BACKGROUND: In Ecological models, physical environments can be important determinants of transport-related walking. With repeated exposure to the same environment, learning of a linkage between the cues in the environment and walking should occur. Subsequent encounters with the cues can prompt the behaviour relatively automatically. No studies have experimentally tested the potential learning of this linkage between cues and behaviour. Choices between stairs and escalators in public access settings were employed to test this premise for transport-related walking.
METHODS: Three studies investigated the effects of visual cues on stair/escalator choices (combined n = 115,062). In quasi-experimental, interrupted time-series designs, observers audited choices in public access settings. Design alone phases with art or coloured backgrounds were compared with design plus message phases in which verbal health promotion messages were superimposed on the visual cues. Analyses used bootstrapped logistic regression.
RESULTS: In initial studies, the design alone phases had no effect whereas subsequent design plus message phases reduced escalator choice. In two further studies, a 5-6 week design plus message phase that reduced escalator choice preceded a design alone phase. The visual background behind the successful health promotion message was reintroduced four weeks after the intervention was removed. The visual cue of design alone reduced escalator choice after it had been paired with the verbal health promotion message. There were no differences between art and coloured backgrounds.
CONCLUSION: These studies demonstrate for the first time a learnt linkage between transport-related walking and environmental cues. Discussion focuses on the mechanisms that may underlie this learning and cues in the environment that are relevant to transport-related walking.