brian_cugelman_circle_150 Digital Psychology

Hi there.

Welcome to my site. My name is Brian.

Let me tell you a bit about myself.

Most people know me as that geek dude who loves working at the intersection of behavioral science, data science, and technology.

When I was 18, my plan in life was to become a drummer, not a scientist.
Though I come from a family of professional musicians, I decided to make music my hobby, and seek another path in life.

And this is it…

My career started at the grassroots, and then a decade later, I was advising governments and the world’s largest technology firms, on how to run their digital behavior change programs.

My career has taken me through a long stint in the United Nations running digital social change campaigns.

It took me through a PhD on the science of changing behavior with technology.

And soon after, I began working as an impact evaluator, assessing if behavioral and social change programs worked or not.

I avoided teaching most of my life. But in 2011, I became an accidental teacher. Here’s how that happened.

I’m one of those crazy dreamers with the ingenuity and technical skills required to deliver on my vision.

Because of this, I had a successful career wherever I worked.

But also, because of this, I saw myself as an implementer, not a teacher.

What’s funny is that during my career, friends, and colleagues often told me that I’d be a great teacher. I’d politely say thanks, but not for me.

But around 2010, students started seeking me out. And despite my avoidance, by 2011, teaching came to me.

Before long, I started sharing my craft and then became obsessed with translating the hardest behavioral science into the easiest lessons.

Through the 10-years of trial and error, I found my formula for making behavioral science fun, engaging, and practical. I had many amazing students and mentors who helped optimize my class.

I had back-to-back training sellouts for years. I invested the profits back into my company to build new knowledge and technology.

I spent 10-years advancing my training system while also conducting many scientific and technical projects on digital behavioral science.

In fact, I spent about 5-years bootstrapping technology that I am now bringing to market.

Though I still love playing the drums, what I really love is work in computational linguistics, the neuroscience of emotion, and building technologies with neuro-inspired biomimicry.

Experience has taught me that the more I engineer software, algorithms, and statistical models on neuroscience, the better they perform.

Apart from a few commercial secrets, my philosophy has always been to share knowledge.

For this reason, I’m the behavioral scientist you may not know, who has taught digital psychology to more people in small classrooms, than any other.

People fly from all across the plant to join my 5-day training. My students include beginners and pros from the worlds’ top technology firms.

They come from the world’s leading behavioral science firms, design agencies, consulting firms, and also many authors and scientists.

If you want to know what makes someone feel proud or insecure, look at what they brag about.

What I’m proud of in teaching digital psychology is educating the Canadian Government on how to defend against foreign threats to democracy; educating Pentagon officials on how to protect against online extremism; and helping thousands of students take their craft to the next level.

Now looking back on the past 10-years, a lot has changed.

Behavioral science is a trendy topic today. But it wasn’t always so.

In 1997 when I took my first job using the Internet to change public behavior, nobody knew what the heck I was doing, and most people thought I was crazy for pursuing this career path.

In 2010 when I completed my PhD and started sharing my knowledge. In those days, few people understood the point in psychology-driven technology.

Now by 2020, people see value in digital psychology, and we have a growing profession. Times have changed.

Now we’re witnessing the professionalization of applied behavioral science, and I believe that it is on track to becoming the next big thing.

Before I takeoff, I’d like to share one bit of advice.

When people ask me if they should get a PhD or not, I tell them, “NO. Don’t do it. It’s brutal. It will drain you financially. And few people actually get through. And most of those who survive, make less money.”

Pessimistic, yes. But realistic. And why? Because PhD is not an act of brilliance, it’s an act of passion.

Without passion, few people survive.

So, I usually end with the last but crucial bit of advice, “If you absolutely must do it, and you’ll hate yourself for not trying, then build on your passion and give it everything you have.”

I remember the moment I decided to quit my dream job at the United Nations to become an impoverished student.

At the time, I was working for the United Nations in Bonn, Germany.

I worked in a castle, and my office overlooked the Rhine River. I had 6-weeks of holiday per year, tax-free income, high-status work, and an incredible bunch of friends.

My job was fantastic, working in tech and social change for the United Nations, a niche I built for myself. There’s just something I love about high-pressure diplomatic environments. I’m definitely cut for the United Nations and politics.

Life was great, but still, I felt like I would hate myself if I didn’t follow my irrational desire and become a scientist, specializing in using digital psychology to build a better world.

It’s not easy to write a resignation letter when you work for the UN. But I remember the exact moment that I vowed to leave.

I was on a rooftop in Beirut, Lebanon, in 2006. The weather was lovely, and with a violent military coup expected to take place that week, it was very tense.

From the rooftop, I could see downtown Beiruit and the ocean. I was there with my friends and co-author Kanti, presenting a study we completed on digital social change.

With my friends around, I took the opportunity to ask for advice. Should I quit the UN to follow my dream, or am I about to make the stupidest decision of my life?

Somehow during that discussion, something transpired. I had a profound insight, change my world view, and from that point forward, restructured my life according to a new frame of reference.

I said, “F-it. I’m doing the PhD”.

There was no coup d’état that week, so I survived to quit my job and move to the UK, where I joined Prof. Thelwall’s research group, the Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group.

I came out of my PhD financially depleted, midlife, with a carte blanche. I was fulfilled, regret-free, and excited to start my next chapter.

So let me get back to the advice I generally give to anyone wishing to pursue a doctorate: it’s an act of passion.

Smart behavioral scientists don’t bother trying to motivate people. They build on existing motivation. That’s why it’s crucial to align your passion and path as much as possible.

It’s challenging to impart motivation on another person, and it’s harder to motivate yourself. What works best is finding your real motivation, understanding it, and using it to drive you forward.

Though I talked about this in the context of a doctorate, it’s relevant to many other parts of life. Your career, place of work, friends, where you focus, and what you avoid.

For me, it’s been over 20 years since I found my mojo in digital psychology, and it’s still driving me forward.

It’s a wonderful subject! Who could get bored?

If you feel the same way, stay in touch.

All the best, Brian.