May 1, 2020
Today, I am very excited to
introduce you to Dr. Julie O’Brien, a behavioral scientist applying
concepts from behavioral economics in business. In today’s episode,
we talk about research Julie has done herself or is particularly
interested in, both as part of her time as a principal behavioral
scientist at the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University
(which, for those of you who don’t know, is lead by Dan Ariely, one
of the best known behavioral economists in the world. He
wrote Predictably Irrational and several other books I reference often on
the show. Julie is currently the Director of Behavior Change
I so enjoyed talking to Julie
about all the amazing work she has been doing on bringing
behavioral science out of the lab and testing things within real
businesses – and I love all the practical applications of
behavioral economics being applied to health and fitness. As many
of you know, one of my top 3 goals is centered around health and I
have been training up for a half marathon (admittedly, with some
gaps recently…but back on the train!) as well as using my Peloton
as I mentioned in the show.
Julie talks a bit today about
some research using the peak-end rule in health and fitness as well
as so many other concepts and fascinating applications for
behavioral economics. We touch on a lot of concepts in the
conversations, and there are links to nearly all of them, including
the episodes on memory biases, the peak-end rule, habits, goals,
counterfactual thinking, the overwhelmed brain, optimism bias,
fundamental attribution error, how to set up your own experiments,
and more. We behavioral economists are working to help businesses
to use and implement the learnings from the field to have stronger
communication, and that is a big reason this podcast exists – to
help you understand the concepts on a deeper, and more applicable
level so you can try them out.
- [03:24] Julie is a behavioral scientist with
- [05:17] Julie did many different projects
including traditional academic lab studies and applied field
interventions at Duke University’s Center for Advanced
- [06:45] They ran an experiment to understand
the emotional experiences people have when they are faced with a
- [08:28] They were interested in what happens to
people when they learn about the details of this kind of colon
- [11:12] They looked at the data and found the
disgust emotional reaction that participants had after learning
about the colostomy bag is what actually reduced their ability to
- [13:04] We probably can’t (and shouldn’t)
remove emotions from medical decisions completely, so we have
different strategies to help people make the right
- [15:16] It raises interesting questions around
nudge vs. shove and do we want to be making a judgment about what
is actually rational in this case.
- [16:22] It is all these different pieces of
behavioral science. It is never just one concept at play. In this
case, we have prefactual thinking, an overwhelmed brain, and
different pieces of nudging.
- [17:18] One of Julie’s favorite studies was
Zach Zenko and Dan Ariely’s study on how to get people to love
- [18:04] Zach and Dan’s question was how could
we reshape the exercise environment to make it more enjoyable or to
make it feel more enjoyable so that people would be interested in
- [18:16] Often behavioral scientists look at the
world as it is now and say if we were to assume that this is not
the optimal design, how might we change the design to make it more
- [20:37] Just by changing the way that we
structure that workout we can actually change the way that people
think about the workout which then influences their interest in
repeating the workout.
- [23:27] Julie and her colleagues did a study
where they showed you could keep the baseline physiological
sensation the same but you could change the way people interpreted
that sensation so that it becomes less unpleasant.
- [24:26] When you don’t know exactly what is
going on, your brain is conditioned to stop, but that is actually
where the transformation happens.
- [26:07] Often times we talk ourselves into
stopping a little bit too soon, and if we could get a little bit
further it would work out for us better in the long
- [27:22] Julie is the Director of Behavior
Change at WW.
She was very excited to come to WW for many reasons.
- [29:47] Working at WW is very exciting for Julie because it is a
strongly mission-driven organization, tech organization and it is
one that is based in science and has a very strong commitment to
doing things rigorously and with scientific
- [30:57] There is a huge opportunity with
technology to help things like habit formation and overcome
challenges in the moment to have a huge impact.
- [33:03] Any company that is looking to support
behavior change has to look at what the science says, what is
relevant to consumers, what actually works in the real world, and
finding that intersection to focus.
- [36:21] Making it easy for people to do
business with you and be successful can make a big impact on
- [36:55] At WW there is a priority around what makes somebody
healthy rather than just losing weight.
- [39:33] Julie has been looking at the way we
behave counter to what we might want to do with eating, weight
loss, and dietary splurges.
- [41:18] We tend to give ourselves the benefit
of the doubt when maybe we shouldn’t.
- [43:05] We are pretty good at adjusting within
the same day for large dietary splurges, but we are not as good at
adjusting from day-to-day.
- [46:01] Julie is looking at how we help people
enjoy those meals and make it fit into their overall plan so it
doesn’t turn into something that they feel bad about or derails
them or that they don’t have a plan for
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