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I'm currently waiting on the data to be analysed from some research workshops I've carried out recently. The workshops were on decision-making and the brain. I worked with quite a large group of people (who, now the data is in, I can say were a fantastic bunch), and we went through some simple rules on decision-making that come out of a better understanding of the automatic and social nature of how our brains work. I'm not going to second guess the data, but let me just say what the point of the research was.

I'm currently waiting on the data to be analysed from some research workshops I've carried out recently. The workshops were on decision-making and the brain. I worked with quite a large group of people (who, now the data is in, I can say were a fantastic bunch), and we went through some simple rules on decision-making that come out of a better understanding of the automatic and social nature of how our brains work. I'm not going to second guess the data, but let me just say what the point of the research was.

There is a lot of talk in policy circles about changing behaviour - the wonks have got hold of ideas from behavioural economics, neuroscience and social psychology, and by golly do they want to use them. There has been a collective realisation across civil service/think-tank land (apart from HM Treasury) that everyone has been working with a far too narrow conception of what motivates and influences behaviour. Some in wonk land go further, thinking they have their hands on a new 'model' of behaviour they take to arise from these disciplines. This model, they hold, will replace the old one of  'rational man'.

Herein lie several dangers. First, it is not clear there is anything like a 'new model' of behaviour, rather an emerging picture that is more accurate but still contested and limited. Second, there is a feeling amongst some in wonk land that they can now get people to do all the things they couldn't before because they have 'the right model now'. This is a classic psychological ploy - over-emphasise the things that give you control over a situation because that way you don't have to face the hard truth that you have much less control than you would like. Third, all the knowledge is happily kept on the side of the wonks. They want to do loads of clever stuff to 'nudge' you into doing what they want. So the 'new model' is quite paternalistic.

What we tried to do with our research was to give some of the knowledge that the wonks have to people themselves. Would this empower them to be better informed about their own behaviour? Would they find the knowledge 'common sense'? Watch this space to find out very shortly.

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