Does the carrier bag charge make us more green?

Why does charging for carrier bags encourage environmentally-friendly behaviour, but other initiatives do not? This is the question being posed here by Lorraine Whitmarsh, Professor of Environmental Psychology in the School of Psychology, Cardiff University and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

You can also read this article in this month’s Society Now magazine, which is out later this week.

Lorraine Whitmarsh

Latest figures show that in less than a year, the English carrier bag charge has led to reductions in single-use carrier bags of around 80 per cent. This is similar to reductions achieved in other countries, including Wales (90 per cent), Scotland (80 per cent) and Northern Ireland (72 per cent), where similar charges have been implemented. Continue reading

The ‘photo-finish effect’: when third place winners are happier than second

Laura Kudrna, a London School of Economics scholarship PhD candidate, researches the effects of achievement on happiness, particularly focusing on examples of when greater success – be it financial, academic, romantic, or athletic – do not translate into greater wellbeing for individuals or societies.

The study, carried out at the ESRC-funded Centre for Economic Performance, recently attracted national headlines. Here Laura gives us a more detailed overview.

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Many of us have goals to be ‘better’ in some way. But does being better mean that we will be happier?

One of the most prominent examples of when greater success does not necessarily bring greater happiness is in the Olympics. Continue reading

Transforming what we know about how babies learn

In the latest in our series of biosocial blogs, Dr Victoria Leong, an ESRC Transformative Research Grant holder, and Dr Sam Wass, an ESRC Future Research Leader, talk about their research, which takes a new perspective on understanding how babies learn from their parents.

Dr Victoria Leong

Dr Victoria Leong

Dr Sam Wass

Dr Sam Wass


William James, the founding father of psychology, once declared that “Everyone knows what attention is. It is taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seems several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalisation, concentration of consciousness are of its essence. It implies a withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.”

Since then, the vast majority of researchers have followed his approach of assuming that attention (or concentration, in layman’s terms) is a property of individual minds, to be studied in isolation. Continue reading

How to combine sociology with biology – and why do it?

David Blane is professor emeritus of Imperial College London and professorial research associate of University College London. Former (2008-2012) deputy director of ESRC International Centre for Life Course Studies in Society and Health (ICLS), his interests include health inequalities, social gerontology and life course research.

Here, in the latest of our biosocial blogs, Professor Blane gives his ‘how to’ on combining sociology and biology in research.


Rudolf Virchow was a physician who believed that “Medicine is a social science; and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale”.

Rudolf Virchow

Rudolf Virchow

In 1848 he served on a commission of investigation into an epidemic of typhus in Prussian Upper Silesia. His report identified the social conditions there that made typhus (a louse-borne disease) endemic, and periodically epidemic, and wrote a social prescription to eliminate these circumstances by building roads, schools, democracy and jobs. As well as being one of the founders of public health, Virchow was a medical specialist in pathology, which he saw as the way to understand the link between social conditions and disease. Continue reading

‘Big data’ in action: Linking 180 million tweets with 600,000 police records

Professor Matthew Williams and Dr Pete Burnap are directors of the ESRC-funded Social Data Science Lab that continues the successful COSMOS programme of work. The Lab forms part of the Data Innovation Research Institute, which will be housed within the new Social Science Research Park at Cardiff University.

Together with colleagues (Dr Luke Sloan and Professor Omer Rana) they recently presented their intriguing findings about the power of pulling large sets of data from social media in front of 150 policymakers, academics and industry experts at the Data Science and Government ConferenceThe event, organised by the Behavioural Insights Team, looked at how emerging techniques in data science can best be used to support policy agendas in a range of areas.

Professor Matthew Williams and Dr Pete Burnap

Professor Matthew Williams and Dr Pete Burnap

Many would say there has been a lot of hype about the promise of Big Data and Data Science in government circles in recent years.  The Data Science and Government Conference gave one of the first opportunities for presenters, from government and academia, to demonstrate how very large datasets are being put to use in real-world policy contexts to address a range of pressing questions and to introduce new efficiencies. Recently the Cabinet Office developed a set of guidelines for the ethical use of big data in government projects.
Continue reading