Pioneering new venture will tackle binge drinking to energy consumption

28 November 2012

A collaboration between Warwick Business School and the Design Council has seen the creation of the world’s first Behavioural Design Lab.

The lab looks to bring the power of design together with cutting edge scientific research that Warwick Business School’s burgeoning behavioural science group is discovering to issues ranging from binge drinking to the impact of the internet on teenagers to energy consumption, as well as boosting the nation’s flagging economy.

BBC Radio Four presenter and Financial Times journalist Tim Harford launched the Behavioural Design Lab at the Design Council in Angel, London.

Warwick Business School’s Ed Gardiner is the Behavioural Design Lead and believes the new lab can do what Government advice has continued to fail to do.

“I’m bored of advice,” said Gardiner. “Daily messages about carbon emissions, nutritional content or interest rates just add to the problems. More information does little to influence my decisions. I know I’m meant to eat five-a-day, it’s just not convenient, especially when my self-control is waning and M&S are discounting Percy Pigs.

“I believe that most people want to live a healthy, happy life within their means, doing what’s best for family, friends and Mother Nature. But in reality – consciously or not – the decisions people make regularly knock them off course. A tough day at work justifies driving in, ordering takeaway keeps the children happy, or financial stress makes saving unfeasible. We’ve all been there.

“Other things get in the way and awareness campaigns naively gloss over the practical issues. Organisations need a new approach. That is where the Behavioural Design Lab comes in.”

The BDL is already looking at key areas it can help in, such as:

Communities: Almost half of men and a third of women in the UK aged 18-24 are classified as binge drinkers. Raising awareness of damaging behaviour does little to challenge norms in certain social groups, when drinking heavily is a way to fit in. The BDL aims to find new ways to break down the acceptance of binge drinking yet keep the social benefits of sharing a drink.

Health and well-being: Each year 5.3 million deaths from diseases such as cancer and diabetes are caused by a lack of physical activity, while the proportion of sedentary jobs continues to rise. The BDL wants to develop new, accepted ways to be physically active at work to reduce health risks and increase productivity.

Green living: The rollout of smart meters has been mandated to start in 2014 to help people reduce their energy consumption. The route from information to action is not straightforward and a better understanding is needed of the key motivations. The BDL could support the use of smart metering at home to reduce emissions and promote competition.

Consumer empowerment: People in the UK consume on average an extra 400 calories a day from added sugar alone. Most interventions focus on calorie information but making information more relevant to everyday life, for example providing physical activity equivalents, can have a greater effect. The BDL can explore how to promote choice to reduce sugar consumption and grow the food and retail market.

Education: Despite the huge educational benefits of the internet, early findings show that teens using social networks have more narcissistic tendencies and are more prone to anxiety and depression. Monitoring and restricting access are no substitute for communication. The BDL would like to help parents and teenagers talk about safer online behaviour to maintain the benefits and reduce potential harm.

Mat Hunter, Chief Design Officer at the Design Council added: “There is growing interest in the power of design thinking and behavioural science to tackle complex issues. This pioneering collaboration will combine theory and practice in order to confront the most pressing challenges of our time.”

Further information on the Behavioural Design Lab

Warwick Business School has post-graduate courses incorporating Behavioural Science, click on the course link below:

Msc Finance with Behavioural Science

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