Research suggests peers more motivating than health in ‘stepping up’

Three of the posters installed at UniSA’s City East campus to test which health messages are most likely to prompt people to take the stairs instead of the lift. HEALTH
Three of the posters installed at UniSA’s City East campus to test which health messages are most likely to prompt people to take the stairs instead of the lift.

If you frequently travel between floors, there’s often a choice to make: take the lift or take the stairs. For many people, the lift is the easy option – whereas the stairs require extra effort and exertion.

As a result of the study, the School of Health Sciences decided to install permanent large-scale messages on the lift doors in City East’s Centenary Building.As a result of the study, the School of Health Sciences decided to install permanent large-scale messages on the lift doors in City East’s Centenary Building.

Daily stair use has been associated with multiple health benefits including reduced cholesterol levels, decreased body fat and increased lower limb strength. Despite this, research suggests that fewer than 10 per cent of people choose the stairs over the lift.

But the work of UniSA’s School of Health Sciences is challenging that by examining what motivates people to take the stairs more often. Using colourful point-of-decision stair prompt posters, the research examined whether social or health messages had a greater impact on an individual’s decision to take the stairs.

Lead researcher, Dr Alyson Crozier, says the results were surprising, showing that people were more likely to use the stairs when they considered it to be a typical and desirable behaviour valued by their peers.

“When we used posters with social messages – things like, ‘We’re doing it, are you? Join us in taking the stairs’, we saw a distinct change in people’s behaviours, increasing stair usage by four per cent,” Dr Crozier says.

Helping people to find the stairs.Helping people to find the stairs.

This increased the number of people taking the stairs by about 100 per day, or 500 per week.

“When you generally think about what would motivate people to use the stairs over the lift, it seems logical to think that health messages – like ‘Taking the stairs burns more calories than taking the lift’, or ‘Take the stairs for your health’ – would have a greater influence on people’s behaviours, but this was not the case.”

Conducted over a four-week period, the study is the first study to find evidence that social messages were more effective at increasing stair use than health-focused messages.

“Most stair intervention studies have used prompts that emphasise the health benefits of taking the stairs,” Dr Crozier says.

“And while health messages do influence people’s decisions they do so less than what we observed via social messages.

“Plus, when people perceive that others took the stairs, and that others approved stair use, the more likely an individual was to take the stairs.”

Conducted in UniSA’s historic Centenary Building on the City East campus, the research also sought to ease elevator traffic to the building’s first and second floors – those easily accessed via stairs –while concurrently increasing awareness of the buildings difficult-to-find stairways.

“The layout of the Centenary building is such that the stairs can be quite hard to find,” Dr Crozier says.

“This research has definitely helped people become more aware of our elusive stairways. And following the study, the School of Health Sciences decided to install permanent large-scale messages on the lift doors, to keep up the level of awareness.

“But we’re using a mix of health and social messages – just to make sure we’re covering all bases.”

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