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Bad behaviour - local sixth formers invited to have their say

Press release issued: 15 March 2010

What do we really know about risky behaviours such as smoking, drinking and taking drugs? An event organised by the University of Bristol this week, part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science, aims to find out.

Sixth formers from local schools will meet experts in economics, experimental psychology and public health, learn about their research, and discuss a range of health-related issues from obesity to recreational drug use at the event, entitled Social science and bad behaviour: causes, consequences, solutions, at the Watershed on Wednesday 17 March.

Talks will be given by Dr Matteo Galizzi, an economist at Queen Mary, University of London, and the University of Brescia, Italy, Dr Marcus Munafo, an experimental psychologist at the University of Bristol and Dr Marianne van den Bree, an epidemiologist at Cardiff University.

Before each talk, the students will to vote electronically on key questions about the speaker’s subject.  After the talk, they’ll be asked to vote again.  The votes from before and after each talk will be collated, and the students will be invited to discuss how and why their views might have changed, how their experience compared to the group as a whole, and whether they were swayed by the speakers as much – or as little – as everyone else.

Dr Matteo Galizzi will talk about a real-life experiment he conducted in which participants' risk preferences were measured to test the hypothesis that people who enjoy risk-taking care less about their future and so eat poorly, drink more and smoke.

Dr Marcus Munafo will focus on the controversial subject of the harm associated with drug use and the difficulty of assessing the different risks that come from using different drugs.  He will ask the audience to consider what constitutes ‘harm’, how these harms might be measured objectively, and how different drugs compare with respect to these harms.

Dr Marianne van den Bree will discuss some of the findings from her studies into young people’s alcohol use, related behaviours and life choices.  Her research examines such questions as whether heavy alcohol use and frequent drunkenness are low risk behaviours which are a normal part of growing up, or whether there are groups of adolescents for whom these behaviours pose a high risk of alcoholism and other alcohol-related problems.

Dr Paul Clarke of Bristol University’s Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO) which is organising the event, said: “Obesity and risky behaviours such as the misuse of alcohol or recreational drugs are frequently subject to adverse media attention.  The public debate is often couched in moral terms, and the role of science in the debate has recently made headline news; for example, Health Secretary Alan Johnson’s sacking of the senior advisor on drug classification, David Nutt, who is a former professor of psychopharmacology at Bristol University. 

“We hope this event will encourage young people to consider how science can help to answer important policy questions in these areas, and to understand more about the interplay between scientific evidence, political expediency and established moral positions.”

Social science and bad behaviour: causes, consequences, solutions takes place at Watershed, 1 Canon’s Road, Harbourside, Bristol BS1 5TX on Wednesday 17 March between 2pm and 4pm.

The ESRC Festival of Social Science takes place from Friday 12 March to Sunday 21 March as part of National Science and Engineering Week.  Over 130 events will take place in 7 regions and over 40 different cities in the UK.  Events take a variety of formats: from traditional lectures and exhibitions to theatrical performances, film screenings and topical debates.  Events are aimed at a range of different audiences, including policy makers, business, the media, the general public and students of all ages.

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