Understanding public perceptions of and responses to heat waves: A behavioural decision research approach

Economic and Social Research Council

Heat waves cause excess deaths, illness and discomfort. Although heat waves have been relatively rare in the UK, they are projected to become more common and intense under a changing climate.

The summer of 2013 brought the first heat wave in seven years. To promote public protection against heat, the National Health Service and Public Health England released a heat wave plan. Recommended heat protection behaviours include staying in the shade, drinking plenty of liquids, and keeping an eye on vulnerable individuals. However, there is reason to believe that UK residents often have positive feelings about hot summer weather, which may undermine their willingness to implement recommended heat protection behaviours.

In a UK-wide project, we found that UK residents’ positive feelings about hot summer weather did indeed undermine their willingness to implement heat protection behaviours during the 2013 heat wave. We also tested four strategies for promoting heat protection behaviours. The most promising strategy involved invoking memories of negative experiences with summer heat. Most UK residents have had negative experiences with summer heat, but those memories often do not naturally come to mind. Reminding people of these experiences may increase willingness to implement heat protection behaviours.

To learn more about how to protect yourself against heat, please see: 

To learn more about our findings, please see:

To learn more about how to design effective communications, please see: 

For further information please contact:

Prof Wandi Bruine de Bruin (Principal Investigator) Leadership Chair in Behavioural Decision Making, Leeds University Business School, Co-Director of the university-wide Centre for Decision Research at the University of Leeds (UK).

Team members include:

  • Prof Suraje Dessai, Professor of Climate Change Adaptation, School of Earth & Environment, University of Leeds (UK)
  • Prof Baruch Fischhoff, Howard Heinz University Professor, Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University (US)
  • Dr Sari Kovats, Living With Environmental Change Health Fellow, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Dr Carmen Lefevre, Postdoc, Centre for Decision Research, University of Leeds (UK)
  • Dr. Andrea Taylor, Postdoc, Centre for Decision Research, University of Leeds (UK)