Why are emotional appeals in advertising campaigns sometimes effective and sometimes not? How do we encourage fewer people to cycle in pedestrian areas? How do we study the effectiveness of measures to prevent tax evasion?
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Many organisations and companies benefit from effectively influencing the behaviour of citizens or consumers: Public health agencies try to stimulate people to exercise regularly, advertising agencies try to increase sales of a particular product, and municipalities try to discourage littering in parks. But how can we develop a strategy that is effective in achieving these goals?
For many years intuition, experience, and creativity were decisive factors when designing interventions in human behaviour. However, this did not always lead to effective interventions. A famous example of this concerns a unique forest in the United States: a sign was put up at the entrance informing people that a lot of petrified wood had gone missing as a result of vandalism and theft. However, this intervention actually led to more of the wood being stolen (Cialdini et al., 2006). Closer to home there also are examples of well-known campaigns which are not always the most effective: a billboard with an image of Miffy proved to be more effective at increasing road safety than the “wordt geen slaaprijder” (don’t be a drowsy driver) campaign.
Bearing these experiences in mind, there is an increasing need for evidence-based approaches when influencing human behaviour. An evidence-based approach entails applying scientific knowledge and a scientifically responsible method to develop more effective interventions. Recognising the value of this approach, various ministries have set up Behavioural Insights Teams to exploit insights from the behavioural sciences to design more effective interventions. And market research agencies that build on scientific knowledge about persuasion in the advertising industry are booming.
In this Master's track, students learn to apply social-psychological knowledge and scientifically responsible methods to analyse and empirically investigate the social-psychological determinants of behaviour; to develop evidence-based interventions in human behaviour, with an emphasis on behaviour with societal implications; and to develop strategies for evaluating those interventions.
Social psychology as a science aims to explain and predict human behaviour. The emphasis here is on understanding the role of the social context. Knowledge about determinants of behaviour, such as emotions, motivation, attitudes and group dynamics can, when coupled with a systematic approach to analysing and intervening in human behaviour, significantly increase the effectiveness of interventions.
During this Master’s track students have the opportunity to deepen their social-psychological knowledge and hone their research skills as well as learn about systematic, critical approaches to applied problems when influencing behaviour. Students work through various case studies to learn how to apply scientific knowledge and approaches to applied behavioural influence problems.
Students learn how to analyse concrete human behaviour using social-psychological theory and how to generate valid and reliable measurements of (current) attitudes, emotions, motivation and behaviour. Students also learn, step by step, how to develop interventions and how to evaluate those interventions using intervention mapping.
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