Behavioural insights: key concepts, applications and regulatory considerations

There are numerous factors that influence the decisions that people make. Behavioural insights (BI) recognizes this and, through a combination of psychology, economic and more recently other behavioural research, examines how people are often neither deliberate nor rational in their decisions in the way that traditional models, strategies and policies assume.

Behavioural insights recognize how people actually behave versus traditional economic and market theory of people as rational actors. The following are some select key behavioural concepts.

Key behavioural concepts


Anchoring refers to people’s initial exposure to a piece of information (such as a number) that becomes an unintended reference point which influences subsequent value judgements.

For example, an investor exposed to hypothetical rates of return of 6%, 10% and 14% might automatically assume that 10% represents a medium return. If the hypothetical rates of return presented are 2%, 4% and 6%, the investor might assume that 4% is a medium return.

What this means is that people’s investmentInvestment An item of value you buy to get income or to grow in value.+ read full definition decisions are often influenced by somewhat arbitrary data that are used as mental reference points.

Status quo bias and inertia

These biases refer to people’s aversion to change. People will frequently not change their habitual behaviours without a strong incentive. Wherever people are put, they tend to stay.

Examples of this include people’s unwillingness to change banks or insurance policies, even when there is readily-available evidence of similar products offering better savings rates or lower costs.

Read more about inertia.

Confirmation bias and belief bias

The most commonly stubborn of all biases is possibly confirmation bias. It is our tendency to focus on information that supports our preconceptions. The result is that we are closed to new or alternative ideas, people, and possibilities because we’re seeking or overweighing information that supports what we want to hear.

Confirmation bias can get us into trouble when we investInvest To use money for the purpose of making more money by making an investment. Often involves risk.+ read full definition. Say, for example, you heard rumors that a certain company you’ve invested in is going to acquire another company, which you think will increase the value of shares, so you keep scanning your newsfeed and network for information that supports your suspicion. The information you find might may not be reliable or related to your investment, but you think it is because that’s the way you’ve chosen to interpret it.

Read more about confirmation bias.

Loss aversion

People value losses more than gains of the same value (approximately twice that of gains). As a result, investors will over-weight losses and under-weight gains.

Loss aversion creates inertia and reinforces the status quo. People often prefer to stay put rather than risk crystalizing a loss. What’s more, the pain of losing can also increase risk-taking with other securities.

Availability and salience bias

People assess risks and often make decisions on the basis of readily available information. The probability of an event occurring may be perceived as higher because it is easy to think of examples of it previously occurring (it is readily-available in a person’s memory). The more dramatic the recent event, the more of an impact it has.


Many people do not have the time or desire to think about every decision they make. As a result, people tend to accept questions as posed and answer accordingly.

This impact is magnified onscreen as the online display of information, especially given information and choice overload, has powerful affects in attracting our attention.

Choice overload

People can only effectively assess a small number of well-understood optionsOptions An investment that gives you the right to buy or sell it at a set price by a set date. The buy right is termed a “call” option, and the sell right is termed a “put” option. You buy options on a stock exchange.+ read full definition as they have more trouble with a larger number of options, especially complicated ones.

Some people facing a large number of choices find themselves unable to identify the option that is best for them, leading to decision fatigue and potentially choice paralysis

What this means is that people won’t change their behaviour if too many choices are offered. There are ways to reduce choice overload, such as through simplification of options.


Many people are overconfident in their own abilities or situation. Negative events are seen as likely for other people, while the probability of unlikely positive events is viewed as much more likely for ourselves.

Examples of this include people who underestimate their likelihood of becoming ill or unable to work into retirement, thus not saving enough when younger.

Read more about overconfidence.

Herd behaviour

People’s behaviour is often influenced by others around them. These effects are the “conformity impact” of decision-making and can cause herd behaviour in financial markets. Investors’ decision-making abilities can be harmed and this creates a greater risk of irrational enthusiasm in markets. For example, buying a “hot stockStock An investment that gives you part ownership or shares in a company. Often provides voting rights in some business decisions.+ read full definition” or selling into a market downturn without planning or careful consideration often leads to investor regret.

Other behavioural biases


Read the full report

Read the Investor Office Report – Behavioural Insights: Key Concepts, Applications and Regulatory Considerations (OSCOSC See Ontario Securities Commission.+ read full definition Staff Notice 11-778).

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