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Think like a behavioral scientist: Evolving the way we plan and assess market research.


Brand Insights - Thought Leadership | Paid Program

Michele Khan
Research Manager
The Agency Network at MJH Life Sciences

Michele Khan
Research Manager
The Agency Network at MJH Life Sciences

Behavioral science is the study of what influences behaviors at the individual, interpersonal, environmental, political, and societal levels. Using behavioral science models proven in public health departments, we have the ability to more accurately predict a topic under study, help understand evolving situations, as well as identify gaps in our knowledge and research. Basically, we can place a clearer scientific lens on customer behavior and get closer to the truth.

Research in behavioral and social sciences examines healthcare data to determine the trends in health-related behaviors, including the prevalence of unhealthy behaviors and who is at risk. The research examines the influences that play major roles in these behaviors and that can enhance the effectiveness of prevention programs or medical treatments by determining how to reduce negative influences and enhance beneficial ones. This research can help the healthcare industry identify where to concentrate preventive efforts or how to prepare for upcoming health needs.

Mastering a different kind of model

Behavioral science aims to discover human behavior as a social process and the underlying contextual factors that shape it.Using theory in market research can provide a guide to data analysis because we structure the methodology in a scientifically implemented, peer-reviewed theoretical base. If we choose models appropriately, we can more accurately gauge the data in line with behavioral science theories and models and analyze accordingly. Perhaps one of the most important lessons in behavioral science is understanding the social determinants of health. It is the understanding that there are non-medical factors that influence both health behaviors and outcomes. One of the ways to address these factors is to apply the Social Ecological Model. This framework can be used to understand the complex dynamics between individual and environmental factors. The four levels are illustrated below:

The Social Ecological Model

Other frameworks and theories

The Transtheoretical model (stages of change) suggests that health behavior change can provide strategies for healthcare/pharmaceutical marketing to address a target population at various stages of the decision-making process. This can result in interventions that are tailored (ie, a message/concept or program component has been specifically created for a target population’s level of knowledge and motivation).

The Health Belief Model (HBM) proposes that people are most likely to take preventive action if they perceive the threat of a health risk to be serious, if they feel they are personally susceptible, and if there are fewer costs than benefits. A central aspect of the HBM is that behavior change interventions are more effective if they address an individual’s specific perceptions about susceptibility, benefits, barriers, and self-confidence.

Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) examines social influence and its emphasis on external and internal social reinforcement. SCT considers the unique way in which individuals acquire and maintain behavior, while also considering the social environment in which individuals perform the behavior. The theory also takes into account a person’s past experiences, which factor into whether behavioral action will occur.

Understand the ‘Whys’ behind behaviors

Traditional market research helps us appreciate the what, where, when, how, and who of features, benefits, and beliefs of different population segments. Behavioral Science complements rather than competes. Why do people behave the way they do? Surely market research can offer a perspective that’s vital to understanding the underlying principles behind actions and activities, because if you wish to change behaviors, you must change beliefs. And the logical evolution of this discipline is to analyze the individual, interpersonal, community, and societal constructs—the fluid processes—underlying factors and beliefs beyond personal experience. In my experience in the field of public health, where medical experts must assess how the population will react to change, I am confident that the same application of Behavioral Science will be of similar value in the commercial side of health and wellness.