Recognising that behaviour is often automatic, contingent on environmental cues and with limited self-regulation: the potentials of environmental prevention
The presentation explains the behavioural principles, rationale and modus operandi of environmental prevention as published in a recent EMCDDA report: changing and sustaining behaviour– often inconspicuously – by modifying the physical, economic and regulatory aspects of the environment that provide or reduce opportunities for behaviour. The working mode posits that changes of risk behaviour can occur directly by these interventions, but also by means of the principle that “attitude follows behaviour”: by reducing the opportunities for undesired behaviours to occur, its acceptability, normality and visibility decreases, hence norms, beliefs, attitudes and values surrounding it change as well. An example of these effects in practice can be seen from the changed status of cigarette smoking in many EU countries. Results from a first mapping exercise of the extent of availability and reinforcement of environmental prevention strategies will be shown, many of which are mentioned in evidence-reviews of the EMCDDA (Best Practice Portal) and the UNODC's international standards for substance use prevention. Beside well-known approaches such as regulating substances’ availability and prices, it draws attention to less obvious changes in the physical environment: serving sizes, outlet density, music and illumination. Group contingent behavioural incentives and normative control are pertaining principles that can also be applied in school-based interventions, such as the Good Behaviour Game, a manualised programme for primary school children with beneficial effects. A combination of environmental prevention principles being applied consistently at population level lie at the core of the so-called Icelandic approach. These include provision of supervised after-school leisure time through universal access to sport and cultural activities for youth, parental monitoring and encouraging joint family dinners. Current evidence-based behavioural interventions should be complemented by such interventions that take into account that human behaviour is often strongly contingent on environmental cues with limited self-regulation. Environmental prevention influences individuals’ automatic, natural and non-conscious behaviour for preventive purposes across a wide spectrum of domains including alcohol and drug use. It offers therefore promising tools for innovative prevention and regulatory responses in scenarios of cannabis legalisation.