Public Policy

Susan Michie on Behavioral Change

January 7, 2020 11898
LISTEN TO SUSAN MICHIE NOW!

With each new year comes a wave of good intentions as people aim to be better. They want to lose weight, exercise more, be nicer, drink less and smoke not at all. They want to change behavior, and as Susan Michie knows well, “behavior is related to absolutely everything in life.”

Michie is a clinical and health psychologist who leads the Centre for Behaviour Change at University College London. She specializes in behavior related to health – for behavior or health practitioners, patients and population as a whole – and in looking at how behavior impacts the natural environment. And while you might think that the essentials of human behavior are pretty similar, one of the things Michie quickly tells interviewer Dave Edmonds in this Social Science Bites podcast is that it can be unwise to jump to conclusions when studying behavior (or trying to change it).

She notes, for example, that lots of behavioral research is done in North America, where there’s relatively abundant funding for studies, “but the biggest need [for research] is often where there’s the least investment. There’s no point in developing an intervention based on research evidence conducted in parts of the world that are very far away from the type of context we want to implement the findings in – only to find out it’s not going to work.”

So yes, she says, do look at both the rigour of the research, but also base any potential application of the findings on deep understanding of local conditions and using local knowledge.

Michie and her team describe this using a model, COM B, to account for the ‘capability, ‘opportunity’ and ‘motivation’ necessary to change behavior.

Changing behaviors is important – “In order to solve any of these big social challenges we need people at different positions in society to change their behavior” — so these considerations matter. But that begs the questions of what behaviors need changing – and who decides what those selected behaviors are..

“There’s a big issue about who decides what the key issues are,” Michie says. “But I think there are certain problems which are very self-evident – there are people dying unnecessarily as a result of smoking, obesity but also environmental conditions – poor housing, etc. There are areas where the social consensus is that things needs to change, and I’d say those are the ones we start with.”

In the interview, Michie also addresses the ethics of behavior change and how algorithms and machine learning will be “absolutely vital” to parse through all the relevant data . Her own Human Behaviour Change Project is a collaboration between behavioral scientists and computer scientists combing the global literature to see what works, with an initial focus on smoking cessation. A comprehensive tobacco control strategy, she details, involves those infamous “nudges” beloved of policy makers, but also the legislation, services and taxation, that need to work synergistically to effect real change.

Michie had a long career as a research fellow and clinician before joining the Psychology Department of University College London in 2002. She’s a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Academy of Social Sciences, the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research, the Society of Behavioral Medicine, the European Health Psychology Society, the British Psychological Society and a Distinguished International Affiliate of the American Psychological Association.  

To download an MP3 of this podcast, right-click HERE and save.


For a complete listing of past Social Science Bites podcasts, click HERE. You can follow Bites on Twitter @socialscibites and David Edmonds @DavidEdmonds100.

Welcome to the blog for the Social Science Bites podcast: a series of interviews with leading social scientists. Each episode explores an aspect of our social world. You can access all audio and the transcripts from each interview here. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @socialscibites.

View all posts by Social Science Bites

Related Articles

Biden Administration Releases ‘Blueprint’ For Using Social and Behavioral Science in Policy
News
May 17, 2024

Biden Administration Releases ‘Blueprint’ For Using Social and Behavioral Science in Policy

Read Now
Tavneet Suri on Universal Basic Income
Social Science Bites
May 1, 2024

Tavneet Suri on Universal Basic Income

Read Now
There’s Something in the Air, Part 2 – But It’s Not a Miasma
Insights
April 15, 2024

There’s Something in the Air, Part 2 – But It’s Not a Miasma

Read Now
To Better Forecast AI, We Need to Learn Where Its Money Is Pointing
Innovation
April 10, 2024

To Better Forecast AI, We Need to Learn Where Its Money Is Pointing

Read Now
Alex Edmans on Confirmation Bias 

Alex Edmans on Confirmation Bias 

In this Social Science Bites podcast, Edmans, a professor of finance at London Business School and author of the just-released “May Contain Lies: How Stories, Statistics, and Studies Exploit Our Biases – And What We Can Do About It,” reviews the persistence of confirmation bias even among professors of finance.

Read Now
A Community Call: Spotlight on Women’s Safety in the Music Industry 

A Community Call: Spotlight on Women’s Safety in the Music Industry 

Women’s History Month is, when we “honor women’s contributions to American history…” as a nation. Author Andrae Alexander aims to spark a conversation about honor that expands the actions of this month from performative to critical

Read Now
Charles V. Hamilton, 1929-2023: The Philosopher Behind ‘Black Power’

Charles V. Hamilton, 1929-2023: The Philosopher Behind ‘Black Power’

Political scientist Charles V. Hamilton, the tokenizer of the term ‘institutional racism,’ an apostle of the Black Power movement, and at times deemed both too radical and too deferential in how to fight for racial equity, died on November 18, 2023. He was 94.

Read Now
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments