USC hosts Behavioral Science and Policy Conference

The “Behavioral Science and Policy Conference: Health and Wellbeing” was held in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center yesterday in celebration of Dr. Verna and Peter Dauterive Hall, which opened in September 2014 and is the university’s first interdisciplinary social sciences building.

“This conference is in recognition of the opening of Dauterive Hall. We have a group of interdisciplinary social scientists who are all working in this new building,” said Wendy Wood, one of the main organizers of the event.

Dauterive Hall currently houses several multidisciplinary centers focused on developing solutions to pressing social challenges.

The conference highlighted the work of top USC social and behavioral scientists along with their counterparts at Brookings Institution, a private nonprofit organization devoted to independent research and innovative policy solutions.

“This is an opportunity for us to find out what everyone is doing and [to] identify common interests, and perhaps projects that we can all move forward together on,” said Wood.

Arie Kapteyn, the executive director of Dornsife center for economic and social research, agrees with Wood on the importance of this conference.

“What it shows is the power of interdisciplinary work that we do in the building, both between the Schaeffer Center for health policy and economics and the center for socioeconomics research,” said Kapteyn. “It’s a policy in health, in genetics, and in behavioral economics. Nowadays, interdisciplinary research is very powerful and fruitful. It’s just great to have people together.”

This all-day conference aimed to illustrate how basic health research provides an empirical foundation informing health policy. Throughout the conference, attendees were able to gain insights into health and wellbeing research through panel presentations, discussions, and a graduate poster competition.

Wood, also the vice dean for the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and provost professor of psychology and business, gave a presentation on changing health behavior. During her presentation, she discussed why it is so difficult to change health behavior and how to form new habits that will be followed over time.

Wood mentioned several key research studies throughout her presentation. One of the case studies she talked about was the triangle pattern study, where subjects relapsed to old habits of the lack of exercising after intervention with payments to exercise for a month.

Wood said that effective self-control is crucial in forming good health habits and ultimately, health behavior.

Kapteyn, who also presented his views on the health and wellbeing in an aging population, said this conference is just the beginning and he wants the attendees to be excited to go to conferences in future.

“There are two things that are important during conferences. One is that you have to have the feeling that something exciting is going on. Something that triggers your interest and that you want to learn more,” Kapteyn said. “What you also hope from going to conferences is one or two snips of information you learned. Sounds like fairly little but if you remember one or two things that you hadn’t realized before, then that’s plenty.”

Kelsey O’Conner, a doctoral student in economics, said lunch was his favorite part of the event because he was able to have casual conversation with the attendees.

“It was an opportunity to meet other people and having a chance to interact with likeminded people,” said O’Conner. “Sometimes the best part of a conference is the informal activities in between sessions, because the sessions generate ideas and you have other people to bounce those ideas off of during the informal periods.”

Wood said she hopes to foster interdisciplinary connections for the attendees.

“Hopefully the conference will build interdisciplinary connections for faculty and students to follow up with and allow people to work together on topics of common interests,” Wood said. “If they’re speakers, I hope they figure out how to align with other researchers. If they’re in the audience, I hope they hear some topics that are of interest to them and they can collaborate with the speakers.”