Stopping and thinking!

Stopping and Thinking | Hindawi Blog

Robert West is Professor of Health Psychology at University College London. He is Editor-in-Chief of the journal Addiction and has published more than 600 academic works. His research includes population studies of smoking cessation and development and evaluation of smoking cessation interventions. He has co-authored the book Theory of Addiction. In today’s guest post, he talks about behaviours that should be easy to change but seldom are.

Humans are not particularly strong, fast, agile or hardy. We got where we are today by being able to think. We don’t just act on impulse – we reflect on what would be a good thing to do and we plan ahead. Only, much of the time unfortunately we don’t! Or if we do, we let our emotions and impulses govern or override our thoughts.

This is not good. In fact it’s very bad. During my event – “What are you doing and why?!” – at this year’s Pint of Science Festival I will look at how to prevent our hearts, stomachs, spleens or other dumb organs from ruling our head. As a spoiler alert – the answer is to train, persuade or trick our dumb organs into doing what our head thinks we should do.

You may be thinking that what I am proposing is some kind of Spockian (the one in Star Trek!) dystopia – doing what’s right and logical, with no joy, fulfilment or edge. I’m not. Emotions evolved to motivate us and they are essential in keeping us alive and kicking. Their role is to get us to set goals – but once they have done that they must be put to one side while we let our head get on with the business of figuring out how to achieve them. And when we achieve our goals we can rightly feel pleasure and satisfaction in doing so.

The Behavioural Sciences (psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, neuroscience etc) have a lot to say on this subject. There is much still to learn, but if we just put into practice what we already know, we can make our own and other people’s lives a lot more enjoyable and satisfying.

Whether it’s giving up smoking, eating a healthier diet, exercising more, driving more safely, reducing air pollution, or any of a huge array of behaviours, we have principles and evidence on how to improve behaviour patterns. During my talk at the Pint of Science Festival I will take our group on a sightseeing tour of this fascinating landscape.


Dr West’s event has already sold out. If you are interested in attending other events in the “Beautiful Mind” series, you can order tickets on the Pint of Science website.

Opinions in this blog post are that of the author, and not necessarily that of Hindawi. The text in this blog post is by Robert West and is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). Photo by Robert West. Illustration by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.