Steer way to heaven

June 15, 2010 by
Filed under: Social brain, The RSA 


Today the RSA publishes a new report: ‘Steer, mastering our behaviour through instinct, environment and reason’. It is a product of our Social Brain project and was authored by Matt Grist, who has just this week left to start a new job with Demos.

There are four things I like about the report:

1. It draws on evidence about what drives our behaviour but is measured and balanced, and avoids the temptation to reduce human behaviour to neurological processes. There is a study which shows researchers have only to use the word neuroscience for people to be more likely to believe in any results they are told. Pop neuroscience is everywhere, including a piece in today’s Times saying that Robert Green’s mishap was down to the fact that our brains perceive our hands to be nearly twice the size they really are. Steer avoids the ‘voodoo correlations’ of some applied neuroscience.  

2. The core thesis is intellectually convincing and politically progressive. Instead of the benign paternalism of ‘Nudge’, it advocates giving people simple guides which make them better able to shape their behaviour. It recognises that much behaviour is automatic, not conscious, but it gives us the tools to consciously change our circumstances.

3. Although it is a small study, the research involved testing its ideas with a group of subjects. Finding out which ‘rules’ they found most useful immediately, and when asked a few weeks later, shows there is real potential in this approach (which we will be exploring in the next stage of the project).

4. It is short and well-written (always a relief when it comes to think tank reports).

Sadly, there is little sign of the work being picked up by the media – which given all the hype surrounding ‘Nudge’ is a pity. But who knows – maybe it’s a slow burner and I hope my wonderful (and, judging by yesterday’s discussion, deeply intellectual) blog readers will have a look and share it around.

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Comments

6 Comments on Steer way to heaven

  1. Martin Robinson on Tue, 15th Jun 2010 6:20 pm
  2. Matthew,

    I’ve just given a cursory read, and it looks like the report has some very useful suggestions.

    However, I am a bit perturbed by the suggestion for lessons on thinking about thinking, I believe that this approach has been found wanting. However thinking about how you approach learning, thinking, your behaviour and habits of mind throughout your schooling, has been shown to make a difference. Assessment is one of the ways into this.

    I believe that by addressing the problems of knowing how to learn and by opening up the importance of ‘cultural capital’ to students we can make a real difference to the quality and success of their schooling.

    I want to make a proposal, we will re-model the yesassess assessment system for your social brain project so that you can run it alongside other approaches to see how to ‘steer’ students, successfully, in schools.

  3. Jonathan Rowson on Wed, 16th Jun 2010 11:14 am
  4. Whatever you think of the behavioural science or methodology that underlies the report, the heart of Steer, for me, is political. It argues that knowledge is power, and that such power should be shared. http://www.leftfootforward.org/2010/06/changing-behaviour-change/

  5. oldandrew on Thu, 17th Jun 2010 7:34 pm
  6. “However, I am a bit perturbed by the suggestion for lessons on thinking about thinking, I believe that this approach has been found wanting.”

    I second that.

  7. Malcolm Bellamy on Sat, 19th Jun 2010 3:14 pm
  8. I downloaded the report and read it.. it has the following real advantages: (1) it is very readable (which is not always the case for documents covering neuro-psychology) (2) It has a number of practical suggestions that relate to real world situations… i.e. how these ideas can be applied to bad habit formation like smoking and compulsive over-eating.
    I do not agree with the comment made by Martin Robinson that “Thinking about Thinking” cannot be taught in schools. I feel that,like all of these things, it is the way it is presented that makes or breaks any new initiative…. I can see real mileage in these ideas. I hope that the report gets the coverage that it deserves.

  9. oldandrew on Mon, 21st Jun 2010 11:45 am
  10. “I do not agree with the comment made by Martin Robinson that “Thinking about Thinking” cannot be taught in schools”

    He never said that it couldn’t; he said that lessons in thinking about thinking had been tried and found wanting.

    I think he has a point. Attempts to do that sort of thing usually end up teaching students the obvious (e.g. “study skills”) or the false (e.g. “learning styles”).

  11. js on Sun, 27th Nov 2011 6:20 am
  12. > There is a study which shows researchers have only to use the word neuroscience for people to be more likely to believe in any results they are told.

    And for anyone interested, here it is:

    “The Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations”
    http://www.yale.edu/cogdevlab/aarticles/The%20Seductive%20Allure.pdf

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