Elizabeth Kim is a behavioral scientist who designs experiments to develop products that make people happier, healthier and wealthier. Trained by Dan Ariely and researchers at Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight, Elizabeth incorporates the science of behavior change to digital products by uncovering why people do what they do and designing product features to help people make better decisions. She has designed experiments in-house for the Fabulous, a Google and Apple award-winning habit formation app, Jet.com, an e-commerce company acquired by Walmart for 3.3 billion and will be continuing her craft at Spotify.
Elizabeth also founded the Duke Behavioral Science Group, a community of over 500 students, researchers and local practitioners dedicated to applying behavioral science to products and policy for social good. During that time, she piloted the Duke Behavioral Science Unit, an experimental program that partnered students with the university to design randomized controlled trials on behavioral interventions to help students make better decisions around health and wellbeing.
With groups creating programs to encourage females to consider STEM, what is the biggest barrier to entry that is still prevalent today?
Society conditions girls to avoid making mistakes while it rewards boys for breaking things. Pursuing STEM requires breaking things and making mistakes because the field itself runs on iterative processes. As parents, teachers and community members, we need to commit to rewarding girls when they make mistakes by praising their process rather than correct answers, neatness or personal characteristics. For example, instead of saying, “Great job, you’re so smart!”, say “I love how you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you understood it.” Praise the process, not the person.
What or who inspires you?
I get excited about the idea and opportunity of designing experiments that lead to insights you can apply to entire systems—incentive structures, organizational designs and processes in institutions across a portfolio of fields. The environment plays a huge role in the decisions we make every day, so nudging systems that govern institutions is one of the most effective ways of causing sustainable impact on behavior change.
What is your proudest moment/accomplishment?
One of my proudest moments was when I finished analyzing the first experiment I ever conducted I had a meaningful conversation with Dan Ariely, then we ran an experiment on meaningful conversations to help design an app I was working on to better connect strangers. It was the moment I realized that experimentation can be used to expand our understanding of why people do what they do and to develop tools that change behavior.