The student community at IE University is as culturally and nationally diverse as it is talented and innovative. But one challenge facing students in the Bachelor in Behavior & Social Sciences is that their discipline is WEIRD—heavily centered on Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic countries.

A new collaboration between IE University and the Busara Center for Behavioral Economics engaged students to confront and change that paradigm. A team competition invited proposals that look at the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic from a truly global perspective. Innovative solutions were sought to connect students, practitioners and researchers outside the traditional territories and simultaneously foster cross-cultural collaboration.

The sphere of behavioral science has recently been opened up to bachelor’s students thanks to IE University’s program, among the first in its field. In line with our community’s creative mindset, this landmark competition challenged participants to show that agile and inexpensive research that simultaneously provides rigorous, high-quality data is possible with forward-thinking approaches and new methodologies.

Busara competition

A joint IE University/Busara panel considered proposals on behavioral topics such as panic purchasing behavior, social trust and misinformation, with the winning teams running their experiments remotely in Kenya, in collaboration with the community of Nairobi. As part of a commitment to open science, all de-identified data, instruments and findings will be made available online.

We spoke to the participating teams about their experience in the competition and the learnings they’ve taken from it.

Natalia García, Diletta Montagni, Nana Kosugiyama & Victoria Castro ¨We came up with our idea during the period after quarantine when we started to see how people behaved when they began to socialize again. The way people were behaving was different and confusing, so we started analyzing the situation complementing it with a literature review process. Being aware of the current pandemic and the emotional distress this was causing not only ourselves but the people around us, we became very conscious of the essential importance of understanding emotions, and the processes that form them. This led to us choosing to work on understanding panic behavior, uncertainty and social distrust. Conducting research on this issue is essential as it’s applicable not only to the current pandemic, but to our day-to-day lives as well.¨

Sarah Albers, Natalie Vacarro, Jenna Carr & Bibiana Bartschova ¨Though we may have maintained different motivations throughout the Busara competition process, one driving force to participate was definitely the interest in the pandemic and its associated panic behaviors. We’re seeing nations struggle to influence and control behavior to accommodate everyone, and we’re spread across the world following different regulations with different efficacies. In this respect, we have a natural curiosity, as well as natural propensity, to assist in understanding human behavior. To create productive change that could make this “new normal” easier for heavily affected countries. This competition was a great opportunity to expand and apply what we have learned in our courses, as well as to assist in something connected to the whole world. With this we are able to think of potential solutions, or research the general behaviors that are currently moving the world in different directions.¨

Marta Galvez, Josefina Perez Jimenez, Eduarda Uliana & Laura De Lima ¨The Busara competition seemed like a great learning opportunity, with the potential to conduct our own research. Being given the chance to propose our own research idea by Busara was very exciting for us as future behavioral scientists….The current crisis is almost unprecedented, but behavioral science can have a crucial influence on how we understand and relate to it. If we can understand why people behave the way they do, how they react to crises and how they’re influenced by the world around them, we can find ways to change the course of situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. We can find solutions to the problems seen during this crisis.¨

Paula Fernández Moreno & Claudia Sánchez Gallardo ¨We believe that behavioral science is the key to coming out of this pandemic successfully, as it works alongside many different disciplines. It will provide different points of view, affording a wider picture of the situation, in a much more open-minded and diverse way. Moreover, behavioral scientists will look for reliable and valid evidence. They use big data in their investigations, collecting and analyzing the facts presented to generate solutions or confirm their validity. Throughout this period, we remained physically distanced, but never really socially apart, as we used technology and other resources to find a solution. In the modern world, behavioral science has an absolute advantage: the new reality is evolving to a more digitalized era, so it’s at the cutting edge of knowing what is best for society.¨

Winners: Juana Squassini & Maria Ruth Peschard ¨The Busara competition was a great opportunity to implement what we have learned in order to solve real-life conflicts that many of us encounter. Participating in this competition was also a way for us to help and contribute during this time of crisis while gaining more experience and growth toward our own professional ambitions…..Our proposal’s first step was to ask a research question. We asked: How did fake news during the COVID-19 pandemic influence emotions among university students, measured by a Profile of Mood Scale?¨

Maria ruth

Juana and Maria Ruth are still collaborating with Busara to launch their research and we look forward to the many future projects and collaborations between IE University and civic-minded organizations like Busara.