Report published on Behaviour Change

19 July 2011

‘Nudging’ on its own is unlikely to be successful in changing the population’s behaviour. That is the main conclusion of the House of Lords Science and Technology Sub-Committee’s report, Behaviour Change, published today.

The report - the culmination of a year-long investigation into the way the Government tries to influence people’s behaviour using behaviour change interventions – finds that “nudges” used in isolation will often not be effective in changing the behaviour of the population. Instead, a whole range of measures – including some regulatory measures – will be needed to change behaviour in a way that will make a real difference to society’s biggest problems.

Other findings and recommendations from the Committee include:

  • The Government must invest in gathering more evidence about what measures work to influence population behaviour change
  • They should appoint an independent Chief Social Scientist to provide them with robust and independent scientific advice
  • The Government should take steps to implement a traffic light system of nutritional labelling on all food packaging
  • Current voluntary agreements with businesses in relation to public health have major failings. They are not a proportionate response to the scale of the problem of obesity and do not reflect the evidence about what will work to reduce obesity. If effective agreements cannot be reached, or if they show minimal benefit, the Government should pursue regulation.

Committee Chair, Baroness Neuberger, said,

"There are all manner of things that the Government want us to do – lose weight, give up smoking, use the car less, give blood – but how can they get us to do them?  It won’t be easy and this inquiry has shown that it certainly won't be achieved through using 'nudges', or any other sort of intervention, in isolation.


Behaviour change interventions are nothing new. Governments have tried to change our behaviour before – through legislation, marketing campaigns and even 'nudges', for example rumble strips on the road to get us to drive more slowly. And businesses also try to influence our behaviour all the time - supermarkets influence us though the location of, and promotions for, certain foods and all businesses use advertising and marketing to change our behaviour.


But focusing on how we can change a whole nation’s behaviour, has become an increasingly pressing issue as governments realise that societal problems, like the need to reduce obesity and reduce carbon emissions, aren’t going away - and are even getting worse. We welcome this Government’s desire to take the science behind behaviour change seriously in an attempt to find an effective solution.


But changing the behaviour of a population is likely to take time, perhaps a generation or more, and politicians usually look for quick win solutions. The Government needs to be braver about mixing and matching policy measures, using both incentives and disincentives to bring about change. They must also get much better at evaluating the measures they put in place.


In order to help people live healthier and happier lives, we need to understand much more about what sorts of policies will have an effect on how people behave.  And the best way to do this is through research, proper evaluation of policies and the provision of well-informed and independent scientific advice."

Further information

Image: PA 

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