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An exciting new series of Life Solved returns this January, showcasing how research changes our world, and why people do it

5 January 2023


Mapping microplastics in our coastal waters, how to solve the UK’s water supply crisis, the evolution of cybersexualities, and how fashion and the internet are changing the status of women in Iran are some of the ideas and innovations that feature in the new series of the University of Portsmouth podcast Life Solved, which returns this New Year. 

In each weekly episode, researchers talk in-depth about the work they’re doing and how it is changing everyday life for the many. 

With the ideas unpacked in straight-talking chat, Life Solved is set to spark conversation for curious thinkers and those who like to be in the know on the latest innovations in technology, medicine, the environment, social theory and beyond.

Research at the University of Portsmouth was rated as world-leading in the latest national assessment of the quality and impact of research in UK universities and is home to several high-profile innovation hubs, including the Centre for Creative and Immersive Extended Reality (CCIXR), Revolution Plastics, and the Quality of Life, Health and Wellbeing Research Group.

Professor Jeremy Howells, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, said: “I am proud to say the University is leading the way in many areas of research, both nationally and internationally. The Life Solved podcast helps lift the curtain on the incredible strides our staff and students are making, and gives the public a chance to hear how these achievements impact their day-to-day lives.”

Life Solved series 10 launches this week on Thursday (5 January) with an episode exploring the power of public perception in the fight against climate change.

You can listen to Life Solved on all major podcast players, via Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts or other apps. Just search for ‘Life Solved’ and press the subscribe button. 

Life Solved is also available to stream via the University of Portsmouth website.

The power of public perception in the fight against climate change

 Hello and welcome to this Life Solved Short.

I'm Robyn Montague, and in these videos, we get to chat with University of Portsmouth researchers who are working to change our world for the better.

This time, how can public perception help in the fight against climate change?

I'm catching up with Dr.

Chris Jones, from the Department of Psychology here at the Uni, to discuss his research and how we can all be positively influenced to live more sustainable lifestyles.

Veganuary returns this month with many adopting a plant based diet for 31 days.

But meat consumption is just one part of a bigger environmental picture, and Chris has been a key part of many studies on how thinking can be changed, from how we heat to homes to the clothes we buy.

Chris, thank you so much for joining me today.

How are you?

I'm very well, thank you.


So firstly, what drew you to this aspect of psychology and you know, what kind of drew your attention that way as opposed to other elements, which might be a little bit more obvious, I suppose?

Well, that's an interesting question.

It's probably my dad, I would say, indirectly.

So I was doing work as a...

well in my PhD, looking at how people form attitudes towards novel things as a result of their experience with those things.

So I sort of developed an appreciation of people's attitudes and how they relate to people's intentions and their actions.

Then I had the opportunity to become part of a research grant, that happened to coincide with me finishing my PhD.

That project was called Understanding Risk, Climate Change and Energy Choices, and so that gave me the opportunity to apply the research that I've been doing around attitude formation to the climate change context and the energy choices context, which relates very strongly to climate change as an issue.

Now why this relates to my dad?

Well, because my dad worked in the energy industry for all of his career.

So I grew up in the shadow of the cooling towers of power stations.

And so I've always had this interest in how energy is generated in supply times of electricity generated by time.

And that's that's a key thing there, because I think a lot of the time when you think of energy in the environment, you think of new technology, you think of science, and those are the big fields that are making a big impact.

However, when you talk about the psychology behind it and how people are responding to these changes, it can have a big impact.


We do know quite a lot about what makes people tick in this particular area, particularly around how they are responding to the big issues that are facing us, like climate change in a lot of work in terms of what drives people to act or not to act on these issues, how we can better create communication materials to foster and facilitate the right kinds of behaviours.

And also, you know, again, applying that to energy use in the home, again we know a little bit more now than we did previously about the reasons as to why people utilise energy in the home, why people respond or don't respond appropriately to the kinds of interventions that we're devising to reduce energy consumption in the home, why people don't take onboard insulation schemes when they're offered, etc., So we know we're doing a lot of work in this area and there is a relatively mature literature now that we can draw upon.

