The word ‘psychologist’ tends to be associated with an image of a psychotherapist working with a patient who has turned to them as a last resort, perhaps even with eyes cast down in shame. There are many things wrong with this picture, some of which fall beyond the scope of this story. For instance, we will not explain why visiting a psychologist should be no more shameful than visiting a general practitioner. Or, that in addition to treating mental illness, psychologists are also well-equipped to improve well-being and productivity.
The misconception addressed here is the idea that psychology is relevant only for work carried out with a single individual at a time. We hope to debunk this myth by showing that psychology is useful for those who create various social systems – the tax system, health care system, educational system, and others. In short, we will discuss using psychology in policy making.
Policies – from laws to specific regulations – create frameworks for society to operate in. Many policies are, among other aims, designed to shape behaviour. A policy-maker, for example, may wish for drivers to obey a speed limit or for entrepreneurs to honour their tax obligations.
Authors of such behaviour-shaping policies face at least three challenges that relate to psychology. Firstly, they need to understand the mechanisms underlying the behaviour they wish to influence. Secondly, they benefit from knowing how to influence behaviour without force and coercion. And thirdly, when assessing the impacts of policies, they may want to measure changes on the psychological level. For all of these challenges, psychology and other behavioural sciences are an excellent source of practical models, persuasion techniques, and assessment tools.Continue reading