Dr. Jiaying Zhao receives funding for decision science and behavioural insight research

Jiaying Zhao at the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS).

A new decision science and behavioural insight research cluster has formed at UBC to help build a sustainable future.

Decisions are being made at every moment of every day. Most of the greatest social, environmental and economic problems are influenced by, if not, a result of countless individual decisions.

Dr. Jiaying Zhao, an associate professor in UBC’s Department of Psychology and Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES), received funding from UBC’s Research Excellence Clusters program for the Decision Insights for Business & Society (DIBS) research cluster. This new cluster aims to tackle key societal challenges through the use of decision science and behavioural insight.

“Building on UBC’s strength and expertise in decision science and behavioural insights, from past and present, DIBS can put UBC on the map as a vibrant hub of this research.”
Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Sustainability

Decision science intersects the fields of psychology, behavioural economics, and marketing, and explores why and how people make decisions. Behavioural insight (BI) draws on decision science to “nudge” people to make better choices— better for themselves and for the world.

The environmental crisis is undoubtedly one of the most critical challenges of our time and the researchers are specifically focusing on developing behavioural insights for a sustainable future.

“To solve these challenges, we must improve our understanding of human decision-making and help people make better choices for themselves and for the world.”
Associate Professor, UBC Psychology and IRES

Core team and collaborators

Solving the most pressing societal challenges can only be tackled through working together across academic disciplines, and public and private sectors.

The UBC DIBS core team brings together cluster lead Jiaying Zhao and co-leads from the Marketing and Behavioural Science Division at UBC’s Sauder School of Business: Professor Kirstin Appelt, Professor Dale Griffin, Assistant Professor David Hardisty, and Professor Kate White.

DIBS also includes these academic collaborators from the department of psychology: Associate Professor Frances Chen, Professor Luke Clark, Professor Elizabeth Dunn, and Professor Toni Schmader. Researchers from UBC’s faculties of arts, applied science, law, and medicine are DIBS collaborators as well.

DIBS team by the numbers

  • assistant, 5 associate, 8 full professors
  • 840 refereed publications with over 105, 000 citations
  • Over $50 million in competitive grant funding and received nearly 170 research awards
  • Core team participating in knowledge translation with over 200 media mentions

DIBS External Collaborators

Other partners include government, industry, and leaders in behavioural insights and sustainability.

The Project

DIBS aims to increase the decision science researchers’ ability to partner with stakeholder organizations, run large-scale field experiments, mobilize knowledge, and contribute to solving key challenges by pursuing three goals:

  1. Advance the science underlying BI by testing interventions to increase and maintain positive behaviours and creating a framework for sustaining behaviour change
  2. Connect interdisciplinary BI researchers, policymakers, business leaders, and stakeholders as part of an expanding BI community of practice
  3. Apply for additional funding to broaden, deepen, and lengthen DIBS’ impact


2016    Provided decision science expertise to BIF research trials applying BI to provincial policy challenges (charitable donations, tax compliance, environmental conservation).
2018  Co-launched the BIG Difference Conference to create a strong collaborative network that can work across boundaries to use BI to solve key challenges.
2019 Another success year of the BIG Difference Conference with a sold-out audience of close to 200 people from government, Crown corps, the private sector, and academia.
2020 Will be launching an Advanced Professional Certificate in Behavioural Insights at UBC Sauder School of Business Continuing Studies.


About Research Excellence Clusters at UBC

UBC Research Excellence Clusters bring together researchers across a wide range of faculties and departments at the University of British Columbia to collaborate on and advance a particular area of research. Launched in 2016, the UBC Research Excellence Clusters program is supported by the Office of Vice-President, Academic and Provost and the Vice-President, Research and Innovation, with financial contributions from the UBC Excellence Fund. More.

By Rachel Lee