Aims & Mission

The Wales Centre for Behaviour Change has three overarching and interconnected aims:

1. Research: To conduct novel and innovative collaborative research in behavioural science (working with industry, other research institutions, NGOs, and governments).

2. Knowledge Exchange: To pioneer the application and impact of established behaviour change knowledge. For example, helping organisations implement change policies for their workforce or customers. (Developing the existing evidence-base on what works, in what contexts, and how it can be scaled.)

3. Policy: To act as a Think Tank for policymakers in providing a behavioural scientific perspective on contemporary real-world challenges and opportunities.

There are many flavours of behaviour change – some rely on persuasion and changing attitudes, others on goal-setting and conscious intention. But some drivers of behaviour operate below conscious awareness and can override intentions and goals. Indeed, when designed carefully, behaviour change interventions work best when they bypass cognitive systems and work directly to develop automatic routines and habits. This strategy not only makes it easier for people to make healthy and positive choices by default, but also reduces the likelihood that opposition to authority or low motivation will negatively impact behaviour. The principles of behaviour change (BC) are based on many years of both behavioural and neuroscientific research. Indeed contemporary behavioural science techniques have developed from fundamental research into how animals (including humans) learn and make decisions, and develop and maintain behaviour (think Thorndike, Skinner, Pavlov!). Essentially, neuroscience research has confirmed the power of BC techniques as well as developing our understanding of how BC works and why other methods to change behaviour have not been so successful.

Policymakers have realized that just because an individual has the intention to change, this may not actually result in adaptations to their behaviour. This “Intention-Action” gap is a result of several factors inherent to human psychology. For example, consider attitudes towards energy awareness and sustainability – most people adopt ‘sustainable intentions’ such as switching off lights, recycling bottles etc. But far fewer actually develop and maintain these new behaviours. One reason for this is that even though individuals maintain an explicit intention to behave in a new or different way, they experience a difficulty in suppressing old habits and so find themselves leaving lights on and throwing bottles in the waste bin. Contemporary behavioural research (highlighted elegantly in the now classic ‘Nudge’ by Thaler and Sunstein) has demonstrated the existence of separable neural systems that control habitual versus intentional behaviour (e.g. System 1 vs System 2; Kahneman), thus giving insight into why we exhibit intention-action gaps, as well as providing direction in how to close the gap and behave more as we would intend. In our modern world with an increasing prevalence of obesity and also of sedentary behaviour, closing the intention-action gap in the health domain is more important than ever.

How WCBC drives positive change:

Parkinson JA, Eccles K and Goodman A (2014) Positive impact by design: the wales centre for behaviour change. Journal of Positive Psychology 9 (6), 517-522.

More about stimulus control and the brain mechanisms involved:

Levant B., and Parkinson J.A. (2014) Positive emotions and reward: Appetitive systems – Amygdala and striatum. Reference Module in Biomedical Sciences. Elsevier. 24-Oct-14 doi: 10.1016/B978-0- 12- 801238-3.04498-6.

Self-Determination Theory (the importance of autonomy, competence and relatedness):

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.

The intention-action gap, why actions are more important than just talking a good game:

Sheldon, K. M., & Krieger, L. (2014). Walking the talk: Value importance, value enactment, and well- being. Motivation and Emotion, 38, 609-619. doi: 10.1007/s11031-014-9424-3