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 5: Governing the body: addressing the temptations of food and alcohol

Rhys Jones, Jessica Pykett and Mark Whitehead

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


In a paper in the journal Biological Psychology, Nico Frijda (2010) discusses the various connections that exist between emotions and actions. On the one hand are those reflective actions that happen as a result of a cognitive process of reflection. The main focus of Frijda’s attention, however, is on the impulsive actions that underpin much of what we do as humans. These actions are familiar experiences to most if not all of the readers of this book and include ‘punching someone in a bar brawl’, ‘running away upon perceiving threat’, ‘following an attractive person with one’s eyes’ and ‘taking one more drink after deciding that the previous one was the last’ (Frijda 2010: 571). Frijda notes that these impulsive actions possess a number of characteristics, whose significance for this book should be quite apparent. First, impulsive actions do not take place on the basis of prior deliberation. Second, impulsive actions take place as a result of an individual’s overwhelming focus on the significance of the present as a cue for action. Third, impulsive actions involve an action, which reflects an aim of some kind. In the context of this chapter – which deals with the various attempts being made to govern the body by the neoliberal state – many of the aims that underpin impulsive actions are centred on pleasure, whether in relation to consuming food and alcohol or engaging in different forms of bodily gratification (du Plessis, 2011).

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