Ipsos Encyclopedia - Behavioural Science

Behavioural science is a discipline that aims to explain, predict, and influence human behaviour. Whilst it is a multidisciplinary approach, it is typically associated with psychology - and therefore our mental processes.

Behavioural ScienceDefinition

​Behavioural science is a discipline that aims to explain, predict, and influence human behaviour. Whilst it is a multidisciplinary approach, it is typically associated with psychology - and therefore our mental processes.

There is an emphasis on the psychology of judgement and decision making that is often referred to as Behavioural Economics - and whilst this is an important part of our practice, we define Behavioural Science more broadly, by drawing on other disciplines such as sociology and economics. When needed, we draw on a wide range of academic insights to solve our clients' challenges

There is general agreement that consumers are often unaware of the ways in which their behaviours are being shaped. So, it is not always possible to use direct questioning to identify relevant influences and decision processes. We therefore use methods such as experimental designs, expert audits and data analytics to identify the processes that are shaping behaviour. All these techniques can in themselves make use of existing market research tools.

Within Behavioural Science there is often an emphasis on the way in which implicit attitudes (consumers' nonconscious beliefs – like goals, values, and motivations) are often responsible for shaping behaviours. As such, behavioural science has developed tools to measure these implicit attitudes. At Ipsos these include sensors to measure changes in one's physiological state, (biometrics), including heart rate, respiratory rate, and galvanic skin response; facial coding to categorise the physical expression of emotion; eye tracking to identify focal attention, or experimental methods incorporating Implicit Reaction Times (subtle shifts in reaction time which indicate strength of association). It should be noted that behavioural science at Ipsos measures both implicit and explicit (conscious) attitudes.

Much of the work in behavioural science reflects the notion that many consumer decisions are made using a 'system 1' mindset (which is fast, automatic, and employs mental shortcuts, or heuristics) rather than a 'system 2' mindset (which is reflective, considered, and more rational).

Behavioural science is often associated with understanding behaviour (rather than subjective experience) and using this understanding to nudge behaviour change. At Ipsos we emphasize behaviour change because this is often (but, importantly, not always) the goal of most commissioned research. This is increasingly helped by the availability of a rapidly growing range of technology to measure behaviour (and assess the impact of interventions to measure behaviour).

Market research & behavioural science

By using frameworks and theories from psychology in the design, analysis, and interpretation of our research, we can address most business challenges and create avenues for social change Market research and behavioural science are complementary disciplines in a number of ways. First, well-crafted survey tools relate to behavioural outcomes. Ipsos has a strong track record in identifying the relationship between product, copy advertising testing, and their impact on consumers' behaviour change. The point is that much market research methodology has long been informed by behavioural science principles – even when the relationship has not been explicitly stated.

But it is also the case that much Market Research is based on the principle that we are conscious, sentient beings with agency in our lives (i.e. our thoughts drive our behaviours) – so it has emphasised understanding our subjective experience and personal point of view as critical to predicting behaviour. In contrast, one of the core principles of Behavioural Science is that we have limited insights into our behaviour and that our subjective experience (and behaviour) is largely a by-product or artefact of our mental processes and/or environment.

Both principles are true, relevant, and useful for understanding consumer behaviour - especially when they work together. The challenge, and opportunity, is to apply the most relevant approaches and tools to best understand, explain, and change consumer behaviour in different contexts.

Ipsos Point Of View

At Ipsos we believe the core of Behavioural Science is psychology so our focus is on consumers' mental processes (of which they are not always aware). We are strong advocates of the need to intelligently integrate behavioural science with market research techniques to offer practical solutions to client challenges – driving change.

Why now for behavioural science?

Behavioural science is not a new discipline so why is Ipsos (and the market more generally) focusing on this area now? There is a strong case to be made that it represents a structural change in the market, driven by technology transformation. Consumers' experience of technology is changing our expectations such that we need to rethink the way we measure

The nature of these changes is broad and includes:

Personalisation: Increasing experience of having products and services designed to meet our own specific needs

Need for more psychographic profiling tools

Optimisation: Technology increasingly offers consumers with the opportunity for self-improvement & enhancement


Need for behaviour change strategies

Experiences not things: We are moving to a situation where consumers are less concerned about products and more focused on experiences


Need to measure the psychology of customer experience

Optimising moments: Consumers are expecting brands to help them to maximise passing moods and emotions

Need to measure moods and emotions (often via data trails)

This is leading to fundamental changes in the means we use to understand and measure our behaviour. It is this which helps to explain the rise of behavioural science as a tool to help organisations to better meet the needs of their customers.

The ways we are different

Our market challenging position creates real value for our clients:

  • Distinctive: We have a global network of behavioural science experts allowing us to generate solutions that directly fit our clients challenges.
  • Integrative: We combine behavioural science and market research to provide total consumer understanding – with an intelligent narrative on what approach each contributes
  • Driving ROI: Our research drives action – we create tangible and sticky behaviour change
  • Scalable: Our behaviour science approaches are designed to be executed at scale in order to meet the needs of our clients

Ipsos has long been leaders in the use of innovative research methods to create value for our clients. Behavioural science is set to be a key means for Ipsos to continue this tradition.

Best reading

There are a wide range of books that focus on the aspect of behavioural science which is around system 1'. These include

Thinking Fast and Slow – Khaneman, Nudge – Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, Predictably Irrational – Dan Ariely

But there are also a range of ways in which behavioural science at Ipsos goes 'beyond system 1' – as outlined above, we have a wide range of ways in which we are developing new measurement techniques to reflect these changing needs.

To this end, recommended reading includes the following articles:

This article outlines the need for a more nuanced narrative about how we mix behavioural science and market research: Why Do I Like Pillows?

This article outlines the way technology is reshaping FMCG (and calls for a wider range of measurement tools): Are FMCG Companies Facing Their iPhone Moment?

This article discussed different models of understanding humans and relates this to market research and behavioural science: Mapping a new direction

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