I guess it's probably now incumbent upon us as academics to be a bit better at speaking to those who need to utilise our research about how to do so effectively in order to create the changes that we need.

And are you finding now that because of some of the projects you've worked on recently and the fact that it is, you know, it is something that's being considered more when these emerging technologies or plans are being put in place, that they start to think about how the public...

how is the public going to react to, you know, this implementation of, say, a new type of energy device or a new way of getting electricity, etc..

Do you think that businesses are starting to clock onto that more now and that they're starting to build that into their plans right from the offset?

Yes and no.

I mean, I think that there has been a shift really in terms of how technologies are being developed and deployed.

If we're looking at electricity generating technologies as an example, in the past it was quite commonplace in the UK to have a very top down decision making process where experts or politicians or technologists came up with the ideas, the solutions to the problems that we had.

And then they launched them on society and said, you know, here we go, this will solve the problem.

You should be willing to accept these things.

And of course, that created a lot of issues.

You know, a lot of people don't like the idea of having decisions made behind their backs, you know, behind closed doors and then sort of launched upon them.

And a lot of people rallied against the the sort of decisions which were being made.

It may not be the case that they are rejecting the technology per se.

And I think that's an important thing to to distinguish really.

They might like the technology, but they don't like the way in which the decisions have been made relating to that technology.

And if you'd gone about employing much more of an inclusive, participatory decision making process, then you might not actually face those issues.

I think we're now in a situation where we are more aware of the value of participatory planning.

Participatory design and topics like co-design tend to frequently feature in the work that I do.

So this is working directly with the people who are going to be affected by the technologies in order to listen to what their their hopes, dreams, aspirations, concerns, attitudes, beliefs on, so forth are.

And then you can integrate those into the decisions you're making, be those the particular design of the technology that you're creating so that it more closely maps to what they expect or what they want from it, or listening to host communities, in order to understand as to well Why are they potentially opposed to the siting of a wind farm or a facility in their community?

Is it because they don't like the technology, in which case?

Well, you maybe have to work with them in order to understand better as to the value of that technology, potentially.

But maybe it's something to do with the decision making process or this specific site which has been selected.

You know, maybe there is another site locally which they understand as being better for this technology.

So you just said that about smart meters in particular.

What examples do you mean by the way in which that displayed?

How does that affect how we use them?

Well, I mean, so there are a number of different ways in which you can feed back information to people about the energy that they're using and the consequence that it has.

You know, commonly you will see things like the cost associated with the energy that you're using.

And of course, currently that is a big issue for a lot of people because the, you know, cost of living is increasing, the cost of energy has gone up massively.

And so people are going to be more responsive to those kinds of financial feedback levers in terms of understanding what what kind of consumption that they have within the home.

And then maybe working to address that, but that's just one option.

Another option would be, of course, around carbon emitted.

So again, you're trying to create a sense of the carbon contribution of your actions in the home and therefore the contributions to climate change that that would have.

That's more of an environmental lever.

So it's not just about looking at the cost to the environment, it's also the cost to yourself.

So you're trying to work out what people respond to best in order to make that, you know, piece of technology or that device better functioning, I suppose.

Well, yeah.

And so and I think one thing to to clarify here is using the term people, is probably not best in this context because people are different.

You and I are different.

Me and my wife are different.

You know, there's lots of diversity out there in society.

And there's diversity in terms of how different communities are going to respond to different kinds of messages.

So, you know, some people will respond quite well to a financial message, particularly if they are really sort of focussed on the financial side of the issues, maybe because they're living in fuel poverty or what have you.

People who are slightly more affluent may not necessarily respond so much to those those financial messages, but may respond better to the environmental message that comes with the carbon, sort of, generated communication that can come from these devices.

So where I'm going with this, I guess, is basically it's understanding that it's not a one size fits all solution here.

The kinds of messages which are going to work well with one group won't necessarily work so well with another group.

