Travel behavior

Fresh in your mind: get on your bike!

Published on January 22, 2024

The bicycle. It is one of the most important solutions for accessibility and quality of life in our region. But how do you really persuade people to cycle more? With the help of SmartwayZ.NL, Brainport Bereikbaar commissioned behavioral agency Duwtje to develop behavioral interventions and to test the effects. One resulted in 6.9% more cycling! Behavioral specialist Loes Kievitsbosch (Duwtje) tells more about it.

How did you set up the behavioral pilot?

'As with every project, we first did research. We searched the literature, conducted interviews and made behavioral analyses. In this way we discover where the potential lies and we build interventions based on that. With Brainport Bereikbaar we decided to develop two themes for the bicycle: focusing on social norms and stimulating motivation. Social norms are about copying cycling behavior from others and yourself. You are more likely to cycle if you see many people cycling in your area: we want to fit in and that is why we adopt that behavior. You will also cycle more often if you find out that you have already cycled or cycled more than you thought, because humans have the inner urge to be consistent and act. With the theme of motivation, we focused on the intrinsic motivation to cycle because it is good for your physical and mental health.'

What results did the interventions aimed at social norms produce?

'Unfortunately, we did not see an increase in the number of cyclists when focusing on the social norm theme. This is also due to the fact that we missed data during the effect measurement. We therefore cannot make very reliable statements about whether there really was no effect. We did see that interest in communication around cycling was higher when we appealed to consistency than when we focused on the behavioral techniques of feedback and rewards. So you can take that into account in campaigns. For example, with photos that respond to the positive associations that people have with cycling. Think of the moment of happiness of cycling for the first time. Or the feeling of that kiss at the bicycle shed.'

What intrinsic motivators did you focus on in the health theme?

'One intervention, called 'Get moving', focused on cycling for your physical health. The other intervention focused on the intrinsic motivator 'mental health' under the slogan 'Fresh in your head'.

What were the results of that?

'Fortunately, we were able to make good measurements here due to sufficient data. Surprisingly: the intervention 'Fresh in your head' led to a significant increase in the cycling behavior of employees at Summa College, where this pilot was rolled out. 6.9% more was cycled! The 'Get moving' intervention showed no significant increase or decrease. So focusing on mental health works better than focusing on the physical health benefits of cycling.'

Do you have any idea what that could be?

'We think it has to do with what we in social psychology call 'delay discounting'. In other words, we assign less value to a reward in the distant future than to a reward in the near future. As soon as you get on your bike you almost immediately experience the mental health benefits: your head clears and you feel relaxed. But you only experience the physical health benefits such as better fitness or muscle building after a few weeks.'

What result surprised you the most?

'Your travel time as a sporting moment: two birds with one stone: from the behavioral analysis, that seemed to be such a strong intrinsic motivator for car and bicycle commuters. But this was not reflected in the practical results. That really amazed me.'

Suppose a municipality or employer wants to get started with one of these interventions. What is your golden tip?

'Then be sure to contact Brainport Bereikbaar! It wants to deploy the successful interventions more broadly throughout the southern Netherlands and help municipalities or employers apply the solutions in practice.'

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