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 6: Greening the brain: the pro-environmental behaviour change agenda

Rhys Jones, Jessica Pykett and Mark Whitehead

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


In April 2009 the New York Times magazine ran an article under the title ‘Why Isn’t the Brain Green?’ (Gertner, 2009). The inherent environmental tendencies of the human species have, of course, been the subject of ongoing scientific and philosophical discussion for several centuries. On one side of this debate are those of a Darwinian persuasion who identify a distinctly selfish gene within the human species, which makes us inherently indifferent to the welfare of the planet. On the other side of this scientific and philosophical divide are scholars whose talk of mirror neurons suggests that we are congenitally empathetic towards the non-human world (Rifkin, 2009). What is significant about the New York Times article is that it provides a popularized take on a key shift that has been occurring in the research on human environmental behaviours over the last 15 years. This shift has suggested that the nature of human behaviour towards the environment may not be the product of some foundational evolutionary tendency towards ecological indifference or empathy, but may instead be a product of the practical conditions that frame the relations between human behaviours and the environment. Significantly, in the context of this volume, this emerging perspective on the nature of human–environmental relations has been informed by trans-disciplinary insights in the field of behavioural sciences. So why isn’t the brain green?

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