Exploring alternatives to rational choice in models of Behaviour
: An investigation using travel mode choice

  • Greg Thomas

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The car is the most popular travel mode in the UK, but reliance on the car has numerous negative effects on health, the economy, and the environment. Encouraging sustainable travel mode choices (modal choice) can minimise these problems. To promote behaviour change, psychologists have an interest in understanding modal choice. Historically, modal choice has been understood as a reasoned and rational decision that requires a conscious assessment of thoughts and attitudes: but evidence suggests this approach has limitations when promoting behaviour change. Alternatively, processes that are automatically enacted, without conscious effort, can have an influence on thought and behaviour. Two automatic processes in particular have been proposed as useful factors when considering modal choice: habit and affect. Habits are behaviours that are learned over time in stable contexts, have become automatic, and moderate the link between intentions and behaviour. Affect is an automatically positive or negative sensation, which can influence consciously accessed attitudes and perceptions. This thesis explores these two automatic concepts in travel mode choice, with the aim of applying the concepts to promote sustainable travel. Using a mixed-methods approach, initial exploratory work used qualitative and quantitative methods to define how people construct affective responses to modal choice, and whether certain travel modes are more automatic than others. The exploratory work inspired three investigations: modelling the influence of automatic and reasoned decisions to use a travel mode, measuring automatic and implicit environmental preferences, and illustrating how changing the context of routines can increase use of available information. Exploratory and investigative results are then applied in the creation of the UK’s first Walking Network, a series of walking routes designed to deliver targeted information and knowledge to promote walking. This thesis concludes that automatic influences are beneficial factors when considering modal change interventions.
Date of Award28 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorIan Walker (Supervisor) & Bas Verplanken (Supervisor)


  • Psychology
  • transport
  • environmental psychology
  • habit
  • affect

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