What Does a Behavioral Scientist Do?

C. Mitchell
C. Mitchell
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Woman with hand on her hip

A behavioral scientist is a professional who studies human behavior and applies his or her research to a number of real-life problems. The range of things a behavioral scientist can do with his or her expertise is vast. Many work for government agencies, in capacities as wide-ranging as public health, education policy, and terrorism prevention. Others work in research firms, lobbying agencies, and universities. No matter where these experts work, they all have one thing in common: their work always involves the study of people and of social norms.

Most behavioral scientists have a background in psychology. All behavioral scientist jobs involve some study of the human psyche. Predicting individual and group reactions, understanding demographic and ethnic trends, and strategizing ways of changing the way people think all play into the role.

Research is a major part of the behavioral scientist job description in nearly all cases. It is the scientist’s job to study and understand both how people act as well as how they are likely to act in a given situation. Some of the most well-known behavioral scientists work in conjunction with law enforcement to understand and anticipate criminal behavior. These professionals study convicted felons in order to understand their thought processes and work with juvenile offenders to evaluate the effects of early-in-life incarceration on recidivism rates. Some also work on terrorism prevention teams, predicting and anticipating worldwide threats based on known behavioral patterns.

A behavioral scientist need not specialize in criminal behavior in order to work in government. These professionals are often invaluable to policymakers and political figures who are seeking to understand social trends or to promote certain agenda items. Having a behavioral scientist on staff can produce a lot of useful research both on how to reach people and what a certain demographic needs to hear once they have been reached in order to change their views or their expectations.

Population-based behavioral scientists are particularly coveted in public health spheres. Behavior experts can often explain to health officials how and why disease pandemics spread in communities, and can help find ways to combat them through changed behavior. This frequently involves the creation of educational campaigns designed to help citizens protect themselves and learn more about disease spread and prevention.

There are no specific behavioral scientist requirements, though nearly all these professionals have advanced degrees in psychology, public policy analysis, or global public health. Behavioral scientists who, themselves, work in universities usually conduct their own research while teaching courses and designing educational material.

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Discussion Comments


@browncoat - It probably depends on the philosophy of the behavioral scientist as to whether they would recommend something like that. Some of them are inclined to break human behavior down to essentially just computer programming and don't really see human happiness as a goal so much as a means to an end.


@Iluviaporos - I've got to say that in a case like that, it should be the behavioral scientist's place to recommend that other improvements be made instead. If there's no way to improve the airline regulations in order to decrease loading time, then they might as well try to maximize passenger happiness (or some other factor) instead.

My favorite airlines all allow you to just pick your own seats, for example, rather than trying to load people efficiently and that's one feature that makes me more likely to choose them, so they are making money in a different way.


I read an interesting article about behavioral science a while ago where they were discussing the problem of getting people on and off an airplane as quickly as possible. It was a matter of figuring out behavior patterns and then applying mathematics to try and make the process more efficient. A minute here and there could add up to a lot of savings for airplane companies over the course of years.

The interesting thing was, no matter what they tried, they couldn't seem to make it more efficient. It didn't matter what order they loaded the seats or how they insisted that people stow their luggage, it always averaged out to basically the same time, probably because people would just take advantage of any extra time or space to fiddle around with their luggage for longer.

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