Changing Behaviours

Changing Behaviours

On the Rise of the Psychological State

Rhys Jones, Jessica Pykett and Mark Whitehead

Changing Behaviours charts the emergence of the behaviour change agenda in UK based public policy making since the late 1990s. By tracing the influence of the behavioural sciences on Whitehall policy makers, the authors explore a new psychological orthodoxy in the practices of governing. Drawing on original empirical material, chapters examine the impact of behaviour change policies in the fields of health, personal finance and the environment. This topical and insightful book analyses how the nature of the human subject itself is re-imagined through behaviour change, and develops an analytical framework for evaluating the ethics, efficacy and potential empowerment of behaviour change.

Chapter 1: Changing behaviours and ‘new models of man’

Rhys Jones, Jessica Pykett and Mark Whitehead

Subjects: economics and finance, behavioural and experimental economics, politics and public policy, public policy


The study of human behaviour, and how it can be shaped, lies at the heart of myriad academic disciplines and applied sciences. Economics, sociology, political science, psychology, neuroscience, geography, anthropology, law, performance studies, philosophy, cognitive design and engineering, and biology have all, to admittedly varying degrees, explored the causes of human conduct and how it can be changed. While the accumulated wisdom of these collective arts and sciences of behaviour is germane to the pursuits of this volume, our concerns are more specific. This book critically analyses an emerging approach to behavioural government. This is an approach that has risen to prominence over the last 20 years. Inspired by developments in microeconomics and psychology, it has subtly insinuated itself in public policy and state strategy throughout large parts of the world. Although it goes by many names (including ‘the behaviour change agenda’, libertarian (or soft) paternalism, and intuitive judgement theory), and employs a wide range of techniques (including cognitive design, choice editing, default setting, anchoring, peer-to-peer pressure, and norm formation), it is bound together by a particular understanding of the human condition. This is a vision of the subject that questions the ‘standard economic model’ of motivation and decision making and draws attention to the irrational constitution of human life.

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