The Behavioral Perspective

I do have an interdisciplinary background and I enjoy an interdisciplinary setting. At times this means that I am embarking on a new research journey, and I virtually have to start from zero. This can be quite tedious, but on the other hand, it is also rewarding.

When I started working at The TPM Energy Transition Lab I had no background in behavioral science. Yet my task is to connect human behavior with the energy transition. Human behavior is a vast research topic and after spending some time exploring this topic, I know that I still have only scratched the surface. Others spend years studying this field. Thus, by no means am I suggesting that I have become an expert. Though, that is never my goal.

I am a sustainability scientist. Sustainability is a broad field and thus, sustainability scientists need to be able to understand many different topics, and understand how those connect to other topics relevant to sustainability. Thus, part of my profile is not only the ability to get acquainted with different scientific fields, but also to cooperate with scientists from different fields. Hence a sustainability scientist should embody interdisciplinary research.

Admittedly when I started exploring the connections between human behavior and the energy transition, I thought I would just build up my knowledge about behavioral science on the go. Though, this was not the case. More and more theories, concepts, approaches, and terms popped up and I was more and more struggling to make sense of them. After all, when I want to do applied research and choose a theory, I have to know why I made certain choices. The more I read, the more I knew that I would not be able to defend any choice, as I had no context. The lack of a foundation in behavioral science became apparent and a barrier to progressing in my research endeavors. I decided to overcome this barrier by writing up a working paper summarizing the main concepts, theories, approaches, and terms that I have come across since starting my postdoc journey at the TPM Energy Transition Lab.

The result is this somewhat short and long working paper. The little perfectionist inside of me thinks it is a short working paper as I could really just gloss over many relevant topics. When I was presenting parts of this working paper to the TPM Energy Transition Lab, I spent some minutes highlighting what this working paper is not covering. Thus, I need to emphasize this is not a complete compilation of behavioral (change) models. It is a starting point.

Often researchers get asked what the benefit of some research is. So why this working paper? Who is it useful for? From a rather selfish perspective, I have to state that this is the result of me trying to understand behavioral science. However, if I am in this position, someone else might be too. Therefore, I decided to not keep this as an internal document but to share it so that others can read it and use it as starting point. Accordingly, this working paper might not be insightful for someone with a degree in sociology or psychology. In fact, someone with a degree in sociology or psychology may find many blind spots in this working paper. Nevertheless, I still want to highlight that I am also summarizing some newer approaches and that I am cross-referencing quite a bit. Thus, even for those who have a degree in behavioral science, this document might be of some use.

I suggest for a working paper, this document is long. The interested reader may however not need to read the whole document. Those who are interested in models may focus on Chapters 2 and 3 that expand on behavioral and behavioral change models and approaches. Chapter 1 is of course a short introduction, also providing some cues for why we should even care about the behavioral perspective. Chapter 5 is the attempt to link some of the approaches that have been discussed in the previous two chapters. In this chapter, the reader will also rediscover the graphic that is featured on the cover page. Chapter 6 is called behavioral levers and attempts to summarize factors that support or hinder behavioral change. Thus, motivation, heuristics, as well as defense mechanisms, amongst others, are covered. Finally, Chapter 6 is the closing chapter. This chapter is not summarizing all the information that is provided within each chapter. Rather it summarizes the lessons learned and the insights that were gathered preparing this working paper. It is up to the reader to decide which parts of this working paper might be useful.

In the spirit of interdisciplinary research, I am hoping that researchers who aim at including behavioral science perspectives within their research find some usefulness in this working paper.

Biely, K. (2022): The Behavioral Perspective. Working paper 1. Delft University of Technology, TPM Energy Transition Lab.

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