Environments influence behaviour

Some interesting experiments in Holland have confirmed that many people adjust their behaviour according to the people and environment around them. In this research it was a case of graffiti encouraging people to behave badly. But there is already plenty of evidence to suggest that you can change people’s behaviour by manipulating the environment. I’ve observed it myself many times. This subject is also covered in my John Wiley book Managing the Human Factor in Information Security.

It works at many levels. The size and shape of rooms and buildings, for example, affects team behaviour. And the practices of colleagues and cues in the immediate environment will have a major influence on individual behaviour. Even more significant is the impact of the cyberspace environment, where the sense of isolation, fantasy and the absence of prompts to correct bad behaviour can bring out the dark side in people.

Cyberspace is more dangerous than we imagine. It can encourage crime, inappropriate activity and aggressive behaviour. As people spend more and more time online, we need to develop mechanisms to keep this in check. Unfortunately, very few system designers and security managers appreciate that people might behave differently when they’re online. It’s time we raised the visibility of this phenomenon.