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Behavioural Science concepts: A handy glossary for Marketeers and Comms teams

There are many brilliant, proven behavioural science concepts that give insight into why people respond in a certain way to certain stimulus. Being aware of these tools can give you communications and marketing even more impact...

Many of the defined behaviours below are brought about because the human mind is considered to be a 'cognitive miser' – due to the tendency of humans to think and solve problems in simpler and less effortful ways rather than in more sophisticated and effortful ways, regardless of intelligence.

So just as a miser seeks to avoid spending money, the human mind often seeks to avoid spending cognitive effort. This, in turn, leads to mental short cuts (or heuristics) that we can observe and define - such as concepts like the Peak End Rule, Anchoring, Goal gradient effect and the Scarcity heuristic. All of which have been used many times in marketing and communication campaigns to great effect.

This list below has been created to provide a quick reference guide to certain behaviours and how you might harness these to help improve your communication, marketing and behaviour change strategies. Enjoy!


Anchoring or focalism

The tendency to rely too heavily upon, or “anchor”, on one trait or piece of information when making decisions (usually the first piece of information acquired on that subject).

Authority bias

The tendency to attribute greater accuracy to the opinion of an authority figure (unrelated to its content) and be more influenced by that opinion.

Availability heuristic

The tendency to overestimate the likelihood of events with greater “availability” in memory, which can be influenced by how recent the memories are or how unusual or emotionally charged they may be. Closely linked to vividness.

Bandwagon effect

The tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same. Related to groupthink and herd behaviour.

Cheerleader effect

The tendency for people to appear more attractive in a group than in isolation.

Choice architecture

Presenting choices in a leading way but still allowing for the freedom of choice.

Commitment bias

The tendency to be consistent with what we have already done or said we will do in the past, particularly if public. Inconsistency is not a desirable trait; thus, people try to keep their promises and reflect consistency.

Commitment device

A way to lock yourself into following a plan of action that you might not want to do but you know is good for you. In other words, a commitment device is a way to give yourself a reward or punishment to make an empty promise stronger and believable.

Decision fatigue

There are psychological costs to making decisions. Since choosing can be difficult and requires effort, just like any other activity, long sessions of decision making can lead to poor choices. Similar to other activities that consume resources required for executive functions, decision fatigue is reflected in self-regulation, such as a diminished ability to exercise self-control (Vohs et al., 2008). (See also choice overload and ego depletion.)

Decision staging

When people make complex or long decisions, such as buying a car, they tend to explore their options successively. This involves deciding what information to focus on, as well as choices between attributes and alternatives


Default options are pre-set courses of action that take effect if nothing is specified by the decision maker (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008), and setting defaults is an effective tool in choice architecture when there is inertia or uncertainty in decision making (Samson, 2014).

Duration heuristic

The tendency to evaluate services based on their duration rather than on their content. Consumers rely on the duration heuristic because it simplifies the evaluation process. In particular, the duration heuristic is most likely to be seen when the duration of the service experience is evaluable relative to other features and when duration is considered in relation to price. (Imagine how you’d feel if the locksmith was done in 5 minutes versus 35 minutes.)

Empathy gap

The tendency to underestimate the influence or strength of feelings, in either oneself or others. A hot-cold empathy gap occurs when people underestimate the influence of visceral states (e.g. being angry, in pain, or hungry) on their behaviour or preferences.

Goal gradient effect

The increased effort we naturally put forth as we approach the end goal.


A set of negative group-level processes, including illusions of invulnerability, self-censorship, and pressures to conform, that occur when highly cohesive groups seek concurrence when making a decision.

Halo effect

The tendency for a person’s (or company's) positive or negative traits to “spill over” from one personality area to another in others’ perceptions of them

Hyperbolic discounting

This is the tendency for people to have a stronger preference for more immediate payoffs relative to later payoffs. Hyperbolic discounting leads to choices that are inconsistent over time – people make choices today that their future selves would prefer not to have made, despite using the same reasoning. Also known as current moment bias and present-bias.

Identifiable victim effect

The tendency to respond more strongly to a single identified person at risk than to a large group of people at risk.

Ingroup bias

The tendency for people to give preferential treatment to others they perceive to be members of their own groups.

IKEA effect

The tendency for people to place a disproportionately high value on objects that they partially assembled themselves, such as furniture from IKEA, regardless of the quality of the end result.


An incentive is something that motivates an individual to perform an action. It is therefore essential to the study of any economic activity. Incentives, whether they are intrinsic or extrinsic, can be effective in encouraging behaviour change, such as ceasing to smoke, doing more exercise, complying with tax laws or increasing public good contributions. Traditionally the importance of intrinsic incentives was underestimated, and the focus was put on monetary ones. Monetary incentives may backfire and reduce the performance of agents or their compliance with rules (see also over-justification effect), especially when motives such as the desire to reciprocate or the desire to avoid social disapproval (see social norms) are neglected. These intrinsic motives often help to understand changes in behaviour (Fehr & Falk, 2002).

Input bias

Where our judgments are influenced by the input of a situation. For example, a piece of work is judged to be better when we hear that the creator laboured over it for a long time. F. Gino – Sidetracked

Inequity aversion

Human resistance to “unfair” outcomes is known as ‘inequity aversion’, which occurs when people prefer fairness and resist inequalities.

Loss aversion

The disutility of giving up an object is greater than the utility associated with acquiring it.

Mere exposure effect

The tendency to express undue liking for things merely because of familiarity with them.

Negativity bias or Negativity effect

Psychological phenomenon by which humans have a greater recall of unpleasant memories compared with positive memories.

Not invented here

Aversion to contact with or use of products, research, standards, or knowledge developed outside a group.

Picture Superiority Effect

The picture-superiority effect (PSE) refers to the finding that, all else being equal, pictures are remembered better than words ( Paivio & Csapo, 1973 )

Restraint bias

The tendency to overestimate one’s ability to show restraint in the face of temptation or to manage our self-control.

Status quo bias

The tendency to like things to stay relatively the same (see also loss aversion, endowment effect, and system justification).

Visual Depiction Effect

We are more attracted to things when shown in a way that helps us visualize ourselves using it. For example, because most people are right handed, showing an image of a cup with the handle on the right side is most effective.

We hope this handy list of Behavioural Science glossary of terms has prompted some thoughts on how to improve your communications and marketing strategy and given some new insights into your customers' response to certain stimulus. If you want to view a more complete list, check out this link to the Behavioural Grooves website.

If you want to discuss creating a behaviour change campaign, feel free to get in touch through our contact us page or email us at

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