Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences students win grant for the Think Forward Initiative Research Challenge

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Two students from the Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences (MBDS) program, Garrett Meccariello (MBDS ‘18—expected) and Tobias Nasgarde (MBDS ‘18—expected), won a €5,000 grant through the Think Forward Initiative Research Challenge. According to the interdisciplinary financial research hub, their organization’s goal is to “find out how and why we make financial choices.” One of eight proposals chosen from across the world, Garrett and Tobias’ project focuses on changing behaviors that lead to unnecessary spending in an increasingly cashless society.

“I am proud of them,” beams MBDS Director Professor Cristina Bicchieri, “I am pleased that such a new program as ours already has students involved in research.” She continues, “What we offer here is a new model on how to change collective behaviors, whereas a lot of contemporary research focuses on changing individual behavior. But we live within groups, and what other people do matters to us. We teach students how to do a network analysis, and understand whether there are social or descriptive norms at play. We measure and diagnose collective behavior, and suggest appropriate interventions. Garrett and Tobias’ project is just one example of applying our methods to the real world.”

Garrett and Tobias are planning to develop a technology that helps consumers evaluate their decisions before making purchases online. Garrett explains, “What if there was a way to tell if I was on a page with a form capture for a credit card and have a pop up ask ‘Is this something you really need at the moment? Is it a necessary purchase? Is it something you want to spend your disposable income on?’”

With a background in economics and coding, Tobias adds, “We know it’s harder to control your spending because of cashless transactions, especially online. Our research will hopefully assist people in doing mental accounting and create more responsible spending.”

Pulling in the program’s focus on collective behavior and using his expertise in marketing and strategy, Garrett says, “It’s all about influence. How can you incorporate social norms around spending money and become someone who is looked up to among your peers?” These questions are at the core of the methods taught in the Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences program. Bicchieri explains, “When we decide to do something, we often look at the people in our reference network. My decision is my decision, but may be influenced by what others do or approve of.”

With the funds awarded from the grant, Garrett and Tobias will build digital laboratories and provide incentives for participants. If proven to be viable in the first three months of research, the project will go into Think First Initiative's accelerator program and be developed further. “This is how great ideas happen,” notes MBDS Associate Director Dr. Christopher Nave. “Their achievement shows the demand and interest in behavioral and decision science.”

Garrett shares, “Our proposal maps onto what’s happening in the industry and consulting groups. We now have the skills to identify a problem, propose a solution and confirm that it’s worth the investment.” Reflecting on their successful partnership, Tobias adds, “He’s the creative and I’m the data part. The strength we have as a team lies within us sharing a vision.”

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