Claremont Recommends: Behaviour Change and Behavioural Science Edition

Francesca Butcher

Francesca Butcher on Jun 9, 2023

Just over four months into my time at Claremont, I’ve learnt a lot about behaviour change, behavioural science and everything in between. And one thing I’ve learnt is that everyone has a different reading or listening recommendation they can passionately vouch for.

So, from podcasts to books to research papers, here are a few of the Claremont team’s top behaviour change and behavioural science recommendations…

Ian, Managing Director – Switch by Chip and Dan Heath (Book)

Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath, is a great read. It’s packed with inspiring, relatable real stories of people who have made change happen. These are used to support the authors’ central hypothesis that to change behaviour, you need to ‘motivate the elephant, direct the rider and shape the path’.

Ben, Founder – The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems by Richard Pascale, Jerry Sternin & Monique Sternin (Book)

I’ve wasted a lot of time and money over the years doing research that’s uncovered behavioural barriers that are ‘true but useless’, i.e. they’re important but we can’t do anything about them.

Positive Deviance is a method that takes a different approach by intentionally seeking out the bright spots – the observable exceptions – who’ve somehow managed to do the behaviour without an external intervention. The idea is that by analysing these bright spots we can identify their secret sauce, bottle it and disseminate it for lots of others in the community to use. It’s recognition of the wisdom within communities to find solutions for themselves, which are inevitably more sustainable and achievable than those dreamt up by outsiders (like me).

For good reason, Positive Deviance was named a Time magazine ‘idea of the year’. It’s a game-changer and ever since we learned about it, we’ve been using it across many of our projects.

Mikaela, Senior Consultant – Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely (Book)

American-Israeli author Dan Ariely first lures you into the book with his own horror story: he was extensively burned in an accident at a graduation ceremony: “about 70% of my body was covered in third-degree burns”.

Ariely’s bandages were swiftly and consistently ripped off by nurses, who assumed that he’d want to get the pain over with quickly. But Ariely’s research later found the opposite to be true: people would rather endure a lower amount of pain for a longer period of time, than a very high amount of pain for a shorter time.

The book moves beyond burns to decisions involving money, romance, medicine and much more. In Ariely’s own words he “became engrossed with the idea that we repeatedly and predictably make the wrong decisions in many aspects of our lives”.

This book makes for a great addition to my bookshelf of behavioural science x popular culture. Hopefully it will make it to yours too.

(As is often the case, the majority of experiments involve college students only, so take it with a grain of salt.)

 Azim, Senior Consultant – People I (Mostly) Admire by Steven Levitt (Podcast)

With host Steven Levitt’s (Freakonomics co-author, and prominent economist) insightful questions and engaging storytelling, the People I (Mostly) Admire podcast is a treasure trove of fascinating conversations. One standout episode features John List, a renowned economist and author of The Voltage Effect. Their discussion ranges from baseball card conventions to Walmart, showcasing List’s innovative use of field experiments to transform economic understanding.

List’s insights on the value of an apology, the importance of scaling, and his transition to the private sector are particularly enlightening. Levitt’s knack for drawing out compelling narratives and thought-provoking ideas from his guests makes this podcast a delightful and stimulating listen.

I can’t deny that several clever behaviour interventions created by me were sparked by the insightful and thought-provoking episodes from this podcast!

 Jude, Associate – The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton (Book) 

A must-read for all behaviour changers: simple, easy, entertaining and informative. Each chapter explains one of 25 behavioural biases so it’s easy to dip into rather something to read cover to cover, and a great reference book when you’re looking at a behavioural challenge. It includes the more obvious biases like social proof and scarcity and less well used, such as the cocktail party effect.

I also recommend The Behavioural Insights Team podcasts, although they can be ‘chewy’… and for something more entertaining, an oldie but goodie is Rory Sutherland’s Radio 4 series, or any of his BBC podcast series. I don’t always agree with him though…

Francesca, Junior Consultant – Interventions to Break and Create Consumer Habits by Bas Verplanken and Wendy Wood (Research Paper)

Behaviour change interventions: how can they tackle behaviours that are no longer just behaviours, but habits?

This research paper is built on the principle that successful habit change interventions involve disrupting the environmental factors that automatically cue habit performance (aka nudging). The authors propose two potential interventions oriented not only to the change of established habits, but also to the acquisition and maintenance of new behaviours through the formation of new habits. ‘Downstream-plus’ interventions pair downstream interventions with naturally occurring changes in living environments, and ‘upstream’ interventions occur before habit performance and disrupt old environmental cues and establish new ones.

Unlike some research papers, this feels like an easy read – a comprehensive and thought-provoking introduction to the field, and it definitely gave me some ideas on how to break/create my own habits! I’d also recommend any other of Bas Verplanken’s research papers for some reading around attitude-behaviour relations and change (e.g. On the nature of attitude–behaviour relations: the strong guide, the weak follow).

Zuzana, Masters Graduate Placement – Nudging à la carte: A field experiment on food choice by Christina Gravert and Verena Kurz (Research Paper)

In Nudging à la carte, the researchers conducted an intriguing experiment to address a major issue: climate change. They used behavioural science techniques to steer people towards carbon-friendly dinner options at a restaurant, lowering each person’s carbon footprint by 52g.

This was one of the first papers I read that used nudging in this context, and it helped to alleviate some of my climate-anxiety, so if you’re in the midst of a climate panic, this may help!