Decoding User Behavior: How Behavioral Science Supercharges UX Research

Diane Bowen
4 min readApr 18, 2024

UX Research methods incorporating principles of behavioral science are a powerful framework to understand unconscious biases, mental shortcuts (heuristics), and emotional triggers influencing user decisions.

Decoding these behaviors as they pertain to a particular product or service lead to successful designs for exceptional user experiences.

Hand and arm holding a bouquet of flowers on an orange background.
Decoding behaviors lead to successful service designs for user experiences. Thank you, Anna Shvets for this gorgeous image.

Consider these diverse service and product landscapes,
1. Collaborative spirit of educational co-ops, religious institutions and sports teams
2. Accountability focus of addiction recovery software
3. Ever-changing landscape of consumer media engagement and filmmaker projects.

Despite the differences, understanding user behavior remains a constant.

Unveiling the “Why” with Behavioral Science

Traditional UX research excels at uncovering “what and how”, what users say they’ve done and how they interact with interfaces. Behavioral science delves deeper, exploring the “why”, leading to behavioral projections based on psychological state, situation, and time, and service experience innovations.

Surface-level questions for parents who homeschool might reveal preferred communication methods to stay up to date on information. Behavior science shapes research questions with concepts like social identity, leading to a deeper understanding for service design.

Here’s how:

Through generative research, we could ask these good research questions, “Where do you look for information about homeschooling activities, teaching methods, and legal updates? How often?”

Or we could alter these qualitative interview questions by tapping into the user’s desire to belong, a powerful social identity motivator.

  • “Homeschooling can be a rewarding but sometimes isolating experience. How do you find ways to connect with other homeschooling families?
  • Then ask the follow up question “Does staying informed about activities, teaching methods, and legal updates contribute to a sense of community?”
  • If yes, go even further, “Why is that important to you?” , opening the door for a deeper understanding of “why”.

Combined with a survey to understand where parents look for information (quantitative), and ethnographic observations during educational co-op sessions, user-centric outcomes inform impactful and new revenue-generating experience designs steeped in behavioral projections.

Getting to “why” is key to designing experiences that matter and aligning an organization’s value proposition and goals with user needs.

Tailoring Qualitative Interviews with Behavioral Insights

Understanding user motivations for engaging with feature film, livestream, live show, and episodic content is key for entertainment companies seeking to create user experiences that keep consumers coming back for more, ultimately driving growth and revenues.

Principles like framing effects can guide interview questions.

Here’s how:

A standard research question to movie and TV fans is “What shows do you enjoy?”

Instead we could preface a more personal question with a scenario.

  • “Imagine you’ve just had a super stressful day. You come home and want to unwind and forget about everything. What kind of shows do you typically watch in this situation?”

Framing questions with scenarios helps researchers understand user motivations. This particular frame subtly nudges users to consider the emotional relief they seek through media, leading to content that resonates more deeply and keeps them engaged, translating to viewer loyalty and a sustainable subscription model.

Quantitative Surveys and Tests: Designing for Human Decision-Making

Digital addiction recovery services are designed to bridge the gap between technological addictions and relationships through accountability. Leveraging the principle of loss aversion, where the fear of losing something outweighs the desire for gain, we can find out the most important losses, then tailor service design to highlight the real missed value of not using a product or service. These findings translate to increased conversions and ultimately drive revenue growth.

Here’s how, with unmoderated testing.

Though unmoderated testing is best for quantitative findings, qualitative components can be added to gain insights into behavioral values.

Example participant: wife who is an Accountability Partner for her husband who has ab unhealthy digital addiction:

Present her with two choices in a preference test. Ask “Which do you prefer to help you guide the person you hold accountable into healthy digital behaviors?”

  • Show Standard browser history with the interaction to delete the history
  • Show An “accountability” report email or password protected web dashboard, where user digital activities can’t be deleted or manipulated.

After the research participant’s selection is made,

  • Ask her to select words for the hopes she have for her husband, the person she holds accountable such as, “Integrity”, “Trust”, and “Honesty”.
  • The last question, “What are the risks if they aren’t held accountable?” could be a qualitative text box for sentiment analysis or offer a list to the Accountability Partner to include losses, such as: loss of trust, loss of a relationship, loss of job, etc.

A powerful motivator for using accountability software is the natural aversion of losing something valuable like a relationship or a job. The selection of “why” words at the end of an unmoderated test provides user values for sustained engagement with an accountability service and ideas for user-centric innovations.

Bridging the Qualitative-Quantitative Divide

Behavioral science isn’t a magic bullet. The true power lies in

  • Creatively using research tools to discover user motivations
  • Designing to meet the needs of these users
  • Iterating on designs based on results

A behavioral science approach brings together qualitative and quantitative research methods. A triangulated, comprehensive approach paints a richer picture of user behavior.

· Findings from user interviews (qualitative) can inform the design of surveys and tests (quantitative)

· Quantitative research results can validate and refine qualitative findings.

A strong example of this process is Anthony Ulwick’s Jobs to be Done framework.

The Takeaway: Leverage Behavioral Science to Craft Exceptional Experiences.

Behavioral science research methods offer powerful opportunities for an organizational insights. These insights inform experiences resonating with ways users think, feel, and make decisions. When executed effectively, UX Research not only champions the user, but ultimately benefits an organization’s success.



Diane Bowen

UX Research Manager, motivated to invest in my team, craft exceptional end-to-end user experiences, live with integrity, and contribute joy where I’m planted.