Chapter 3: It’s time we talked about your behaviour! Your travel behaviour…

In the half a year since I wrote my last summary of a thesis chapter (Chapter 2), the world has flipped on its head and disconcertingly continued to spin in a bad way. It seems appropriate to talk about human behaviour over ten years after I first delved into it – a decade where we have seen behaviour take centre stage as computers churn up every part of our being and spit out advertisements, games, new products, election scams and other behaviour altering, world changing, gimmicks.

My exploration of human behaviour felt much more benign at the time. I really just wanted to understand how I could help people get out of their cars. I read psychological theories relevant to travel behaviour and became slightly fascinated, but mostly wary, of the world of nudging and behavioural economics. They still felt like they were reducing human experiences and potential behaviour change strategies to games we play on our fellow humans. I learnt about the different theories of behaviour change and main determinants of behaviour and these became the main focus of the chapter. The determinants of behaviour I focused and some interesting insights I gained were:

Attitude – Travel behaviour is attitudinally complex (lots of relevant and potentially competing attitudes); attitudes have different strengths (intensity and connection to self-identity) and salience; attitudes have affective, cognitive and behavioural components; attitudes have different functions related to satisfying needs, protection from harsh realities, giving structure to one’s universe and expressing values; behaviour doesn’t always follow on from an attitude.

Values and Norms – Unlike attitudes, norms and values are not situation specific. Values are principles which guide us with an understanding of desirable ways to behaving or desirable end-states. They can be formed through conditioning and learning experiences. Norms are embedded with values and provide certainty and stability through some consistency of ways of being of individuals in a social system. Norms and Values can be social or personal; social relying on social sanction to reinforce them while personal are maintained through internal support of individual and can be formed by internalising social norms and through embracing the relevant values. Injunctive social norms are based on systems of belief around what is morally approved or disapproved, whereas descriptive social norms are based on the perception of prevalent behaviour (and don’t necessarily align with moral judgements).

Perceived and actual efficacy– Self-efficacy is the ability to successfully undertake the behaviour and outcome efficacy is whether the completion of the behaviour leads to desired outcomes. Perceptions of these efficacies can affect what behaviour is attempted or maintained. Both internal and external factors need to be addressed to improve perceived and actual self-efficacy and outcome efficacy. Perceived and actual self-efficacy improved after successfully completing the behaviour and therefore provides a virtuous cycle.

Habit – Refers to the way behavioural choices are made and not the regularity of the behaviour. It is related to past and repetitive behaviour and reduction in need for deliberation. It is like having a script that you automatically follow in a given situation. How easy these scripts are to retrieve indicates the strength of the habit. Strong habitual behaviour can inhibit information acquisition and acceptance (configuring it to align with habits). When habits are broken naturally, through changes in people’s situation, these people might be more receptive to different considerations.

Emotions – comprising of psychological and expressive reactions along with subjective feelings, emotions are an interesting determinant of behaviour as well as antecedent to other determinants of behaviour. Emotions can act with or without our awareness; emotions are shared with others through expression and emotional stories; and this sharing may help regulate social relations; emotions have been shown to help in decision making by “rearranging new priorities and setting a hierarchy of goals”.

So various theories have put these determinants of behaviour to work, to show how they can explain our behaviour. While the theory of planned behaviour is widely used, Triandis’ theory of interpersonal behaviour includes emotional and habit concepts, and a broader consideration of social factors and facilitating conditions. The belief-value-norm theorem, social learning theory and the health belief model area also widely used. However, it felt phoney trying to apply any particular theory to urban travel behaviour. I felt like I needed to teeter around the edge a bit longer – just thinking more broadly about the psychological determinants of behaviour in the context of modal choice. I finally came up with a number of quirks of urban travel behaviour that we should keep in mind when exploring behaviour and behaviour change:

Many attributes and issues – There is a complex array of issues involved in urban travel as described in my summary of Chapter 2. These issues have associated feelings and thoughts and there are a variety of emotions, attitudes and values that play a role in determining behaviour. 

An everyday occurrence – Urban travel is a routine part of most people’s day. Whether one works, studies, accesses essential services or participates in the commerce and culture of a city, they travel to get places. Current behaviour trends and the lack of change in travel behaviour are often attributed to the formation of habit amongst members of the travelling population associated with the frequency at which people travel.

An activity people prepare for – A choice to take one mode of transport over another cannot usually take place spontaneously. People may require resources, prior knowledge and planning in order to take a mode of transport. The preparation to take one mode of transport may create a barrier through a reduction in self- efficacy. However, once this preparation has taken place, a lock-in effect may be developed, because the person has reduced the effort required for one mode of transport but not for others. This is due to the long-term decisions about where people live and work as well as the purchase of vehicles and the acquisition of licences and skills.

Involves co-operation throughout society – Many of the negative impacts of travel, such as climate change, are diffused throughout society and are caused by the travel behaviour of many individuals. In order to make an impact on these problems associated with travel, a co-operative effort throughout society is needed. Increasing people’s sense of outcome efficacy could prove to be difficult under these circumstances. People with values that are socially orientated are more willing to co-operate, so promoting and priming such values may lead to a better uptake of public transport and active transport use.

Takes place in public – When people travel in cities they move through public places where their travel behaviour is on display to other members of the public. People who are conscious of this may want to show that they abide by social norms in order to gain social sanction. It becomes apparent as to what modes of transport people are taking by just being in the street of a city. Through observing this street scene, descriptive social norms may be evoked by seeing the prevalent modes of transport being used. This will reinforce current patterns of travel behaviour, particularly when this behaviour is more public than other travel. For example, the public cannot as readily see how well patronised trains are because they take up less public space than individuals driving cars.

Involves a complex mix of skills, protocols and navigation – To use a mode of transport, a variety of skills may be required such as driving a car, riding a bicycle, understanding a ticketing system, or entering and exiting vehicles. These skills may require learning and practice to stay confident and increase one’s self efficacy. The more one uses a particular mode of transport, the more confident they will be in the skills needed to use it. Similarly, one needs to know the appropriate protocols and navigation in order to negotiate the transport system successfully. These depend on how legible the transport system is. One gains confidence in one’s ability to undertake these protocols and navigation through experience.

Pervasive presence – Transport infrastructure is a dominating element of cities. Exposure to roads, parking, footpaths, bus stops and railways is a part of everyday life. Consequently, they reinforce descriptive social norms around travel behaviour, because they provide evidence of the use of the various modes of transport. Large car parks and roads do not need to be filled with cars for people to see that they cater for a substantial population of cars. Evidence of public transport, cycling and walking, such as bike paths and bus shelters, could evoke social norms around the use of these forms of transport.

Confronted by a number of situations while travelling – While travelling, people are confronted by a number of different environments and sensations. This is part of the evolving nature of urban transport and the diversity of environments within the city. This may lead to a range of emotions being experienced. It may also put people in situations where they feel they have less control, such as driving on a congested road or waiting for a train that is late. This may decrease people’s perceived self-efficacy.

So these are just a few things to think about that might be part of the equation when we are using one or mode of transport or another. However, for the equation to make sense, we need to understand what affects these determinants of behaviour and to do this we will explore our world (and the messages it contains and how we interact with them) a little more in the next chapter….