Nov 022010
 
New Meter
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Facebook, mobile phones, and energy meters are helping to see if people can be nudged into living healthier lives.

The three-year project will see how people react when data is fed back to them about their energy use and activity levels.

While it has been established that such feedback can alter behaviour, the researchers want to unpick the mechanisms of such change.

About 800 people will be recruited to the project which starts in September.

Normal life

The research, called the Charm Project, builds on the work of academics Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein which implies that the way people are told about poor lifestyle choices influences how they react.

Instead of simply telling people to stop, it has been shown that it is more effective to reveal how one person’s behaviour ranks against their peers.

Adopting a less confrontational style can, claim Thaler and Sunstein, “nudge” people towards better choices.

“It’s about influencing behaviour by telling people what other people do,” said Dr Ruth Rettie, head of the Charm Project and a reader in marketing at Kingston University.

“There’s quite a lot of evidence that we can influence, not just by nudging, but by informing them about social norms,” said Dr Rettie.

Social norms are the broadly accepted ways that people conduct themselves and encompass such things as manners, cleanliness, and behaviour.

However, said Dr Rettie, norms can differ from person to person and many people follow a set of norms without much thought about why they do so, or whether they are choosing wisely when living by them.

Via three separate investigations, Dr Rettie and her colleagues will gather data about consumption or usage behaviour related to sustainability, feed information about it back to the subjects, and see how that “social proof” changes behaviour.

The project will not dictate norms to people. Instead it will find out what people do and then tell everyone involved about that activity.

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