The science behind encouraging people to take positive action to cut pollution

  • Date

    Tue 2 Mar 21

Dr Marie Juanchich

Essex psychologists are acting as scientific advisors on a project aimed at cutting pollution in Colchester.

As part of a campaign to improve air quality Colchester Borough Council has installed new signs at two of the town’s pollution hotspots – Brook Street and the East Gates rail crossing. The aim is to encourage drivers to switch off their engines when the lights are red or the crossing closed.

The wording for the signs has been chosen to appeal to drivers better nature - numerous scientific studies have shown if you ask someone to do something that will benefit them or others they are much more likely to do it than if you simply give them an instruction.

Similarly people like to feel they are doing the right thing, so a simple reminder for them to act responsibly and think about their actions, can make the difference between them doing the right thing or not.

For the next 18 months, assistant researchers from will regularly monitor the number of drivers switching off their engines, and the impact on air quality near the signs.

It is hoped that by taking a psychological approach the signs will encourage as many drivers as possible to take immediate action. The researchers will also consider whether the signs need to be rotated to help maintain positive behaviour change and to reduce the risk of drivers becoming tired of the messages. 

Dr Marie Juanchich, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex is working alongside colleagues Professor Sheena Orbell and Dr Kathryn Buchanan on the project. She said: “We are happy to support Colchester Borough Council in their plans to cut pollution in our town and to improve air quality.  As scientific advisors on the project, we ensure the benefits of this programme are thoroughly evaluated so findings could inspire future actions to curb pollution.”

Councillor Martin Goss added: “Air quality in Colchester affects everyone who lives and visits our town. Car pollution is a major source of pollution and as much as 30% comes from vehicle engines kept running when stationary. We hope these new Council signs will help remind drivers of the simple actions they can take to help improve the air we all breathe.”

The project is funded by the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and supports the Colchester-wide CAReless Pollution campaign, which aims to cut pollution in Colchester by up to 30%.

Find out more about CAReless pollution at