Expert Spotlight: Lightning Interview with Aline Holzwarth

May 28, 2019: Bill (Executive Director of the Health Care Nudge Coalition) was recently able to meet informally with industry expert Aline Holzwarth, who shared her thoughts in the "lightning interview" below on her participation in applied behavioral economics and what she's been up to lately:

Bill: Would it be fair to say that you got into behavioral economics before it was cool? What was your path into the field?

Aline: Haha, I'd say it's always been "cool" -- there just weren't as many people following it. In the days before Predictably Irrational or Nudge, the field was basically a subset of psychology called JDM (which stands for Judgment & Decision Making), and only later became recognized en masse as behavioral economics. If you think about it, "behavioral economics" is clearly the catchier phrase between the two, which just goes to show the importance of how you market your science.

I initially studied psychology at Reed College, which has a very strong academic program and uniquely offers research opportunities to undergraduates. Most students have to wait until they are in a graduate program before they can really get their hands dirty, but I was doing research with several of my professors right off the bat, testing my hypotheses and seeing the scientific method in action. One year I participated in an internship program with George Loewenstein (and others) at Carnegie Mellon, where much of the earlier work in the decision sciences was being done (in their Social and Decision Sciences department as well as their Center for Behavioral and Decision Research). This internship was really a formative experience for me and inspired me to ultimately carry out my senior thesis at Reed with an external advisor from the internship, Carey Morewedge, and his colleague Danny Oppenheimer.

Upon graduating from Reed, I applied to work as a researcher in Dan Ariely's lab, the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University. I hadn't planned on staying at Duke more than a couple years, but already ten years have passed and I'm still finding new challenges and exciting projects to tackle.

Bill: Once you discovered behavioral economics, how did it become a passion?

Aline: I've always been interested in why people do the things they do, so the study of human behavior was a natural fit. But this interest really morphed into a passion when I realized how behavioral science can be leveraged to solve real-world problems. The kinds of partnerships with industry that the Center for Advanced Hindsight attracts are what enable us to do work that is not only applied to the real world, but can have a greater impact. By partnering with companies that are mutually interested in making positive change through scientific means, we can simply have a broader reach than if we were to attempt the same projects on our own. There is incredible untapped potential in the collaboration between academia and industry (nicely summarized by this recent article in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine and this article in Health Education & Behavior), and I've become more and more excited about championing these sorts of cross-fertilizing partnerships.

Bill: What have you been thinking or doing lately that you would like students and enthusiasts to know about?

Aline: I'm currently putting together a podcast where I plan to interview leaders in industry who are applying behavioral science within their organizations. The podcast is geared at two complementary audiences with a similar goal -- behavioral scientists who want to do applied work in industry, and people in industry looking to apply behavioral science in their work. I'll talk to leaders in the space at the convergence of behavioral science and industry, and try to understand what cultural or implementation challenges they've encountered in their efforts to apply the science. My hope is to accumulate a series of common problems and solutions that will help other scientists and practitioners when they face the same issues. The podcast is still in the planning stages, but I hope to ramp up this summer and start recording my first set of innovators!

Bill: Thank you!

All of us at the Health Care Nudge Coalition would like to thank Aline for taking the time with us for the interview, and for supporting students and alumni who are ramping up to make a difference in the field!


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