CHARM is a major new project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council which will investigate whether we can shape individual behaviour by communicating what other people do. CHARM includes seven people and involves three universities, Kingston University, UWE and Swansea University. The principal investigator is Ruth Rettie, co-investigators are Matt Studley and Parisa Eslambolchilar. The project is co-ordinated at Kingston University by Kevin Burchell, Senior Research Fellow. The study is truly inter-disciplinary and draws upon research in sociology, social psychology and behavioural economics that leverages people's innate desire to conform to what is perceived as 'normal' behaviour.
Everyday practices and habits are grounded in taken-for-granted assumptions about ‘normal’ practices, e.g. that one should wash bedding every two weeks, leave kitchen appliances plugged in and switched on, drive children to school, etc. This sort of behaviour is often not a calculated choice, but taken-for-granted, as an inherent aspect of modern life. This helps to explain why traditional approaches that try to change behaviour by directly influencing attitudes and intentions often prove ineffective. However, studies in several related disciplines suggest that everyday practices are malleable, and can be nudged in a socially desirable direction by subtle forms of social influence. In particular, research indicates that feedback on an individual’s level of performance (e.g. electricity consumption) can change their behaviour, and moreover, that this effect is enhanced if supplemented by feedback on the performance of a relevant social group. This project will evaluate this process, using and developing digital technology to facilitate the capture and feedback of individual and social group information in a non-invasive, cost effective and timely manner. There are three case studies) electricity consumption, 2) active lifestyle and 3) Social network site.
CHARM will provide a detailed understanding of conceptions of ‘normal’ practices, of their amenability to change, and of the ways in which they can be shaped by social group feedback.