Behavioural science principles: peers and experts

Published by Francesca Hazel on

Keep calm, and listen to your peers and the experts

Table of contents

Why use peers and experts?

Have you ever listened to someone that has really inspired you to try something new, think differently, or change your behaviour?  

Experts come in all shapes and sizes. In our daily lives, we cannot avoid hearing from them, whether it’s political figures providing scientific guidance during the pandemic or the latest health guru advising us on how to eat healthier and live longer.

The value of experts’ quotes, stories, and recommendations is that it helps learners to engage with ‘real’ people – with the belief that because experts are specialists in their subject, they know what they are talking about. This gives a seal of approval and provides authenticity to the messages delivered. Providing, of course, the messenger is liked and respected.

The credible messenger approach

When using peers as ‘credible messengers’ to deliver information, we are providing more than just faceless text, we give context – a relatable ‘real’ person, someone we can establish a connection with, and who is more likely to influence our beliefs and change our behaviour.

We are also affected by the feelings we have for the messenger. And of course, we may irrationally discard advice given by a messenger whom we dislike. Using both rational and cognitive means, we assess how convincing we find that messenger.

When using the credible messenger approach, Mindspace identifies that it’s important to consider which messages to use, for which circumstances, and whether the focus is mainly on the Automatic or Reflective ways of thinking.

The Automatic system is uncontrolled, effortless, associative, fast, unconscious, and skilled. Whereas, the Reflective system is controlled, effortful, deductive, slow, self-aware, and rule-following. It’s believed that both systems are often at war with one another with the Automatic system dominating the decision-making process.

Mindspace states that combining the lessons from context with those from cognition will lead to the most effective behaviour change interventions.

Telling authentic stories

Everyone loves a good story, especially one that is authentic. An authentic story does more than just tell the truth, it tells us why we should care – tapping into our emotions and capturing our hearts and minds.

There’s no denying true-to-life stories aren’t popular – just look at the wealth of ‘real-life’ dramas you can explore at the click of a button, from Trischa Zorn to Nelson Mandela. The enjoyment is that they teach us about real things – things we may know little or nothing about – like a person’s experience, passions, and skills.

Using powerful forces

Social influences are powerful forces. Changing behaviour is not just about having the right answers. How, or rather who delivers that information is an important factor. At BAD we understand this and using personable experts and peers in our learning experiences is something we have done with great success across a wide range of projects.  

How we have used personable experts and peers in learning

One of our clients asked us to create an environment where they can use and share knowledge from colleagues across their organisation, sharing how it has shaped their careers – from the CEO about why it matters to their business, to senior leaders about the positive impact of knowledge on their service line.

We also developed a series of case study videos from colleagues about how they’ve applied their skill-sets. We designed a virtual instructor-led training (VILT) where these videos are played during the VILT sessions, showing how the skills new starters need are applied in real situations.  

Another client, with large numbers of employees around the world, was keen to deliver engaging mandatory training on diversity and inclusion. The vision was to move away from the look and feel of a standard tick-box compliance piece. The end design was a series of videos with colleagues telling their diversity and inclusion stories that learners could connect with and be moved by the changes of behaviour in a positive way.

The videos were fantastic, showcasing real people who opened conversations around diversity, and celebrated differences as a strength – almost like a superpower – inspiring positive change and reducing affinity bias.

These are just some examples of how we have used personal experts and peers in learning design, drawing upon our behavioural science mantra. If you’d like to explore how you can use personable experts and peers in your digital learning experiences, or any other elements of our mantra, please get in touch. 

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