BiteSCIze with Lois Player

  • Who are you?

I’m a psychology researcher, in the final year of my PhD at the University of Bath. I also work with the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST) on various consultancy projects looking at the role of behaviour change and policy support in reaching Net Zero. 

  • How did you get into Behavioural Science?

During my undergraduate in Psychology, I worked with Bath and North East Somerset Council, exploring how to best implement a new environmental policy in Bath (a Clean Air Zone). This project gave me an understanding of the importance of attitudinal and behaviour change in fostering public support for new policies, and was the start of my path to environmental psychology.

Ever since then, I’ve had a growing belief that we cannot address the climate crisis without behaviour change (technology alone will not save us!) – and became interested in how behavioural science can help us understand and remove the barriers people face in adopting sustainable behaviours. 

  • What are you working on right now? 

Predominantly my PhD – which explores the public acceptability of climate transport policies (specifically of Clean Air Zones). Generally, my work uses quantitative and machine learning methods to understand (1) the types of people who may accept or oppose Clean Air Zones, (2) the reasons for this, and (3) the factors that explain changes in acceptance over time. Currently, I’m working on a longitudinal study exploring people’s changing support for Bristol’s Clean Air Zone, and am developing a novel machine learning methodology for analysing large amounts of free-text data.

Alongside my PhD, I regularly speak at events with policymakers and try to bridge the gap between academia and policy – I was recently a panelist and speaker at an event for Transport for West Midlands about the public acceptability of transport policies. 

I’ve also just finished a secondment with the UK Government’s climate advisors, the Climate Change Committee (CCC) – in their new People & Net Zero team. One of my favourite things I worked on there was around the distributional impacts of climate policies and the importance of considering fairness in policymaking, which I feel strongly about. 

  • What do you like most about what you do?

I love feeling like my work has a genuine positive impact on society. In my PhD, I work closely with local policymakers to understand the challenges they face in implementing fair, effective and well-accepted climate policies – and try to tailor my work to solve these real-world problems. The climate crisis is one of the most urgent issues we face today, so feeling like I’m playing a part in creating a path to Net Zero that considers people from all walks of life is really rewarding.

  • What role is there for communications in changing behaviour?

Generally, communication that is targeted to a specific population and used alongside other tools is most effective. For example, when trying to motivate climate action, communicating the health, moral or economic co-benefits of pro-environmental actions tends to boost engagement – but specific groups value certain co-benefits more, so tailoring your messaging is important. There’s a great paper on this by a colleague of mine at Bath. Communicating co-benefits alongside other interventions (like making pro-environmental behaviours easier or the default) tends to be more effective than communication alone.

  • If you could work on / research any topic what would it be and why?

I’m interested in how we can best involve the public in climate policy decision making. Existing examples like the UK Climate Assembly have shown us that public participation can boost perceptions of fairness, trust in the Government, and perceived control to achieve climate goals – but we don’t currently understand how, at what stage of policy decisions, and to what extent the public should be involved. 

I’d also be interested to research more about policy bundling as a tool to shift policy acceptance and behaviour, and how large-scale interventions that make behaviours easier or default can shift people towards more pro-environmental behaviour – like in encouraging the uptake of sustainable diets. 

  • What is your favourite behavioural science paper/book/resource and why?

I really like the Behavioural Insights Team’s work – it’s accessible and gives comprehensible breakdowns of the current behavioural science evidence for many social challenges. A particularly great one around climate behaviors is “How to build a Net Zero society”.

  • Who do you think is interesting in the general field?

I really like Professor Linda Steg’s work – she researches about a mixture of environmental behaviour change and policy support topics, and her work has tangible impacts on climate policy. Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh’s work also has huge impacts on policy – through her work directing CAST. Her publications, but also policy and public engagement work are super interesting (and she’s also an amazing PhD supervisor!). 

  • What haven’t we asked you that we should have?

What do you enjoy doing outside of work? (Any opportunity to talk too much about my love for running and training for my first Ultramarathon… I’m also an avid baker!)

  • Who is one person that we can speak to for our next interview and if you could ask them one question, what would it be?

Dr Esther Papies recently visited our department and gave a great talk about how to best talk about plant-based foods. Her research around the cognitive processes that underlie sustainable food choices is very timely, and I’d be interested to hear more the development of her lab’s app to motivate the shift to more sustainable food choices.

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