And it's about understanding your audience better, ensuring that you are tailoring your message appropriately to the groups that you're trying to... to influence in a positive way, of course.

And and so that's a key thing to bear in mind when we're talking about the general public.

We're actually talking about the general publics.

And I'll often use the term publics in the work that I do because it better recognises the fact that we're talking about a very diverse group in society, a diverse number of groups.

And it's not just technology here that we're talking about is also it can also be used or public perception also has a big role to play in our lifestyles day to day.

And, you know, it's January, we are talking about Veganuary as well and sustainability all kind of ties in with the same themes.

And so what other things have you worked on outside of the technology aspect that have helped times of environment?

Well, I think so.

One interesting thing that I've I've been a part of, which builds on work from health psychology, is around the kinds of trade off beliefs that people have in terms of how their actions impact on the environment.

And so therefore, what is and what is not allowable and in terms of how they can act towards the environment.

So to give you an example, so sustainable lifestyles, we're talking about sustainable lifestyles, then we're talking about quite a complicated thing and we're talking about a lifestyle which has a tolerable impact upon the environment or ideally has a positive benefit to the environment.

But if you think about the day to day things that you do in your life, they're manifold and diverse.

So you know, the food that you eat, the way in which you clothe yourself, the way in which you heat your home, the way in which you travel from home to work, etc..

These these are all things which have an implication for the environment and this complexity can often be quite confusing for people, you know, what is the right choice?

You know, what is allowable within their life if they want to be pro-environmental, what's not allowable?

But equally, you know, we're sat in a in a context often where we we want to live well and we want to have nice things and these nice things are tempting to us, you know, we might want to go out for a nice steak now and again or we might want to drive a nice car or we might want to fly away on holiday.

So there's a lot of complexity out there which creates problems for people because they're not necessarily going to be sure as to what the best options are.

But there's a lot of complexity out there which can also be exploited if people want to live nice lifestyles, whilst also maintaining that perception of themselves as being quite pro-environmental.

And so that's where my interests lie.

It's about, well, okay, how do people make these trade offs between the good and the bad things that they do in life?

And what is the psychology behind that?

What are the mechanisms that underpin that?

And one of the things that we're looking at within this space is the compensatory green belief, this is a belief that by doing something good for the environment or by planning to do something good for the environment, that somehow atones for doing something more negative.

So if I am doing veganuary, for example, then that will mean that I'm allowed to fly away on holiday later in the year because these things balance out.

Okay, in reality, they may not balance out at all, and it might be that you make promises to yourself at times, ones that you don't necessarily fulfil, but they are sort of cognitive... cognitive dissonance resoluting, things that we can use, you know, if we feel a bit guilty, if we feel a little bit bad, actually making these trade off decisions in our heads are going through these justifications that somehow makes these things a little bit more allowable, which allows us to resolve the guilt we feel and then we can move on.

And how does knowing that and how does recognising those those trends and those traits.

How can you work around them, I suppose?

How can you try and encourage people not to do that as much when it comes to green decisions?


So that's an interesting question.

We are beginning to work on this a little bit.

So, I mean, one of the big areas of research interest currently in psychology is around a spill-over effect.

So positive spill-over effects, particularly the kind of the great hope for society or one great hope for society.

This is where you intervene in one aspect of a person's life.

And maybe this is how their diet at work, for example.

And you hope that by intervening in that context, that then bleeds through to other aspects of their life.

So maybe it impacts upon their diet at home or maybe it impacts upon their energies at home.

So there is interesting sort of direct and indirect relationships that we're interested in.

But the kind of take home point here is that this concept of acting in one or intervening in one aspect of a person's life in order to have benefits on another person, aspect of a person's life is seen as important.

Within that space though, you also have these negative relationships as well or negative spill-over effects.

So that's perhaps a bit more akin to what I was talking around these these compensatory beliefs.

So this is where you intervene on one aspect of a person's life.

So you intervene on their diet at work, and then people utilise as an excuse for not acting in other areas of their life.

