Behavioural themes for '24
Our annual prediction of what we will be talking about and shaping behaviours in the next 12 months
2024 is set to be a year in which we will see big behavioural movements – much of which we think will be based around the crystalising of mental models. What do we mean by this? There is a sense we are in a period of huge societal transition and how we understand this, find new meaning and new ways of living is going to occupy us. Within the complexity and inevitable fog, we expect to see glimmers of hope, clarity and purpose emerging.
With this in mind, here are the specific behavioural themes that we anticipate in 2024:
We will increasingly understand misinformation as weapons of mass distraction: One of the biggest panics of recent times has been the notion that we are all vulnerable to misinformation and fake news. And while of course there is plenty of truth to this, we are starting to see the subtle realities of how this operates. While we are tempted to consider that people believe misinformation, and undoubtedly some do, we can also see that they operate a little like distraction weapons, determining what we do or do not look at. For example, we do not question why wealthy men were spending time with teenage girls on Jeffry Epstein’s Island as the Pizza Gate misinformation led to questions about elite paedophile rings to sound crazy. Or while the absurdities of Jordan Paterson and Andrew Tate do not bear scrutiny, they have a distraction role, creating a space for less immediately provocative but equally problematic misogyny. In ‘24 we will increasingly use behavioural analysis to see more clearly how the rhetoric way of misinformation works to distract and divert attention from issues which merit greater scrutiny (rather than focusing on how we manage what people do or do not believe).
We will start to understand the power and importance of belonging : One of the feelings that we often do not talk about in an explicit way is ‘belonging’, close to what others have referred to as ‘unity’. Philosopher Simone Weil argues that destruction of this feeling is one of the most significant forces in modern society. She writes that to be fully human, we need a sense of rootedness, a profound form of belonging.
She emphasizes the importance of meaningful work and cultural engagement in fostering this and, on this basis, work should not just be a means of survival but provide a connection to the community and contribute to the common good. Similarly, engagement with culture (including art, history, and tradition) ties individuals to their heritage and community. She writes of the importance of a spiritual rootedness that connects us with the divine (however we define that), which is central to her overall philosophical and religious perspective.
Exploring belonging in this way will be a key behavioural theme for ’24 as we better appreciate the way modern society all too frequently fails to nurture this important dimension of our lives.
We will find new possibilities in the blasted landscapes of our lives: As Naomi Klein pointed out, when it comes to climate change there are no non-radical solutions remaining. But the alternatives we can imagine that will divert us from disaster often tend to be located in narrow techno-based conceptions of what the future looks like whether Max Max or the notion that we will all be post human and upload versions of ourselves to a new digital world.
Creeping into this however we are starting to see new notions – people such as Anna Tsing talk about the way we can find ‘new assemblages’ or possibilities in the ecological ruins of the ‘blasted landscapes’ that we increasingly inhabit. We suspect these behavioural dimensions will be more fleshed out and developed in ‘24– and voices of marginalised communities who have long inhabited their own blasted landscapes of living will come more centre stage as a means of reimaging our future lives.
The vibe-shift will start to take form in a tangible way: At the beginning of the year the talk was of ‘vibe-shift’ the way in which cultural and stylistic changes often reflecting broader societal shifts. Looking further back, the theorist Raymond Williams used the term ‘structure of feeling’ to reflect the way that changes in sensibilities precede a clearly defined ideology.
We have now seen a rash of publications suggesting we are indeed on the cusp of a new era including Peter Turchin’s book, ‘The end of the elites’ and Paolo Gerbaudo whose writing speculates that we are witnessing a moment of global transition of ideas, aligning with historical cycles in ideologies that take place every fifty years or so. It seems we are experiencing a period of huge shared historical narratives – for many people based around their difficult financial positions, for others around feeling excluded and unrepresented by political systems but overarching all of this is of our shared experience of the climate emergency.
The way this will crystalise into something more tangible in terms of actions, beliefs, ideologies is arguably only now forming. In ’24 we will increasingly look to meta-narratives to understand these vibes and feelings and how we can use this to better understand where things might go.
The past will intrude into the present in unexpected ways: While the era we live in is not without precedent in many ways, there is much we can learn about the world from what happened in the past. For example, there was a period of global cooling that came to be known as the Little Ice Age. These challenging conditions often resulted in societies seeking scapegoats with minorities, dissidents, and those perceived as 'other' became targets of suspicion and blame. And the period from 1780-1850 there was huge technical and social change – accompanied by concerns that the end of the world was close. It marked an era which saw the birth of many movements which are still with us today such as the Shakers, the Mormons and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
In 2024 as we face ever more technology disruption, health pandemics and epidemics, and the effects of climate change, we need to surely be mindful of how history influences our thoughts and behaviours. The collective memories of past crises, revolutions, and social movements often serve as a lens through which current challenges are viewed galvanizing communities and inspiring new social movements. In ’24 we will see that while history doesn't repeat itself, it often unexpectedly echoes into the present, influencing how we perceive and shape our future.
Things are going to get weirder: If in ’24 we cannot find convincing narratives for the ever-stranger world that we live in, then we will look elsewhere for explanations that depart even more from dominant narratives . And as experts set an agenda that people who hold misinformation narratives are bizarre or dangerous then there will be every reason to go elsewhere. It is essential to offer narratives that people can understand, that are empowering, and which help individuals navigate and make sense of complex societal issues.
When alternative narratives are quickly dismissed or labelled as fringe without proper engagement, this can exacerbate societal divides, leading to the entrenchment of polarized viewpoints. It becomes crucial, then, for experts and leaders to engage with these differing perspectives constructively, fostering dialogue and understanding, rather than deepening divisions through condescension or labelling.
In light of this, there is a pressing need for a 'currency of meaning' – narratives that resonate with people's lived experiences and foster communal understanding. This requires moving beyond the paradigm of 'lectureporn,' a concept characterizing a form of communication that offers validation to the audience while ridiculing opposing views. This approach, heavy on expertise but lacking in empathy and genuine engagement, fails to foster a healthy public discourse.
In ’24 we will increasingly see the need for effective narratives that empower individuals to engage in discussions, raise questions, and actively contribute to societal dialogue. They should promote a shared understanding that facilitates active participation and collaborative problem-solving.
And just about everything will be political: After a long period where there was often a dominant consensus, in the West at least, that there were no meaningful alternatives to the way we organise society, we are at the cusp of a something very different. We now live in an era where something as seemingly anodyne as pollution control measures quickly lead to polarised positions, as illustrated by the recent controversy concerning the increase in the Ultra Low Emissions Zone in London. Conversely, there is also a ‘green-hushing’ trend, where companies keep quiet about their sustainability achievements in an attempt to avoid political backlash.
The private is rapidly re-establishing itself as the political, with issues like healthcare, parental leave, and work-life balance, once considered individual or family matters, being increasingly recognised not merely as personal choices deeply influenced by societal structures and policies. Complex experiences of those facing multiple forms of marginalization, whether gender-based, socio-economic, racial, or cultural means ideas about representation, voice, and identity will gain ever more traction. The political, it seems, is back and as such behavioural science will increasingly need political scientists to understand behaviour.
As ever, these represent our broad sense of the behavioural direction of travel – and on Frontline Be Sci we will continue to look at the big issues we face using a behavioural lens. There has seen a huge increase in readership this year, it is lovely that so many people are reading what we put out – thank you.
We are taking a break and will be back in Jan ’24!
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