WVU Marketing Communications Today

How Advances in Behavioral Science inform Effective Communication

April 17, 2020


Advances in behavioral science have come a long way since the discipline’s inception in the late seventies. Robust studies have shown time and again that long-held theories of top-down information dissemination, particularly when scientific in nature, are not only ineffective but perhaps even counter-effective. Ensuring that communications are received as intended, and ultimately acted upon for the purpose of predicting behavioral outcomes, requires understanding how the brain processes information and its cognitive limitations.

People’s understanding of the world is shaped by their neural networks, and what behavioral scientists refer to more commonly as “mental models.”  These mental models are heavily influenced by a variety of factors including, but not limited to, how familiar the risk being reported is, whether it is natural or manmade, and whether it is voluntary. Also critical to the perception of risk is how frequently it is being communicated and who the sources of information are. The more that ideas/associations get communicated, the more likely they will be to shape audience member’s mental models—for better and for worse.  

Communicating relevant, actionable credible information is not always an easy feat. It is essential to simplify the data, but the risk of oversimplifying can result in inaccurate communications or inaccurate interpretations of the communication. Appropriate simplification is essential for anyone charged with communication.

About Susan's guest:

Dr. Sweta Chakraborty is a risk and behavioral scientist in the media. She is regularly interviewed on major, international news media outlets including CNN, the BBC, Fox News Channel, Sky News, CGN, NZTV, i24, OAN, ABC, The Young Turks, Cheddar, and Newsmax to name a few.

She has written extensively in peer-reviewed journals, is co-author of the book “Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Safety: A Study in Public and Private Regulation” from her time as a postdoc at Oxford University, and is currently working on her second book on how unfounded public panic impedes human progress. She is the U.S. Representative for “We Don’t Have Time,” the Sweden-based tech start-up that launched Greta Thunberg to viral global renown. She is also the founder and principle of Adapt to Thrive, a venture that seeks to better inform individuals, businesses, and government entities on the complex, interconnected challenges, such as food security and disease, already existing and emerging from a warming planet.

Sweta is co-host of Eaton Radio’s live weekly show and popular podcast “Risky Behavior” as well as the host and producer of The Center for Climate and Security’s “The Climate and Security Podcast.” She is a 2019/2020 Millennium Fellow at The Atlantic Council, and serves on the boards of the Serendipity Foundation, America Adapts, and We Don’t Have Time.


WVU Marketing Communications Today is hosted by Susan Jones from West Virginia University which is a program on the Funnel Radio Channel

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