Changing Behaviours
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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.
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Chapter 2: The rise of the psychological state in the UK

On the Rise of the Psychological State

Rhys Jones, Jessica Pykett and Mark Whitehead


In the summer of 2008 David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party, took a seemingly innocuous decision. When compiling a list of books that Conservative Party Members of Parliament and political advisers should take on their summer holidays he include Thaler and Sunstein’s (2008) Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness (see McSmith, 2010). The fact that Nudge would have been in the suitcases and beach-bags of many Conservative Party MPs and advisers in 2008 appears now to be a significant portent of a behavioural shift that has been evident in UK public policy since Cameron was elected British prime minister. Since the election of Cameron’s Coalition Government in 2010 the British public sector has been subject to the sustained application of behaviour change principles. It would appear that the ideas of behavioural economists and psychologists, which had been developed by US academics over much of the post-Second World War period, had finally found their way across the Atlantic.

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