School-University Partnership Initiative (SUPI)

‘Your car is not a coat!’ – How can we ‘nudge’ people to switch off their car engines?

When this activity has previously been done with a school, an introductory presentation was given on the ideas behind nudge theory, using visual examples and things students can relate to (e.g. impact on human behaviour by changing the messenger using Obama vs Miley Cyrus). Students changed their opinions about a statement once I changed the messenger.

After this students are organised into groups with aach group tasked with designing a nudge aimed at their family and local community to encourage them to stop idling their car engine unnecessarily. After the session students went away and conducted primary research (counted number of idles over 10 seconds in a single journey in the family car and the science teachers supervised them on the road outside their school to monitor passing traffic and collected some samples of air pollution on glass slides).

After a couple of weeks I went back into a lesson to help the students shape their ideas and develop their research posters, which were printed and displayed at a research conference. It was important at this stage to ‘model’ how other people had used nudge to change behaviours.

Learning objectives/session outcomes

  • To be able to discuss why individual behaviour is important for the environment.
  • To be able to communicate ideas in a formal presentation.
  • To understand more about the role of researchers at the University of Manchester.

Intended age group/Key Stage

Year 7

Subject/Curriculum links

Can link into Science (environment stewardship) and/or RE pupils (risky behaviour)


Yes – the idea of nudge is intuitive so can be explained relatively easily. However, the application and manifestation of nudge in practical context is complex and involves difficult political and ethical issues. So there is certainly scope for making this project more challenging for a different age group.


Needs to be done over several sessions


Daniel Fitzpatrick, Research Associate.