Yellow footpath signs pointing in different directions

Behavioural Science

Behavioural Science uses a range of validated theories and techniques to explain the psychological processes that drive behaviours. The insight gained can then be used to provide specific, evidenced-based recommendations.

Our in-house Behavioural Science Team are experts across several branches of behavioural science including Behavioural Economics, Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, and Language and Behaviour Profiling. The team is always on hand to support the design and analysis stages of research projects.

When is Behavioural Science useful?

We regularly use Behavioural Science to inform solutions for commercial challenges in the areas of behaviour change, NPD/propositions/pricing, and campaigns/communications research.

Here are some typical questions that we can you answer:

couple cycling

Behaviour change

How do we understand deep resistance to changes that would result in personal or societal benefits?

How prepared are respondents to change or where are they in the behaviour change process?

What are the best ways to encourage positive behaviour change at different stages?

Man choosing from array of products in a chiller cabinet

NPD, propositions and pricing

What ‘rules of thumb’ or heuristics dominate your category?

How can you make use of these heuristics to encourage the purchase of your product or service?

How do we calibrate research data based on the realities of behavioural science?

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Campaigns and communications

What behavioural insights will be most effective at driving a desired behaviour?

Having identified the key heuristics, how can we design messages to maximise certain behaviours?

Which typical comms approaches like anchoring, framing, loss aversion, default or nudges will lead to best outcomes?

Behavioural Science techniques

The techniques we use fall into three main categories:

HeuristicsHeuristics are cognitive or mental shortcuts that people use to simplify or speed up decisions, although they're not always optimal and can be irrational.

We identify which key heuristics are at play and then provide actionable solutions on how to counteract or boost them. This could be in anything from designing our materials to understanding or ‘nudging’ behaviour, be that in message testing, customer journeys or conjoint studies.

Behaviour change modelsBehaviour change models help to explain how you can change behaviour through environmental, personal or social factors.

A variety of models is available and we'll work with you to decide which approach would suit your research best. For reference, we often gravitate toward the COM-B Model, the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) and the ISM Model.

Psychological approachesWe use a range of psychological approaches to help explain what is guiding a particular behaviour. These include theories as well as procedural techniques.

Useful theories include Habit Loops, the Intention-Action Gap, Social Identity Theory and Nudge Theory, while procedures such as Language Analysis and naturalistic observation are ideal for message testing or shopper research as they can uncover the contextual drivers of behaviour, and identify which words are most effective at changing minds.

More about behaviour change models

The COM-B Behaviour Change Model suggests that Capability, Opportunity and Motivation all need to be present to change behaviour.

We use the COM-B model in projects that are focused on how to encourage or discourage an individual’s behaviour, such as how to quit smoking or increase environmentally-friendly behaviour.

Source: Michie et al (2011).

The TTM suggests that there are six stages of behaviour change:

  1. Precontemplation
  2. Contemplation
  3. Preparation
  4. Action
  5. Maintenance
  6. Termination.

It’s particularly useful in projects where we need to understand what stage consumers are currently at and how to move them onto the next stage.

Source: Prochaska and DiClemente (1983)

The ISM model suggests that the Individual, Social and Material contexts all influence behaviour and that any behaviour change interventions should target all these factors.

We use this model for policy level changes or macro level behaviour change, such as encouraging small to medium size businesses to adopt more sustainable behaviours.

Source: Darnton et al. (2013)

More about psychological approaches

Habit loops provide a framework for understanding what causes people to engage in certain behaviours. The process of a habit loop consists of three elements:

  • A cue
  • A routine
  • A reward.

Understanding these elements can help in understanding how to change bad habits or form better ones

In simple terms, the Intention-Action Gap is the difference between what people say they would like to or plan to do and what they actually do. For example, people often say they want to do more for the environment but don’t actually do anything further; or people make a New Year’s resolution to exercise more but don’t follow through with their intention.

Social identity is am individual’s sense of who they are based on their group membership(s). The central hypothesis of social identity theory is that affiliation with a group confers self-esteem and that members of an in-group may seek to find negative aspects of an out-group, thus enhancing their self-image.

Nudge theory says that the choices available to us influence the decisions we make, and therefore our behaviour. Nudges are indirect suggestions through deliberately designed choices which encourage positive helpful decisions, both for the people choosing and ideally for the wider interests of society too.

One of the most famous examples of nudge theory in practice was increasing the number of people in the UK with active pension schemes by introducing automatic enrolment so that workers avoided having to make the complicated decisions which had been putting them off. Since this scheme was introduced in 2012, active membership of private sector pension schemes jumped from 2.7 million to 7.7 million in 2016.

A Language and Behaviour (LAB) Profile is a powerful tool for understanding and influencing the behaviour of others. It was created by Roger Bailey and originates from the Meta-programmes of NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming).

By studying a person’s language patterns the profiler can identify how people trigger and maintain their interest level, how people deal with information and how they become convinced about something. These insights can show you what language would ‘click’ with them and motivate the behaviour you desire

Naturalistic observation is a technique with roots in anthropology. It involves observing the spontaneous behaviour of participants in their normal surroundings. The researcher simply records what they see in whatever way they can and this contributes greatly to understandings of how the participants environment shapes their behaviour. This is particularly helpful in shopper research, or medication adherence research.

Selected case studies

Great Green Sustainability Study20201022121738
Applying Behaviour Change Models to Smoking Cessation20201022114302
Reducing SME Carbon Emissions20200812123019

Latest news

The power of social norms to encourage recycling20220329085421
New Year’s Resolutions: Why we make them and how we tackle them20220131151315
The Journey Back to Working in the Office20211012145557
Heuristics Driving Optimism in Sports20210709115700

Meet the Behavioural Science team

Darryl Swift20200722164423
Chris Ralph20200727083100

Chris Ralph

Research Director, Head of Utilities
Olivia Brickman20201104164529

Olivia Brickman

Head of Behavioural Science
Francesca Walker20200727093816

Francesca Walker

Senior Research Executive