An exploration of the importance of social influence in the decision to start bicycling in England

Henrietta Sherwin, Kiron Chatterjee, Juliet Jain

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (SciVal)


The purpose of this paper is to gain a better understanding, through qualitative exploration, of the ways in which social influence affects the decision to start bicycling in England. ‘Social influence’ is defined as the process by which an individual’s thoughts and actions are changed by the thoughts and action of others. Its role was investigated at three levels: the immediate family, household members and significant others (direct social influence); the extended family, friends, peers and colleagues (less direct social influence); and the wider cultural context (indirect social influence). Interviews with 61 individuals living in 12 towns and cities across England were analysed. Half of the interviewees were new regular bicyclists and the other half did not bicycle at all, or only occasionally. Social influence was found to be the dominant factor for a minority of the cases where participants started bicycling regularly. It played a role alongside other factors in other cases. It could take the form of direct influence from family, friends and peers or indirect influence from the social and cultural context. The analysis illustrates the difficulty of capturing social influence which is often hidden and emerges incidentally in the course of the interviews and interacts with other contributing factors. The role of social influence found in this research challenges the rational approach to explaining travel decision making that has traditionally dominated transport studies. The paper suggests that social processes could be harnessed to improve the efficacy of bicycling promotion programs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-45
JournalTransportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2014


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