Ask an Expert: Are Behavioral Principles Really Universal?

Katie Williamson
Dec 19, 2018 · 2 min read

Do you have a tricky environmental problem that would benefit from applying behavioral insights? Thinking of launching a new behavior change campaign and not sure where to start? Email Rare’s Center for Behavior & the Environment at, and we’ll send your questions to our staff and community of experts. We’ll share their responses in the following issue of our newsletter and on this blog page!

Behavioral science is often described as a powerful tool for conservation because it works for everyone, transcending cultures, languages, and ways of life. At the same time, individuals are all unique with their own lived experiences. How can we trust that this approach is truly universal?

Kevin Green, Director, Center for Behavior & the Environment

Behavioral science describes the propensities and predispositions that are innate in all of us simply by virtue of being human. But we don’t know how those propensities and predispositions will reveal themselves in any specific individual or group until we understand as best we can the social, cultural, and environmental context in which that individual or group exists. This is why it’s essential that we combine a sophisticated understanding of what’s happening at the human level — the behavioral science — with the deepest possible empathy and understanding of the individual or group we are seeking to influence.

Katie Velasco, Director of Operations and Engagement, Center for Behavior & the Environment

Behavioral science is the study of how and why humans act in the ways that they do. We know that no matter where you are in the world, you feel emotion; you are part of a community; and you are influenced by the environment in which you live. Our Center for Behavior & the Environment’s approach of behavior-centered design is actually flipping the one-size-fits-all model on its head. By recognizing and identifying these key drivers of individual behaviors, we can be more effective in creating conservation solutions, because these tactics are actually customized to understanding the unique situations in which people operate. For example, we know that social norms play a critical role in our daily actions and that our conservation solutions should take these norms into account. Individual differences therefore emerge in the degree to which these drivers influence behavior, how they manifest locally, and how people receive and respond to different kinds of messaging.

Subscribe to the Center’s Behavior Beat newsletter here.

In Rare Form

Stories and insights from the frontlines of community-led conservation

Katie Williamson

Written by

Behavior change enthusiast at Rare, environmentalist, baker, traveler, writer

In Rare Form

Stories and insights from the frontlines of community-led conservation

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