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Employing Behavioural Economics is child's play

Behavioural economics is a science concerned with the important psychological and behavioural variables involved in the economic decisions of consumers. It’s a proven discipline that is commonly utilised to define and understand buying behaviour and also to devise performance-improving incentive schemes.

Utilising the power of behavioural economics to change behaviour isn’t a new idea. In fact, even before it was termed a ‘science’ the scenarios we use logically today were being deployed as a way to change behaviour, to lead and to influence. 

BI WORLDWIDE spoke with David Hall a retired school teacher living in Wales about how, back in the 70s and 80s, the teachers at a local primary school utilised behavioural economics to influence the perceptions of their young students.

Markyate J.M.I - UK

When I was teaching at Markyate J.M.I. School, in Hertfordshire, we used to work with a 'Topic'-based curriculum. My colleague, Brenda Manning, and I were studying Local Services with parallel classes of Year Five and Year Six students.

As part of this project we arranged visits from some essential services, including the Postal Service, the Fire Service, and the Police Service.

Breaking the rules and the windows

There was one part of the topic that was particularly realistic. We were due to have all the windows replaced in the Junior Department of the school with some of the work to be completed during term time. As a way to dynamically demonstrate the devastation that can be caused by vandalism and robbery, Brenda and I asked the Head Teacher if we could use this opportunity to fake a break-in and vandalise our classrooms.

We discussed all aspects with the local PC, the Head, and other staff members. It was agreed. So, one morning, Brenda and I arrived at school early and began smashing the glass in the windows and doors of our classrooms. We upturned desks and scattered books and papers all over the place. We scrawled graffiti on the blackboards. I remember one was a protest about Luton Town FC being moved to Milton Keynes!

The local PC had arranged for some red and white striped tape with supports to be supplied, so we cordoned off the area close to our 'crime scene' and waited for the school gates to open.

Students Reactions to the Destruction

We waited outside the vandalised department to stop the students from entering the school and "destroying any evidence". Their reaction was amazing! We asked them to stay back as we had been burgled and the whole area had been vandalised. They were appalled and shocked. Their reaction was one of anger and concern that their precious work and folders may have been damaged or stolen. They were incensed that some 'yobs' had violated their space and ransacked their classrooms.

We warned them about taking care when they were eventually allowed to look in and see the devastation. They became animated and were heard to say things like, "I hope nothing has happened to all my drawings, pictures, reports!”.

We even had Scene of Crime Officers taking fingerprints and photos.

When the bell rang to start the school day, we gathered all the students in the School Hall where the PC explained what had happened and how we had faked the whole thing. The reaction was one of relief mixed with amazement that we had gone to such lengths to make it as realistic as possible.

By creating a physical and practical scene that personally affected the children, we challenged them, made them more aware of the impact of an action that can dramatically change lives. By making them the victims of a perceived crime, we made them question the impact from a personal view. I’m sure that, on that day, we set in motion a change of behaviour for some children. They all learned a valuable lesson about how devastating it felt to be an innocent victim of crime.

Final thought

Behavioural economics works; engaging and challenging people in work environments can change behaviour. BI WORLDWIDE has employed various methods across many hundreds of programmes globally over the last 30 years. Positive change that impacts sales, growth and engagement can be achieved. Ask us how.

Even now, some 30 years on, Mr Hall’s and Mrs Manning’s students remember these lessons with clarity.  These scenarios won’t generally be replicated in adult life, but the behaviour changing science behind them can be.


Markyate JMI School

Markyate Facebook Memories page

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