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BiteSCIze with Nicola Buckland
  • Who are you?

A psychology researcher and Lecturer at the University of Sheffield. Also a nature lover and trail/fell runner.

  • How did you get into Behavioural Science?

I did a degree in psychology which included research posts related to health behaviours. During my degree, I was fascinated to learn about how much the behaviours we engage in impact our health, and that if we can modify certain behaviours we can minimise health risks and optimise people’s wellbeing and lives. This interest led me on to do a PhD investigating the impact of health cues on food intake and ultimately a career researching human behaviour.

  • What are you working on right now? 

Three main areas: first, encouraging sustainable behaviours (waste behaviours related to compostable packaging, reducing meat intake and reducing plastic waste).

Second, the experience and impacts of experiencing weight stigma on health behaviours (sleep, physical activity and dietary intake). Excitingly, we will be having a theatre show next year to communicate our research findings as part of the Festival of Social Science.

Finally, developing effective strategies to support the career development of PhD researchers to ensure researchers are supported to pursue academic and other sector careers (or a mixture of both!). I’m applying the COM-B model to understand current gaps and areas to target within Higher Education.

  • What do you like most about what you do?

I love the opportunity to come up with and test ideas for tackling societal issues, especially those aimed to improve the wellbeing and health of people and the planet.

  • What role is there for communications in changing behaviour?

It depends on the type of communications and whether the communications address barriers to the target population engaging in the desired behaviour. Communication that is information alone is unlikely to be effective, or as effective as communications that also target motivation and opportunity to engage in the desired behaviour. Provided communications target key barriers, they can form effective components of interventions (e.g. persuasive messages, rewarding signs) which can be delivered in various ways including traditional (e.g. posters, leaflets) and digital methods such as apps and social media. Communications can also be adapted and tailored to be most relevant to the group(s) being targeted. So, if done right, communications have an important role in changing behaviours!

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

Two main areas spring to mind. First, continuing to research approaches to increase sustainable diets. While progress is beginning to be made in this area, there is still so much to do. My early research career focussed specifically on eating behaviours and I feel I’m in a great position to connect together the eating behaviour and behaviour change areas to encourage sustainable diets. I have specific research ideas I’d love to explore on this topic! It’s interesting to consider how our diets will be different in 10, 20 and 50 years’ time. 

I would also love to apply behavioural science to challenges around conservation and biodiversity. A paper was out recently which raised concern around ‘business as usual’ within academia, despite climate change happening (and the point being made applies to other sectors). As a society, we’re not doing enough to tackle climate change. Given the crisis our planet faces, I see it as important for me to apply my behavioural expertise to find ways to increase behaviours that protect the planet.  

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

One I came across recently is the Center for behavior and the environment. They’ve developed engaging and accessible training with interesting and inspiring applied examples of developing and evaluating behaviour change interventions.

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

The UCL team and their recent development of the Behaviour Change Ontology.

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

What behaviour change book would you pick for a book club (attended by non-behavioural scientists). I ask as someone who organises Sheffield’s Kelham Island book club!

[Editor’s note : Nicola’s pick would be Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow]

  • 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?

Prof. Michelle Segar who has a diverse range of experience in behaviour change and I’m impressed by her offer to attend a book club (given I organise a book club in my free time!). Michelle is someone at the top of my list for who I would like to meet! A question is – How has your offer to attend book clubs to discuss your book been received and what is the most common point of confusion raised or most common question asked?

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