conference, presentations, research, Uncategorized

Nudge nudge wink wink

Yes, it’s the famous urinal fly nudge…


Blog number 3? of ??? for the ISBNPA2017 conference. I have been busy working like a Trojan on PhD stuff and well, laundry. If someone else did the family’s laundry for me I think I could probably finish this PhD a year earlier…But anyway, better blog quickly before I forget everything, it’s already been a month!

Friday, I was a bit stiff after running quite a bit the previous day (and frankly, these conference ‘jogs’ are aimed at much faster runners than me…) so I went to the yoga. Ahh, that’s better! I’ve got quite into yoga recently, I just need to find time and a decent class. Luckily both were provided at ISBNPA.

The conference started early with a symposium on the psychology of sedentary behaviour. This isn’t really my field but the speakers were great (though #allmalepanel here, tut) Having a female discussant or chair DOES NOT COUNT, MEN TRYING TO JUSTIFY THEIR ALLMALEPANELS, JUST TRY HARDER!


Anyway, it WAS a good symposium. The twinkly Ryan Rhodes kicked off with some really interesting stuff about whether the psychology of physical activity can help us understand and design interventions on sedentary behaviour. I cornered him at the conference dinner and gabbled some completely unintelligible rubbish at him about potential sedentary behaviour interventions based on affect. I’m sure there was some potential in there on the basis that affect might have a greater influence on more habitual sorts of behaviour than exercise, but it was a month ago, it’s all a bit hazy…Rhodes’s talk was sort of a ‘state of play of psychology’s role in sedentary behaviour’ so he had some interesting directions to suggest future research might go in.

Ben Gardner was next with some lovely studies, I really enjoy his interesting, refreshing approach to research questions! I’d like to be him when I grow up. Only I’m already older than him, oh well.

He had a good argument: people don’t say stuff like ‘that person is sitting’, they say ‘that person is reading a book’ (though actually, when I was a teen I used to walk whilst reading, I saw a teen boy recently doing that and grinned my head off at the memory of being that stuck in a book), so the ‘sitting’ bit of the reading activity then becomes invisible, so that people underestimate their sedentary behaviour. It was quite interesting actually, if people don’t see that their sitting behaviour as a problem because they’re not aware of their sitting behaviour (it’s just work, playing computer games, watching telly, driving, etc) then how can they even think about whether to change their behaviour?

Finally, Stuart Biddle (who appeared to be imitating a pirate at this conference with his big earring and stubble!) looked at the evidence for mental health and sedentary behaviour

His conclusions:

Reverse causality IS a big issue in this area: do people get depressed from sitting too much or do depressed people sit a lot? Cross-sectional studies can’t really distinguish the two. The bit about some types of sedentary behaviour being good for mental health is interesting: as the mum of a teen and a teen in training, I can see that a lot of their social lives outside school are carried out online (leaving aside debates about why that is…), and if people are spending sedentary time engaged in meaningful, enjoyable activities then clearly that can carry mental health benefits.


Talking of teenagers, I was texting my kids in between sessions when they got home from school, with my usual exhortations to get them out of the house and actually doing some form of exercise…

I appealed for help from the experts at the conference but they must have been too busy texting their own kids to reply…

After this it was lunch, my knee was hurting a little bit from all the standing I was doing (not a fan of standing for long periods!), so I was really interested to try out the wobble boards provided in one area, one of them kept throwing people off, but the one I tried was really comfortable and made my legs feel great (must investigate further…)

After lunch was a keynote by Denise de Ridder on nudging, it was a fantastic talk

She made some good points about cultural differences in attitudes towards nudging. Nudging is politically popular (because fundamentally it’s usually cheap and you’re making the right decisions the more convenient ones without denying autonomy). However, cultures differ according to the amount governments are trusted to make decisions on behalf of citizens, etc. This was a really interesting point, and as usual at international conferences it was interesting to reflect on the social norms and priorities of different countries and cultures and how that influences health.

Denise thought though that psychologists were ok with the concept of nudging: we know that people’s intentions are not always followed through with the desired behaviour.

Then she gave a bit of background to where nudging came from:

Then she moved on to whether nudges are acceptable: broadly yes, but it depends on the source of the nudge and the context

Then a bit of experimental evidence on the acceptability of nudges

But some aspects of nudges might make them less appealing:

Leading to her point: ‘cute’ nudges might be more attention seeking, but if they are too in your face they aren’t really nudges, and might be annoying. A good nudge is fairly invisible by its nature…

It was a great keynote, but Denise didn’t really answer my question very well. I was describing how Victoria makes it incredibly easy for people to drive by having car parking right outside the shops and letting people pay for parking via an app for a couple of minutes they were there (making it convenient for both local government to collect parking meter money and for locals to pay for parking without even getting out of their car and walking a few metres to a machine!). I was asking whether you could use the concept of nudging to point out that actually, people are being nudged all the time in the WRONG direction, and perhaps you could harness nudging by making the case for less convenience for the undesired behaviour. I don’t think she really understood my question, or maybe I haven’t got the whole concept of nudging, but her reply was that nudging could only ever be in a positive direction (which I thought was a very Dutch answer of hers). I still think there’s a case for the ‘anti-nudge’ but I suppose that has potential to be desperately unpopular. Still, there are limits to what nudging can do for, say, cycling, without at some stage making car driving less convenient (the anti-nudge).


One memorable part of this conference for me was meeting different people from all over the world and seeing things from a slightly different angle. I got chatting to the men below, who were from Hong Kong. I sat in the 2nd row most of the time so I could tweet photos, but they were always in the front row. So I asked them why they always sat there:

Professor Lam and Dr Shen gave me a demo of their ‘zero time exercise’ concept by showing me all the exercise they could do just sitting in their chairs during otherwise unproductive time at a conference. I thought it was a genius idea but would love to know how to make it into something which people could stick to long term. We had a brainstorming session on names ‘Fidget for Fun’! ‘Fidget for your life’! If you want to know more below is Professor Lam on Youtube 🙂 The other thing I found interesting was that it was in complete contrast to any of the physical activity or sedentary behaviour concepts covered during the rest of the conference. I wondered whether actually this had to do with cultural differences, with Western concepts of physical activity as either needing to be ‘proper’ exercise or at a pinch walking or cycling for transport, and also whether things like t’ai chi, with its very slow controlled movements played into the idea of chair exercise as being a valid form of exercise. Really fascinating stuff!


And that was it for what I tweeted that day, I think I had to nip off early to go and get changed ready for the conference dinner, which was all a bit odd but great fun meeting a big range of people in a room which used to be a swimming pool. I left early because I was absolutely knackered and still had to get the bus back to my AirBnB (couldn’t work out whether the chap who talked to me on the bus was just being friendly or chatting me up, Victoria is just that kind of place!) They were all ultra-polite!


Urinal fly photo: By Stefan Bellini (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons


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