Our research

We focus on pressing societal and business issues.

Research areas

Objectives

All of our research areas are approached with an underlying belief that interventions in society (whether they are products, services, policy or strategy) aimed to change behaviour should be based on rigorous evidence. To that effect, while we use qualitative techniques as part of our research to assure alignment and complete understanding of the target groups, we always attempt to attach robust objective data to our arguments for interventions through experiments, scale development, large-scale post-intervention assessments, econometric modelling, and longitudinal surveys. 

Research topics and studies

BBL members and their collaborators have, over the years, been involved in many different research studies and programmes in different aspects of the four key BBL research areas. The following provide a flavour of the specific research BBL members are engaged with. 

Increasingly business is conducted not face to face but over various different electronic communication channels. Businesses increasingly sell online. These media have a strong influence on how people interact and decide. Do you trust others in impersonal online situations? BBL members have studied these effects in different contexts.

We developed economic games to examine how persuasion (such as between expert and client) differs when people communicate over different such media including chat, audio and video and virtual environments. These media differ not only in how rich the information is that is communicated but also what characteristics of people (like gender or culture) are transmitted. 

Virtual worlds (such as multiplayer online games or social platforms) can provide a powerful environment to conduct experiments with participants from across the world. They can be immersed in realistic-looking tasks where not only decisions and communication but also subtle behaviours (such as movement and gestures) can be recorded and analysed.

How people behave depends on more than a rational calculation of costs and benefits of different actions. One important factor is their culture, that is typical values and attitudes that are shared within the group they belong to. Researchers have found systematic cultural differences between people of different religious, national or ethnic groups that have a strong impact on their behaviour and economic fortunes.

BBL researchers have conducted many studies on what specific values differentiate different groups and how these explain differences in how they interact in business and the economy. For example, we looked at the effect of belonging to different religions and the degree of individual religiosity.  We examined how traditional Asian (especially Chinese, Indian and Indonesian) values differ from Western ones and how this impacts international business negotiations. 

People often use other’s culture to identify them socially as belonging to their own (the ingroup) or to a separate group (the outgroup). Outgroup status often leads to discrimination and stereotyping, phenomena that we need to understand better in an increasingly globalised world. BBL researchers have looked at discrimination based on ethnicity, religion and gender in different contexts. 

In one of our projects we are testing a behavioural intervention designed using gamification techniques and design principles to increase social inclusion to people from different cultures. The game is designed to help people categorise different visual representations of cultures that show their similarities (we are all human) while allowing them to feel unique in their own cultures. Playing this game helps people feel closer to those from other cultures without feeling threatened in their own identities.

Entrepreneurship is of key importance to the modern economy, creating wealth, jobs, new firms and promoting economic development. This is now a big field in research. Behavioural scientists highlight the psychological underpinnings of entrepreneurial behaviour. These include willingness to accept risk and uncertainty, the discovery of new opportunities, creativity and innovation and the ability to make decisions and lead others. 

BBL researchers have conducted studies with real entrepreneurs to examine their special individual personality factors, values and attitudes using purpose designed experiment tasks. We also used physiological measurements (such as pulse rate) and measured their finger digit ratios to examine whether they reveal underlying business proclivities. 

Behavioural economics and psychology offer methods to examine why, after decades of policy intervention from national and international organizations as well as development aid, some nations have developed and other remain relatively impoverished. One area where behavioural approaches are useful is to look at how individual behaviour and preferences contribute to a country’s social capital that underlies development. 

BBL members and their HDR students have conducted many field experiments in developing countries including China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and Bangladesh. We also conduct analysis of secondary data to establish relationships between behavioural variables and economic outcomes. In these ways we have studied, for example, how religious and traditional beliefs and ethnic fractionalisation affect pro-social behaviour, financial decisions as well as the incidence of conflict in different regions of the world.

For example, in one project, researchers at the BBL examined the benevolent autocrat hypothesis and found no evidence for it. In another project, researchers at the BBL showed how minority status influences inter-religious trust relations in South Asia.

Textbooks paint a bleak picture of humans as basically greedy and selfish. But behavioural scientists know that people give to charity, help the poor, champion environmental causes and contribute to public goods through blood, sweat and taxes. People have moral and ethical principles to which they adhere even if it is not in their narrow self-interest. BBL researchers have studied this important type of behaviour in many different settings.

