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Behavioural science themes for 2022
Welcome to our annual crystal ball gazing of the themes we expect to be drawing on to better understand behaviour in 2022
Our themes this year of the behavioural topics we expect to be shaping outcomes in 2022 are as follows:
Pandemic epiphanies: We talk a lot about the way in which the pandemic has created a space where the everyday has fallen away, our minds are collectively ‘unfrozen’, forcing us to question ourselves and what we are looking for from life. Meaning or ‘sense-making’ is something that is hugely important for people and when lives are stable and predictable, we take for granted how much this shapes our lives. As we go into 2022 we can see the way in which the labour market dynamics mean that people are looking for greater meaning from their work, prompting ‘The Great Reshuffle’. Expect to see more of this in different spheres of peoples’ lives.
Radical inclusion: There will continue to be a radical shift in the way in which once marginalised groups are increasingly given priority and authority once lacking. For example, we have seen the way in which cognitive diversity (such as those with autism or ADHD) is moving from being seen as a ‘disability’ to offering unique and special skills – diversity offers value. While there are many positives, this has also led to debate as there are vast swathes of contested ground and perceived erosion of interests for those who feel displaced. But as this recent report sets out, creating an inclusive culture is no longer a “nice to have.” It is a business imperative.
Disappointment in reality: Reality has been disappointing for many people – the combination of COVID, climate change but also declining economic prospects have meant that many people are disappointed and even resentful of what their life offers now and in the foreseeable future. This means that it is tempting to take shelter in nostalgia which, as this paper points out, can replenish and reaffirm meaning in thoughts of past fondness and glory. Brands often use nostalgia as a marketing tool – we can see the way in which many consumer tastes are dominated by this. The dangers here are the linkage with conservatism and potentially unwillingness to be open to change.
Innovative imagination: We are starting to better understand the way in which our imagination of the future is highly contested ground – and one which is not purely an individual but is also a collective activity. The dominant shared imagination of the future was, for some time pre-COVID (arguably), quite stable but we suspect there will be a fracturing as peoples experiences of the world are ever more different (partly due to COVID and partly financial polarisation). But also we can see this influenced by the emergence of platforms in which people can live digital lives (e.g. Meta) as well as the continued emergence of Virtual Reality alongside immersive gaming platform. These will surely shape the way in which different lives and futures are imagined and the degree to which they may or may not be shared with others who do not inhabit the same platforms (or remain resolutely IRL). The psychology of how imagined futures are formed will become a hot topic.
From one to many: We have seen the way in which social movements (such as BLM and MeToo) have regained a momentum not seen since the 60’s. Much of the change that is being sought today has its roots in our micro-behaviours which when viewed on their own can seem pointless. However, we are seeing the way in which new communities are being built, often online that are helping people to be creative in ways to live (see this for examples), showing people how their micro-decisions are part of a bigger picture of change. We expect to see continued focus in behavioural science from ‘me’ to ‘we’ as we seek to understand increasingly collective nature of behaviour and the psychology of social change.
Contested knowledge: What counts as knowledge, or a ‘fact’ is something that will be contested even more vigorously in 2022. We can start to see more clearly the way in which vast swathes of the population are engaging in the debates around conspiracy theories, and while not necessarily fully adopting them, nevertheless considering they deserve to be heard. What is legitimate and illegitimate knowledge is hugely contested and we expect to see continued focus on the psychology of conspiracy theories, misinformation and fake news. We also expect the same style of debate to be taking place within behavioural science as there are debates about replication: some high profile names have been caught up in this but rather than dismiss the debate as uncovering bad science we can consider that this is part of a wider discussion. What are the interaction effects that we should be considering that meant they did not replicate? What have been the implications of conducting psychology research on WEIRDS and medical research predominantly on males? In may ways this is how science should work, there is room for and indeed a need for, noisy debate. Expect more about the psychology of how we agree what knowledge we accept and which we do not.
Shades of Denial & Regret: We are moving to a position where whether we choose to deny or accept something is less binary and more nuanced than in the past. Denial can take many forms from explicitly contradicting something (such as climate change) to being unwilling or unable to accept the full implications of the reality and make the necessary changes. As the world faces a wide range of unappetising realities then we will get ever close to the different ways in which different groups choose not to look at them. Linked to this is the notion of regret – as Generation C, those whose formative years are being dominated by COVID, then we may well see deeper regret as the rites of passage and rituals that we collectively seek out are no longer possible for many. How denial and regret play out and their interaction with each other may well help us to explain many behaviours.
Renewal through Ritual: At this time of year, we can see more clearly than ever the importance of rituals, the way a group’s cherished values are reflected in their behaviours. Much has been discussed about the way in which new rituals were being created at the start of the pandemic. Two years in we will see ever more clearly the way in which new rituals are emerging that are giving people a better sense of certainty and stability to deal with the complex and uncertain nature of the lives we are today living. Many of these will have created new opportunities for people. For example, recent work found that the majority of parents has started new rituals with their children and those that have tend to feel a little better about their parenting, but also happier with their lives in general.
Thank you for your readership this year, it is much appreciated! For behavioural science insights and provocations over 2022 then do sign up for a weekly email newsletter…