Adam M. Grant of Wharton School has a piece highlighting this dilemma. He is a psychologist but is often introduced as a behavioral economist on order to sound cooler and be heard.
He says this change in events is ironical as most contributions to so called beh eco comes from psychologists:
Here are some of my favorite surprising studies. What do they have in common?
- People are more likely to buy jam when they’re presented with 6 flavors than 24.
- After inspecting a house, real estate agents thought it was $14,000 more valuable when the seller listed it at $149,900 than $119,900.
- When children play a fun game and then get rewarded for it, they lose interest in playing the game once the rewards are gone.
- People conserve more energy when they see their neighbors’ consumption rates.
- If you flip a coin six times, people think Heads-Heads-Heads-Tails-Tails-Tails is less likely than Heads-Tails-Tails-Heads-Heads-Tails, even though the two are equally likely.
- Managers underestimate the intrinsic motivation of their employees.
They’ve all appeared in the media as studies done by behavioral economists, when in fact they were done by psychologists.
This is a common mistake. As one Nobel Laureate in economics observes: “When it comes to policy making, applications of social or cognitive psychology are now routinely labeled behavioral economics.”
It happens to me regularly: I’m an organizational psychologist, but I get introduced at least once a week as a behavioral economist. The first time this happened before a speech, I attempted to set the record straight, telling the executive that all of my degrees were in psychology. His response: “Your work sounds cooler if I call you a behavioral economist.”
What is the way out? Lets call each other behavioral scientists:
“Psychologists… are almost forced to accept the label of behavioral economists, even if they are as innocent of economic knowledge as I am,” Kahneman writes, and “rewarded by greater attention to their ideas, because they benefit from the higher credibility that comes to credentialed economists.”
Psychology has come a long way since Freud, but the brand hasn’t caught up. The new psychological science of the mind and behavior is based on randomized, controlled experiments with measurable behaviors as well as fMRI and physiological data. Ideally, we’ll start rebranding psychology as a source of interesting, rigorous ideas. Alternatively, Kahneman proposes that when it comes to formulating policy, we should stop drawing major boundaries between fields and just call ourselves behavioral scientists.
But again anything with economics attached is as cool as it can get..The dilemma remains..