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Behavioural science

Behavioural science is a multi-disciplinary field of investigation that seeks to: 

  1. understand why people act in the way that they do; 
  2. predict how people may act in any given situation, and 
  3. identify, where necessary, how/if these actions could be changed for the better.

To do this, behavioural scientists investigate factors and experiences that might influence the ways people act, including how they interpret and understand information, how they think, feel, and make decisions, and their relationships with other people and their environment.

By applying this understanding, behavioural scientists can develop interventions that can help individuals and society to ensure that they are acting in ways that are beneficial for themselves and others (for example, for their physical and mental health and wellbeing, for the environment, and for public health protection & emergency response). 

Pedestrians on a city pavement

Our behavioural science work spans a wide range of topics including (but not limited to):

  • developing behavioural responses and strategies for managing the COVID-19 pandemic in a range of different settings, and understanding people's experiences of the pandemic;
  • understanding risk behaviours such as drug use and designing, implementing and evaluating strategies to improve health outcomes for people who engage in these behaviours;
  • understanding experiences and perceptions around vaccination programmes in order to promote uptake and minimise health inequalities;
  • identifying influences of antibiotic use and developing and evaluating interventions to support healthcare providers and patients in reducing unnecessary use;
  • collating evidence to understand determinants of behaviours that may contribute to the reduction of poor air-quality (such as active travel) and using this to inform the co-design of interventions to increase these behaviours.

Many of these projects are collaborations with the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration West (NIHR ARC West) and other research partners.

Developing a behavioural science network

We are leading the set-up of a cross-HPRU behavioural science network. The aim of the network is to provide opportunities for University and Public Health England colleagues with an interest or expertise in behavioural and social science to connect with peers across the HPRUs and associated research networks. We hope it will offer opportunities to work collaboratively across HPRUs and be a means of sharing ideas and resources.

Activities of the network are likely to include: regular meetings or discussion groups; opportunities to work collaboratively or to seek and provide behavioural science consultancy; and access and signposting to relevant resources including training and development opportunities.

The initial (online) meeting of the network is Monday 7 June 2021, 13:00-15:00. If you would like to join the meeting or the network or to find out more, please contact Rosie Essery.

Research examples

Germ Defence (including national implementation of Germ Defence via primary care)

COVID-19 mapping and mitigation in schools (CoMMinS)

Reducing bACTerial infections (REACT) study

Climate change mitigation behaviours and interventions in the context of COVID-19

Driving the use of low dead space (LDSS) injecting equipment among people who inject drugs

Minimising health inequalities on the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination programme

Drug use in street sex workers (DUSSK) study

Evaluating the South Gloucestershire opioid painkillers addiction pilot