Well, now, by doing work in these particular spaces around spill-over effects and what have you, then we are beginning to learn a little bit more as to what can be used to promote positive spill-over effects and reduce these kind of, compensatory beliefs, or reduce these negative spill-over effects or rebound effects more effectively.

One of the things that we've identified through the work that I've been involved with is the importance of identity.

So if you can kind of work to strengthen a person's sense of being green, green identity or pro-environmental identity, then that's more likely to lead to these positive spill-over effects occurring.

Because if you think about yourself as being green in one aspect of your life, you're more likely to want to act in a consistent way in other aspects of your life.

So if an intervention works to affect your sense of identity and makes you feel greener, then if you go out of the context within which you are intervened upon, into other aspects of your life, and you have that greater sense or a stronger sense of being green, you're more likely to want to act green in other areas of your life.

So that's a way in which we're trying to work in order to facilitate more consistency in terms of how people are acting in their life in a pro-environmental sense.

And a lot of it can come down to messaging and education and what have you.

But education, messaging, those kinds of things are only part and parcel of a much bigger whole.

You know, people can't act in a pro-environmental way if you don't allow them to do so.

So looking at the environment around a person and whether or not that's conducive to environmental action or not.


Thanks so much for your time today, Chris.

It was really interesting and I have no doubt it will help many of us struggling to, sort of, keep up on New Year's resolutions to probably just think a little bit harder about public perception.

And also, I think the most interesting thing out of all of that was what you said about the Spill-Over effect.

So if I am going to do something positive in the New Year to help, you know, maybe recycle a little bit more, I have to make sure I don't tip in the other direction in something else I do.

If you want to delve into the full interview, go to the website where you can find the links to listen to the Life Solved podcast or search for Life Solved wherever you listen to podcasts.

You can also head to to find out some of the amazing stuff we're doing here at the University of Portsmouth.

See you again next time.

EP01: The Power of Public Perception in the Fight Against Climate Change ft. Dr Chris Jones, a Reader in Applied Psychology at the University of Portsmouth and Director of the Quality Of Life, Health & Wellbeing Group 

Thursday 5 January 2023

EP02: Mapping Microplastics ft. Dr Fay Couceiro, Reader in Biogeochemistry and Environmental Pollution at the University of Portsmouth

Thursday 12 January 2023

EP03: Rise of the Franchise ft. Professor Lincoln Geraghty, Professor of Media Cultures in the Film, Media and Communications School at The University of Portsmouth 

Thursday 19 January 2023

EP04: How to Solve the UK’s Water Supply Crisis ft. Dr Peter Cruddas, a Senior Lecturer in Water Environmental Engineering in the School of Civil Engineering And Surveying at the University of Portsmouth

Thursday 26 January 2023

EP05: Virtual Reality Relics ft. Dr Claire Bailey-Ross, Associate Dean Academic in the Faculty of Creative & Cultural Industries at the University of Portsmouth 

Thursday 2 February 2023

EP06: Leveraging Virtual Reality for Crime Prevention ft. Matthew Talbot from the Department of Psychology

Thursday 9 February 2023

EP07: The evolution of cybersexualities ft. Dr Trudy Barber from the School of Film, Media and Communication in the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries

Thursday 16 February 2023

EP08: Fraud in Our Future ft. Professor Mark Button, Director for the University’s Centre for Counter Fraud Studies 

Thursday 23 February 2023

EP09: How fashion and the internet are changing the status of women in Iran ft. Dr Mahsa Ghaffari, Senior Lecturer in the Strategy, Marketing and Innovation Department, within the Faculty of Business and Law at the University of Portsmouth 

Thursday 2 March 2023

EP10: The Film Industry's Diversity Battle ft. Professor Deborah Shaw, Professor of Film and Screen Studies, Faculty of Creative & Cultural Industries, School of Film, Media & Communication 

Thursday 9 March 2023

EP11: Robotic Rehabilitation for Stroke Patients ft. Amy Wright is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Sport, Health and Exercise Science

Thursday 16 March 2023