Government plans to “nudge” our behaviour

The British government has plans to use a more sophisticated  psychology to change our behaviour. A consultation paper puts some important psychological research in easy-to-read terms that all teachers should take a peek at.

Behavioural Insight Team

The government’s Cabinet Office set up a “nudge unit”  in July an interesting move for anyone interested in psychology or the field of behavioural psychology. The  team is to look at ways to solve policy challenges using theories of behavioural economics, which considers the factors that influence individuals’ choices.

The aim is to use behavioural economics to influence citizens’ behaviour on a range of issues such as healthy eating, alcohol consumption.

To find out more about what the government are up to, I took a look at the Institute for Government paper, Mindspace: Influencing Behaviour through public Policy.

Throughout the paper there is a reminder that this is “not a statement of government policy” However, it is really worth a read. There is a good section on what influences shape our behaviour such as social influences and norms ( we do what others around us do, as long as we perceive them to be “people like us”.

Social Norms

I liked the example on page 21 of how Social Norms were used in the “Most of us use seatbelts” campaign, saying that if the norm is desirable, let everybody know about it. A couple of other good examples of Social Norms ( I have used this theory to encourage schools to replace their notices of “Bullying is not acceptable”, indicating that this is  a behaviour currently employed by pupils here, to  notices that say ” Even if one person bullies another today that spoils our school”).

External and Internal Control

Hooray, hooray, a great paragraph on the dangers of external control!

“Providing incentives to promote pro-social behaviours can risk reducing people?s intrinsic motivation to make the right decisions in other areas of their lives. Intrinsic motivations come from the reward from carrying out the task itself, the feeling of satisfaction or self-worth that comes from an act of altruism. Extrinsic motivation

comes from outside and usually takes the form of coercion or a financial reward or
penalty. It has been shown that extrinsic incentives relate to how people see
themselves and are therefore less effective in public than in private. For policymakers,
this would suggest that monetary incentives are more likely to be
counterproductive for public pro-social activities than for private ones.145

Providing incentives to promote pro-social behaviours can risk reducing people?sintrinsic motivation to make the right decisions in other areas of their lives. Intrinsicmotivations come from the reward from carrying out the task itself, the feeling ofsatisfaction or self-worth that comes from an act of altruism. Extrinsic motivationcomes from outside and usually takes the form of coercion or a financial reward or penalty. It has been shown that extrinsic incentives relate to how people see themselves and are therefore less effective in public than in private. For policymakers,this would suggest that monetary incentives are more likely to becounterproductive for public pro-social activities than for private ones.”

Choice Theory links

The paragraphs on Messenger and Ego (The M and E of MINDSPACE) are the most relevant to Choice Theory: we are influenced by people we respect or care for, those in our quality world, and we are influenced by the perception we have about which behaviours meet our needs.

I recommend that teachers and anyone involved in planning school policies around behaviour should read this paper. I leave you with some of the paper’s key questions for policy-makers

? Whose behaviour are you attempting to change?

? How do attitudes and motivations vary between the different groups

concerned?

? How are you combining Insight with the MINDSPACE effects?

? Does your team have the capacity to draw on both Insight and

behavioural theory?

The field of Behavioural Economics is a new one for me. I have been reading about this and recommend a video by Dan Ariely. Worth a look if you have 17:22 minutes http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_ariely_asks_are_we_in_control_of_our_own_decisions.html

Now read: Choice Theory: 5 Basic Needs

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