For example, we studied the effect of different aspects of charitable appeals on donations. One is the colour (hue and saturation) of the appeal material, and the other is the nature of the appeal, using guilt or happiness-inducing charity advertisements. BBL researchers also examined how political values, such as nationalism or political party preferences, affect charitable giving in different parts of the world (including Australia, the US, and China). We also examined under what conditions people are more likely to make socially responsible investments through their superannuation funds.  

The way people perceive, store and use information about the likely outcomes of their actions is a psychological rather than mathematical process. Behaviouralist have a lot to say how human information processing influences business and economic decision making. 

In the BBL, we have conducted many studies to understand these issues better. For example, we studied when knowledge is power and when instead ignorance is bliss. We looked at this in contexts like having to rely on experts (from doctors to financial advisors) and when we need to coordinate our action with others

In other studies we examined how people respond to risk which is everywhere in the business world. Do they get used to it (like a boiling frog) when they are exposed to it continuously? Does it matter whether the source of risk is a competitor or an impersonal process (like the market)?

Studies in which we look at how people perceive and process information to make decisions for themselves help us inform policy. For example, we have looked at what kinds of customer service information people find important, and how to best present this to customers, to enable them to choose energy retailers according to their preferences. This research helps policy makers influence the energy retail market in way that better services the public. 

As humans we respond to beauty naturally and aim to create it ourselves through artworks.  Because any object can be aesthetically appreciated there is an increasing interest in researching aesthetic appraisal for everyday objects, such as products and websites. Attractive products appear more usable and of higher value, thereby influencing people’s buying decisions positively. In design aesthetics, BBL researchers examine how certain design factors such as typicality, novelty, complexity or symmetry explain variation in aesthetic appreciation. Design and aesthetics can also influence cognitive processes. One recent example is Sans Forgetica a typeface that has been scientifically designed with the help of BBL members to help people remember better what they read.

Artworks are bought and sold for prices determined in cultural markets that resemble markets for more standard products. However, behavioural researchers have identified important ways in which the creation and appreciation of art is different from standard production and consumption. Artists have particular personalities and produce for intrinsic motivations; their products are intended to convey meaning and evoke emotions in their audiences that are hard to predict. BBL researchers are examining the psychological factors that enter the price mechanism in art markets using experiments and online studies. 

Recent Publications by BBL Members

Blijlevens, J.,Hekkert, P. (2019). "Autonomous, yet Connected": An esthetic principle explaining our appreciation of product designs In: Psychology and Marketing, 36, 530 - 546

Chuah, S.,Hoffmann, R.,Liu, B.,Tan, M. (2019). Is Knowledge Cursed When Forecasting the Forecasts of Others In: Journal of Behavioral Finance, 20, 66 - 72 

Chuah, S.,Feeny, S.,Hoffmann, J.,Sanjaya, M. (2019). Conflict, ethnicity and gender: A money-burning field experiment in Indonesia In: Economics Letters, 177, 14 - 17 

Chuah, S.,Hoffmann, J.,Larner, J. (2019). Is knowledge curse or blessing in pure coordination problems? In: Theory and Decision, 87, 123 - 146 

Camilleri, A.,Cam, M.,Hoffmann, J. (2019). Nudges and signposts: The effect of smart defaults and pictographic risk information on retirement saving investment choices In: Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, , 1 - 19 

Hoffmann, J.,Cam, M.,Camilleri, A. (2019). Deciding to invest responsibly: Choice architecture and demographics in an incentivised retirement savings experiment In: Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics, 80, 219 - 230 

Rud, O.,Rabanal, J.,Sharifova, M. (2019). An experiment on the efficiency of bilateral exchange under incomplete markets In: Games and Economic Behavior, 114, 253 - 267

Rizio, S.M., Skali, A. (2019). How often do dictators produce good economic outcomes? Global evidence, 1858-2010 In: The Leadership Quarterly, forthcoming.

Chesney, T.,Chuah, S.,Hoffmann, R.,Hui, W.,Larner, J. (2018). Virtual economic experimentsIn: Social Interactions in Virtual Worlds: An Interdisciplinary Perspective, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom 

Murray, J.,Chesney, T.,Hoffmann, J. (2018). VERUS: A Multidisciplinary International Behavioral Study of Virtual World Users In: Social Interactions in Virtual Worlds, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 

Gupta, G.,Mahmud, M.,Maitra, P.,Mitra, S.,Neelim, A. (2018). Religion, minority status and trust: Evidence from a field experiment In: Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 146, 180 - 205

Leibbrandt, A.,Maitra, P.,Neelim, A. (2018). Large stakes and little honesty? Experimental evidence from a developing country. In: Economics Letters, 169, 76 - 79

