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Environmentally Minded Research Project Blog Post

31 May 2023
Student Publication

Pollution has been classified as a ‘major threat to health’ by the WHO, with vehicles identified as one of the main sources of pollution. Traffic pollution has negative effects on people’s health, such as trachea irritation and aggravation of asthma, as well as their cognitive ability. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of pollution, since they breathe more rapidly, their lungs are still developing, and they are closer to the ground where pollutants are more concentrated. With pupils being subjected to poor air quality walking to school, on buses and even in school itself, it is vital that air quality is improved, not only around schools, but also elsewhere in busy towns and cities.

Under the guidance of their STEM partner- Professor Tim Hopthrow from The University of Kent- a group of Year 12 students have developed skills in reading and understanding academic articles and scientific reports related to their research, as well as learning the basics of experimental design in Psychology to design a field study aiming to reduce engine idling through psychologically derived messaging. Building on research carried out by Professor Hopthrow, which found that signs presenting psychological messages can reduce engine idling by up to 38%, students created road signs to be used in intervention conditions. They then completed training in data collection before collecting the data in the control and intervention conditions in May 2023. Using wearable air quality devices, students measured the air quality during the conditions at a traffic junction in Canterbury. Three conditions were studied, a control condition where no message was presented, and then two intervention conditions where two different messages were presented on a sign, each deriving from psychological theories. Each condition lasted a week and students also counted the number of cars with their engines on/off, taking into account electric vehicles where possible. They will soon take part in a workshop led by Professor Hopthrow, focusing on statistically analysing the data obtained in order to draw conclusions.

The students are expecting to find that the introduction of psychologically derived messages will reduce the number of idling cars at a particular long-wait stop in Canterbury, Kent, and that air quality will improve as a result. This expectation of results is based on data collection from prior research conducted by Professor Hopthrow that found that the number of drivers that switched off their engines increased by 42% in a social norms condition and 25% in an outcome efficacy condition. The students hope to conclude that air quality can be improved through behavioural change and are excited about the potential for their results to improve the environment.

Imogen E from Year 12