Today the RSA publishes a new report: ‘Steer, mastering our behaviour through instinct, environment and reason’. It is a product of our Social Brain project and was authored by Matt Grist, who has just this week left to start a new job with Demos.
There are four things I like about the report:
1. It draws on evidence about what drives our behaviour but is measured and balanced, and avoids the temptation to reduce human behaviour to neurological processes. There is a study which shows researchers have only to use the word neuroscience for people to be more likely to believe in any results they are told. Pop neuroscience is everywhere, including a piece in today’s Times saying that Robert Green’s mishap was down to the fact that our brains perceive our hands to be nearly twice the size they really are. Steer avoids the ‘voodoo correlations’ of some applied neuroscience.
2. The core thesis is intellectually convincing and politically progressive. Instead of the benign paternalism of ‘Nudge’, it advocates giving people simple guides which make them better able to shape their behaviour. It recognises that much behaviour is automatic, not conscious, but it gives us the tools to consciously change our circumstances.
3. Although it is a small study, the research involved testing its ideas with a group of subjects. Finding out which ‘rules’ they found most useful immediately, and when asked a few weeks later, shows there is real potential in this approach (which we will be exploring in the next stage of the project).
4. It is short and well-written (always a relief when it comes to think tank reports).
Sadly, there is little sign of the work being picked up by the media – which given all the hype surrounding ‘Nudge’ is a pity. But who knows - maybe it’s a slow burner and I hope my wonderful (and, judging by yesterday’s discussion, deeply intellectual) blog readers will have a look and share it around.
As we begin to imagine the post-pandemic world, we need to challenge our use of old metaphors to allow for new narratives and better futures to emerge.
With the post-Christmas resolutions looming, when we try to address the worst of our seasonal over-indulgences, the question remains: how can we give up bad habits for good?