How Understanding Behavioral Psychology Can Help Your Business Blossom

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According to the American Psychological Association, behavioral psychology (or behaviorism) is a “scientific approach that limits the study of psychology to measurable or observable behavior."

In fact, if you've ever attended a Psych 101 class, you can probably recall the names of famous behaviorists like Skinner, Watson and Pavlov.

While this concept may not sound all that relevant to business owners, there’s actually a lot to be learned from behaviorism. Why? Perhaps no one explains it better than Darren Kaplan, co-founder and CEO of the analytics firm HiQ, who notes, "When you understand human behavior, you improve your chances of making your business succeed."

Here are six ways to do so:

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1. Be aware of the six human needs

According to author and personal coach Tony Robbins, “Whatever emotion you’re after, whatever vehicle you pursue -- building a business, getting married, raising a family, traveling the world -- whatever you think your nirvana is, there are six basic, universal needs that make us tick and drive all human behavior.” 

What are the six human needs we all share?

  • Certainty/Comfort: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
  • Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change and new stimuli
  • Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
  • Love/Connection: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
  • Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
  • Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others

As Robbins states, “Understanding these needs...can help you create new patterns that lead to lasting fulfillment.”

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2. Personalization makes people happy

The Journal for Applied Psychology published a fascinating study about personalization involving waiters and mints. Entitled Sweetening the Till: The Use of Candy to Increase Restaurant Tipping, three control groups were monitored:

  • The first group had waiters hand out mints alongside the check while making no mention of the mints. This increased tips by around 3 percent against the control group.
  • The second group had waiters bring out two mints by hand (separate from the check), and specifically point them out to tables. This saw tips increase by about 14 percent.
  • The last group had waiters bring out the check along with a few mints. Shortly thereafter, waiters came back with another set of mints and let customers know that they had brought out more mints just in case. This group saw an increase in tips by 23 percent. 

Gregory Ciotti of Help Scout, a web-based customer service platform, writes, “Researchers concluded that this 'personalization' aspect (even if the waiter did this for every customer) was what set off the increased tips.”

3. Do unto others...

You’ve probably been reminded of the Golden Rule throughout your entire life: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” While that’s sound advice, is it applicable to your business?

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According to author Dr. Robert Cialdini in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, if you do something for another person, they’ll likely return the favor. This idea of reciprocity can be employed in business, such as by giving away branded coffee mugs or free 30-day trials. Even saying ‘thank you’ can be a small but important way to build a community of loyal advocates.

4. Provide a novel experience

Always remember that people have a need for the unknown. In fact, scientists have long backed up this claim. According to Dr. Emrah Düzel of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, “It is a well-known fact amongst scientists that the midbrain region regulates our levels of motivation and our ability to predict rewards by releasing dopamine in the frontal and temporal regions of the brain. We have now shown that novelty activates this brain area.”

This explains why people wait in line and pay hundreds of dollars for a new iPhone even when they already have a perfectly functional model. They want the newest features and a novel experience.

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5. You can’t always get what you want

“In 1975, researchers Worchel, Lee and Adewole wanted to know how people would value cookies in two identical glass jars," according to Nir and Far. "One jar held ten cookies while the other contained just two stragglers."

Naturally, participants were attracted to the near-empty jar due to the basic psychological principle of supply and demand. Think about the early days of Facebook, when it was only for college students. Very quickly, buzz surrounded the social network due to its limited availability.

6. Tell a story

Human beings have always told one another stories -- whether through cave drawings, Shakespearean plays or the latest Hollywood blockbusters. As the entrepreneur and film executive Peter Guber states, “Stories, it turns out, are not optional. They are essential. Our need for them reflects the very nature of perceptual experience, and storytelling is embedded in the brain itself.”

Stories don’t just take us to another world, they are able to activate the parts of the brain that are associated with our senses, such as sight, sound, taste and movement. And they light up our emotional brains, which can impact buying decisions.

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