Two_women_on_bikesOur attitudes and decisions regarding mobility are very much influenced by our psychology, by our beliefs and by the values imbued by our social relationships and our communities. But it is a two-way street; our psychological state affects our mobility, but mobility also affects our psychology. Our well-being requires the fulfilment of three basic needs: autonomy, that is, the freedom to explore our environment, competence, or feeling in control, and relatedness, our sense of connection with others. Yet the satisfaction of these needs is difficult (if not impossible) if we cannot move where, when and how we want.

The autonomy, control, connection and consequent sense of connection that mobility offers can also be taken away when mobility is restricted. For groups such as the elderly, the lack of mobility can have a negative social and psychological impact. Where entire communities are mobility-deprived, the community’s collective self-esteem suffers and this sense of exclusion and inequality – this sense of injustice and frustration – can lead to social ills such as xenophobia and radicalized behaviour.

But even in less extreme situations, psychological and sociological considerations play an important role. Aside from the standard neo-classical considerations of costs and benefits, there are “hedonic” factors that are harder to measure, intangibles such as perceived ease of use and “fun”. There are also normative rewards, like when people feel they are “doing the right thing”. All of these are important to consider if we want to encourage people to adopt more sustainable forms of transportation. Users need to perceive the costs as low and the benefits as high, and where costs are not low enough or hedonic benefits not high enough, there needs to be a normative payoff. This is where cultural and social influences come into play: for example, in countries where cycling is a social norm, it is easier to get people to adopt more sustainable forms of mobility.

Culture not only determines whether or not we are socially encouraged to embrace sustainability, it also influences how we perceive the space around us, our urban environment and the architecture that surrounds us. Social and spatial relationships, and thus mobility, are all interconnected. People exist within physical, mental and virtual spaces, and the line between these spaces has been blurred by social media and ICTs. People text and listen to music while walking down the street, internet communities mimic tight-knit rural communities in building networks of trust that generate new modes of travel such as ride sharing. We project an image and seek social approval through mobility, with the new mobility, sharing services and connectivity becoming new arbiters of status.

So how do we design policies to avoid locking marginalized groups into mobility-deprived ghettoes? How do we provide incentives, customized by culture and country, to encourage sustainable mobility? How do we design new mobility products and services that cross the physical and virtual worlds?

That is what the MIND-SETS approach, as well as the subsequent guidelines and Knowledge Centre, will address.

For more information, contact Berfu Unal of the University of Groningen