Exploring catalyst behaviours

Start date:
November 2008
November 2009

This research explores the idea that certain pro-environmental behaviours may have a knock-on effect and cause wider behaviour change.

Brook Lyndhurst’s ‘Exploring catalyst behaviours’ project, commissioned as part of Defra’s ongoing programme of research into pro-environmental behaviours, explores the idea that certain pro-environmental behaviours may have a knock-on effect and cause wider behaviour change. For example, is it possible that participation in a pro-environmental behaviour such as recycling or energy saving could spur individuals on to be more environmentally friendly in their purchasing or personal transport decisions? If so, how does this knock-on effect occur?


The project, was structured around the following research questions:

  • Is there plausible evidence that catalyst based behaviour change occurs?
  • How does the process or mechanism work (including psychological and sociological factors)?
  • Do catalyst effects occur generally, or do they occur only for specific behaviours or sets of behaviours; specific groups of people; under specific conditions?
  • If the process occurs, how can it be stimulated?


This study was devised around three phases:

Phase 1: Evidence review

  • Interviews with 20 'behaviour change' practitioners
  • Calls for information from online networks of behavior change practitioners
  • Desk based literature review, covering literature from the fields of psychology, sociology, marketing, health, economics and behaviour change in two stages: a scoping exercise and initial review; and a full systematic review.

Phase 2: Primary research

Pilot, exploratory exercise of qualitative fieldwork with a street sample of 18 participants using a multiple sorting procedure requiring participants to sort a set of elements into different categories. The overarching aim of the pilot exercise was to explore the relationships and links between different pro-environmental behaviours.

Cluster analysis of Defra’s Pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours survey. The aim of this exercise was to investigate the co-occurrence of pro-environmental behaviours across a larger, representative sample of the British public.

Phase 3: Analysis and reporting

  • Expert workshop
  • Brainstorming, analysis and writing


The reports are available to download from the links in the central column (underneath the project team).

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