Siddiqui, T.,Neelim, A.,Shabab, C.,Hasan, M. (2018). Impact of Migration on Poverty and Growth in Bangladesh, Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Banczyk, M.,Laban, J.,Potts, J. (2018). Choosing cities: a behavioural economic approach In: The Annals of Regional Science, 61, 463 - 477

Rabanal, J.,Rud, O. (2018). Does competition affect truth telling? An experiment with rating agencies In: Review of Finance, 22, 1581 - 1604 

Rud, O.,Rabanal, J.,Horowitz, J. (2018). Does competition aggravate moral hazard? A Multi-Principal-Agent experiment In: Journal of Financial Intermediation, 33, 115 - 121

Rud, O.,Rabanal, J. (2018). Evolution of markets: a simulation with centralized, decentralized and posted offer formats In: Journal of Evolutionary Economics, 28, 667 - 689

Blijlevens, J.,Hekkert, P.,Leder, H.,Thurgood, C.,Chen, L.,Whitfield, T. (2017). The aesthetic pleasure in design scale: The development of a scale to measure aesthetic pleasure for designed artifacts In: Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 11, 86 - 98

Ranscombe, C.,Kinsella, P.,Blijlevens, J. (2017). Data-driven styling: Augmenting intuition in the product design process using holistic styling analysis In: Journal of Mechanical Design, 139, 1 - 11

Chesney, T.,Chuah, S.,Hoffmann, J.,Larner, J. (2017). The influence of influence: The effect of task repetition on persuaders and persuadees In: Decision Support Systems, 94, 12 - 18 

Chesney, T.,Chuah, S.,Dobele, A.,Hoffmann, J. (2017). Information richness and trust in v-commerce: Implications for services marketing In: Journal of Services Marketing, 31, 295 - 307 

Skali, A. (2017). Moralizing gods and armed conflict In: Journal of Economic Psychology, 63, 184 - 198

Post, R.,Blijlevens, J.,Hekkert, P. (2016). 'To preserve unity while almost allowing for chaos': Testing the aesthetic principle of unity-in-variety in product design In: Acta Psychologica, 163, 142 - 152

Blijlevens, J.,Ranscombe, C. (2016). Bridging the Gap between Marketing Strategy and Design Teams: A Method to Facilitate Strategic Styling Decision-Making within a Company In: Journal of Design, Business and Society, 2, 217 - 233

Chesney, T.,Chuah, S.,Hoffmann, J.,Hui, W.,Larner, J. (2016). How user personality and social value orientation influence avatar-mediated friendship In: Information Technology and People, 29, 688 - 716 

Blijlevens, J.,Hekkert, P. (2015). "Autonomous, yet connected": A social design principle explaining consumers' aesthetic appreciation of products In: 2015 Academy of Marketing Conference - The Magic in Marketing, Limerick, Ireland, 7-9 July 2015

Ranscombe, C.,Kinsella, P.,Blijlevens, J. (2015). Searching for the 'sweet-spot': Demonstrating the contribution of shape analysis tools in stimuli creation In: Procedia Manufacturing, 3, 2134 - 2141

Madsen, J.,Raschky, P.,Skali, A. (2015). Does democracy drive income in the world, 1500-2000? In: European Economic Review, 78, 175 - 195

Leibbrandt, A.,Maitra, P.,Neelim, A. (2015). On the redistribution of wealth in a developing country: Experimental evidence on stake and framing effects In: Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 118, 360 - 371

Neelim, A.,Siddiqui, T. (2015). SITUATION ANALYSIS OF MIGRATION CONTEXT AND POLICY FRAMEWORK IN BANGLADESH In: International Organization for Migration Dhaka, Bangladesh

Feast, L.,Blijlevens, J. (2014). Mixed method research procedure for design education In: Proceedings of NordDesign 2014, Espoo, Finland / Melbourne, Australia, 27-29 August 2014 

Ranscombe, C.,Blijlevens, J. (2014). Measurement and visualisation of evolutionary changes in product shape for justification of styling decisions in design In: Proceedings of NordDesign 2014, Espoo, Finland / Melbourne, Australia, 27-29 August 2014

Post, R.,Blijlevens, J.,Hekkert, P. (2013). The influence of unity-in-variety on aesthetic appreciation of car interiors In: IASDR 2013: Proceedings of the 5th International Congress of International Association of Societies of Design Research "Consilience and Innovation in Design", Tokyo, Japan, 26-30 August 2013

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Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nations on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.

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