What will George Do?

I’m having so much fun working with colleagues at the Wales Centre for Behaviour Change at Bangor University, an interdisciplinary group with particular strengths in Psychology.  It’s making  me see the world in a completely different way, and no area of my life is immune.

A few weeks ago, I was reading my 4 year old a bedtime story that we picked up in the local library, a very funny book called ‘Oh No, GEORGE!’ by Chris Haughton, which turned out to be illuminating on the question of impulse control and examines the fact that behaviour does not always reflect our stated intentions. My Psychology colleagues discuss this by referring to the ‘value-action gap’, and are currently engaged in research that contributes to our understandings of what processes and systems are involved in making choices in order to develop behaviour change interventions, ‘nudges’, to scaffold and reinforce healthy choices.

George (a dog) is determined to be ‘good’ (to make healthy choices which increase his wellbeing), but fails to sustain his efforts when Harris (a human who reinforces these healthy choices) is out of the house and he is left to his own devices.

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(image from the author’s website)

We might categorise his processes as Reflective/Automatic (Thaler and Sunstein, 2008) or Fast/Slow Thinking (Kahneman, 2011).  When in Reflective/Slow thinking mode, he is keen to institute ‘good’ behaviour, but he makes ‘bad’ behaviour choices (which we might argue occur when he is in Automatic or Fast mode) which revolve around eating cake, chasing cats and digging soil.  George is genuine in his intention to be good and in his sorrow when he is unable to sustain this behaviour.  He recognises that he needs support (Harris) in order to follow through on his ‘good’ behaviour.

The book ends on a cliffhanger, when, having successfully resisted some prime temptations with the support of Harris, George is faced with a difficult choice – raid a bin, or resist.  I couldn’t resist asking my Psychology colleagues what they thought George would do, and whether he could be helped or nudged to make healthier choices.

My 4 year old is certain that even with Harris’ support, George will not be able to resist the bin. What will George do?

References:

Oh no, GEORGE!, by Chris Haughton (Walker Books, 2013)

Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein (Yale University Press, 2008)

Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011)

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