What Does a Behavioral Scientist Do?

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A behavioral scientist surveys a test subject.

In the realm of public health, behavioral scientists use the study of human behavior to promote good health and discourage risky behaviors. They research different behaviors, collect data on their impact, and work to support those behaviors that promote positive change.  For example, behavioral scientists might study the effects of social distancing and mask protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic, analyze why some people are less likely to comply with safety directives, and suggest solutions to achieve greater acceptance. Behavioral scientists focus on the factors that influence how and why individuals make certain decisions. Gaining a deeper understanding of the reasons behind actions can lead to solutions and better outcomes, such as helping people make better health choices. They can also help health care systems operate more efficiently and help companies mitigate risk. With the knowledge and training offered by a degree such as an online Master of Public Health, behavioral scientists can help produce healthier communities.

What Is a Behavioral Scientist?

Social and behavioral sciences can have a dramatic effect on the efficiency and effectiveness of society at large. This is especially true when it comes to public health programs. Behavioral scientists are central to the understanding of public health issues and risk factors because they study the social, behavioral, economic, cultural and psychological factors that influence and impact health and disease.

For example, an increase in health problems (e.g., cardiovascular disease) has been linked to lower socioeconomic status. Using qualitative and quantitative research methods, behavioral scientists can define the scope of public health issues and their related risk factors. With that knowledge, they can develop interventions, policies and educational programs that address those issues at the individual, population and community levels. Efforts in these areas may include disease prevention, chronic disease treatment and management, public health promotion, behavioral health interventions, public policy legislation and more.

How to Become a Behavioral Scientist

Becoming a behavioral scientist begins with the right education. Although some entry-level positions may be open to those with a bachelor’s, most require a master’s degree. Public health master’s programs offer a broad-spectrum curriculum covering topics that can be directly applied to work in behavioral science. Typical MPH courses include epidemiology, biostatistics, social and behavioral health, leadership in health, environmental health and research methods, each of which can be central to the field of behavioral health.

University of Nevada, Reno’s online Master of Public Health in Public Health Practice program immerses students in projects designed to build knowledge and real-world skills that drive careers as behavioral scientists. Students can even select topics based on their passions and interests to personalize their education and suit their individual career goals. Online students at the University learn directly from public health professionals who are actively practicing in the behavioral science field as part of a public health initiative.

Graduates of the program are prepared to:

●  Design investigative research modules relating to behavioral health

●  Collect data through a variety of quantitative and qualitative research methods

●  Analyze and draw conclusions from collected data

●  Communicate findings in a clear, concise manner

● Collaborate with and advise other public health professionals, policymakers or other groups working in the behavioral science field

Behavioral Scientist Salary

Salaries for behavioral scientists vary by region, employer, role and career experience. According to the compensation website PayScale, as of March 2021 the median annual salary for behavioral scientists was about $92,500. Individuals with four or fewer years of experience earned about $70,000 per year, while those with 10-20 years of experience earned a median salary of about $105,000.

Career Outlook for Behavioral Scientists

Professional opportunities for behavioral scientists are diverse, spread across a variety of industries and career paths. Behavioral scientists with advanced degrees in public health commonly will find employment opportunities in the following industries.

● Government

● Educational institutions

● Corporations

● Nonprofits

● Health care

● Managed care organizations

Behavioral Scientists Make a World of Difference

For individuals who want to engage in work that can positively affect entire populations, the opportunities as a behavioral scientist are numerous. How to become a behavioral scientist is based not only on education, but on personal interest. It’s just a matter of where your passion lies. Consider the following examples of how the University of Nevada, Reno’s public health faculty are focusing their passion to actively shift behaviors and the understanding of current health issues.

Professor Julie Lucero has conducted extensive research concerning rural American Indians and their lack of acceptance of alcohol, drug and mental health treatment. Lucero and her colleagues identified four main obstacles to receiving or continuing care: self-reliance, privacy, quality of care and communication/trust. The study identified obstacles, outlined solutions and proposed policy changes.

Another University of Nevada, Reno, professor recently concluded a study on addressing the opioid crisis with naloxone. Public health faculty member Karla Wagner worked with law enforcement officers (LEOs) on the front lines of the opioid crisis.

She collected data from LEOs before, during and after they were introduced to a pilot LEO naloxone program. “LEOs administered naloxone 11 times; nine victims survived, and three of the nine surviving victims made at least one visit to substance abuse treatment as a result of an LEO-provided referral,” Wagner wrote. “Qualitative data suggest that LEOs had generally positive experiences when they employed the skills from the training.” The study found that naloxone training may have positive results for both LEOs and overdose victims.

Explore a Career as a Behavioral Scientist

Completing a Master of Public Health in Public Health Practice from the University of Nevada, Reno, can position you for future career success in the behavioral sciences. Take the first step by enrolling in the University’s Online MPH in Public Health Practice program today.


Recommended Readings

How to Become a Public Health Nurse: Pursuing an Important Role in Care

Public Health Certificates

What Is the Difference between Public Health and Community Health?



PayScale, Average Behavioral Scientist Salary

PubMed, “Training Law Enforcement to Respond to Opioid Overdose with Naloxone: Impact on Knowledge, Attitudes, and Interactions with Community Members”

ResearchGate, “Rural American Indians’ Perspectives of Obstacles in the Mental Health Treatment Process in Three Treatment Sectors”

UNR, Online Master of Public Health in Public Health Practice