale, PhD.:

Q: Sigi, you spent many years at UCLA prior to joining Thriveplan; as you were transitioning from academic research to the marketing science world, what was your biggest surprise? 

A: “There’s an unexpected disconnect between academia & market research…

There’s a whole slew of academic/scientific fields with long & rich histories of studying human psychology & behavior. I expected there to be a lot more cross-pollination of the learnings, models, and techniques from these works. Instead, market research seems to largely operate in its own unique & specialized way. The lack of crosstalk between the two fields really surprised me.”

Q: So, having spent a good deal of time in market research, when thinking about how behavioral science can be applied to business, what 3 tips would you give to an insights professional who wants to up their research game?

A: Tip #1: Understand the difference between research & science.
“While research means ‘gathering information,’ science is a very specific/rigorous way of doing so. Science is never done from scratch; instead, it begins with scholarly exploration of past knowledge, and then tests ideas and models cultivated from that work. It is philosophy & scholarship that is held accountable to experimentation. So, while basic research is well-suited for describing observable phenomena, peering into the great mysteries of the human mind is far more likely to require ‘science.’”

Tip #2: Distinguish between WHAT & WHY research. 
‘WHAT-research’ is descriptive and aims to identify ‘what happens.’ However, the more complex ‘WHY-research’ is associative and aims to understand ‘WHY something happens.’ Why-research requires associative statistics (how X relates to Y), and when studying humans, it requires wrangling with complex human psychology. As market research moves deeper into why-research territory, it will becoming increasingly important for us to better incorporate applied psychology, neuropsychology, cognitive sciences, and neuroscience – not for the sake of fancy tech & brain-gadgets, but to better leverage past accumulated knowledge and scientific methodology.”

Tip #3: Understand the risks of ‘story telling’ as data.  
“Market research has traditionally sought to understand the ‘whys’ of human behavior by talking to people via focus groups, or even surveys – i.e., asking them why they do things. This is a risky. Humans rarely have clear, conscious understandings of ‘how they work.’

This is because:
a) Humans are not objective. We have evolved to experience the world in biased & targeted ways that help us to ‘do better’ & ‘feel better.’

b) A great deal of what drives our experience & decision-making occurs preconsciously.

Thus, our stories about our own experience, behavior, and decision-making are, to put it mildly, ‘highly creative.’ We manufacture narratives that help us to feel rational & objective, and that empower us with a feeling of agency & control. To get at the real ‘whys’ of human behavior, you have to read between the lines.”


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