Headlines: September 27th, 2006



New research shows that initiatives to promote recycling or healthier lifestyles are more likely to succeed if they use positive, informative strategies which help people set specific health and environmental goals rather than negative strategies using fear, guilt or regret. The study by the Economic and Social Research Council has looked at the increasing number of efforts to encourage people to do more for their health and for the environment to assess which have been successful, and why.

The study says that for some time theories have suggested that by changing attitude, social rules and people’s ability to reach their goals it is possible to change people’s intentions or decisions, which in turn determines the extent of change in behaviour. But the ESRC says supporting evidence for these ideas was weak and it was felt to be necessary to take a closer look at experiments that changed attitudes, norms and self-efficacy to measure the extent of any changes in intentions and behaviour.

The new project, “Does changing attitudes, norms or self-efficacy change intentions and behaviour?” has been led by Professor Paschal Sheeran of Sheffield University and provides the missing evidence about the role of these factors in changing behaviour by reviewing all the successful experiments of the past 25 years.

Professor Sheeran’s team identified 33 strategies for changing intentions and behaviour across 129 different studies. The most frequently used strategies gave general information, details of consequences and opportunities for comparison but the most effective strategies prompted practice, set goals, generated self-talk, agreed a behavioural contract and promoted a review of behavioural goals. The two least effective strategies used fear and causing people to regret if they acted in a particular way.

The team also looked at whether the characteristics of a particular study influenced how well changes in attitude, social norm and self-efficacy influenced intentions and behaviour. They found little evidence that the way these factors were measured influenced the findings. The new research has found that changing attitudes and behaviour succeeds in making a statistically noticeable difference in people’s intentions and behaviour about 60 per cent of the time.