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People: Hannah Behrendt – Behavioural Insights Team

Senior advisor, Behavioural Insights Team

Published in Health Club Management 2018 issue 3
Behrendt has worked for the Behavioural Insights Team since 2014
Behrendt has worked for the Behavioural Insights Team since 2014
There are two behavioural science ideas that can help people follow through with their goals: implementation intentions and mental contrasting

Can you tell us about the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) and your role within it?
The Behavioural Insights Team is a social purpose company that applies insights from behavioural science to policy making. The team, often nicknamed the “nudge unit” (after the best-selling book), started life inside 10 Downing Street and is jointly owned by its employees, the UK government and the innovation charity Nesta. I joined the team in 2014 and I now work as a senior advisor, focusing on health. My work is based on a simple principle: we need to understand how people really behave in order to design better policies and services.

What sort of research have you done to help make people more active?
We use existing behavioural insights to develop and evaluate the efficacy of different interventions. For example, we recently ran a workplace trial that demonstrated how social comparisons can increase physical activity. In the trial, employees were given Fitbits and split into 50 teams. Each week, teams received a message with either a generic leaderboard or a tailored leaderboard (showing their current rank, distance from lead and the most active individuals in the team). Individuals who received tailored leaderboard messages took an average of 694 more steps per day than those who received the generic leaderboard feedback. Another really nice thing about this study was that the biggest increases in physical activity were amongst those people who were least active before the trial.

What are the biggest barriers preventing people from being more active?
Many people know that physical activity is important and want to move more, but they just can’t seem to follow through. This is called the ‘intention-action gap’. So how can we help people to follow through with their goals? There are two behavioural science ideas that can help: ‘implementation intentions’ and ‘mental contrasting’. This means thinking about your goals as well as the obstacles you might face when trying to achieve those goals, and then creating plans to overcome the identified barriers that stand between you and your goals.

What is the secret to creating lasting change?
To create lasting change, healthy behaviours need to become habits. But how can we build these habits in the first place? One interesting study by Gary Charness and Uri Gneezy found that paying people to go to the gym can help. In their study, people who were incentivised to go to the gym eight times in one month were more likely to keep going to the gym afterwards compared with people who had either received no incentive or were paid to go to the gym only once. Paying people to go regularly for a month seemed to help those in the study to form a healthy habit.

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Want to know the behavioural science ideas that can help people follow through on their goals – Hannah Behrendt from the Behavioural Insights Team reveals...
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