The Ostrich Problem
When and why people fail to monitor their goal progress
An ERC-funded Starting Grant awarded to Dr Thomas Webb
November 2011 - October 2015
About the project
One of the most significant challenges facing science and society is how to promote lasting changes in people’s behaviour. What kinds of interventions influence the behaviours that lead to obesity or persuade people to use less energy in their homes? This project argues that one reason that people struggle to change is that they fail to monitor the relation between their current behaviour and their desired behaviour. For example, few people watch their weight, monitor their household energy consumption, check their bank balances, look at nutrition labels on food and so on.
This active ignoring of information about one’s current standing relative to one’s goals – termed here ‘the ostrich problem’ – is part of popular culture, yet current scientific perspectives assume that people will actively monitor and seek information on their progress. As a consequence, theoretical frameworks fail to adequately describe and predict the outcomes of behaviour change efforts and current interventions fall short of promise. The project aims to challenge the assumption made by current theoretical frameworks and to investigate the nature and implications of the ostrich problem. The research will seek to explain why the ostrich problem exists and test avenues for intervention.
Webb, T. L., Harkin, B., Sheeran, P., Conner, M. T., Prestwich, A., Kellar, I., Chang, B., & Benn, Y. (2013, July). Does prompting self-monitoring of physical activity engender behaviour change? A meta-analysis of the experimental evidence. Paper presented at the 27th Conference of the European Health Psychology Society, Bordeaux, France. Abstract
Chang, B., Webb, T. L., Benn, Y., & Stride, C. (2013, June). How do people monitor their progress on personal goals? Paper presented at EASP Small Group Meeting on Motivational, affective, and cognitive sources of the knowledge formation process. Krakow, Poland. Abstract
Chang, B., Webb, T. L., & Benn, Y. (2013, July). Which Factors Predict How Often People Monitor their Personal Finances? Paper presented at the Motivation in Social Context Conference. Krakow, Poland. Abstract