Behavioral Change Model

Behavioral change models are designed to provide clarity on why we behave the way we do and, in the context of healthcare interventions, help us replace undesirable behaviors with those that are more beneficial. Behavioral change models seek to explain the reasons behind changes in human behavior.

DefinitionThe Behavioral Change Model is a framework used to understand and facilitate the process of changing individual or group behaviors. It encompasses various theories and strategies to analyze, plan, and implement changes in behavior, often with the goal of achieving positive outcomes such as health improvements, increased productivity, or social change. It is applied in fields like psychology, healthcare, education, and social sciences.
Key ConceptsStages of Change: Recognizes different stages individuals go through when changing behavior, including precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and relapse. – Motivation: Emphasizes the role of motivation and readiness to change in the process. – Triggers and Barriers: Identifies triggers that initiate change and barriers that hinder it. – Intervention Strategies: Utilizes various strategies such as education, incentives, and support to promote behavior change. – Self-Efficacy: Considers the belief in one’s ability to change as a critical factor.
CharacteristicsSequential Stages: Behavior change is viewed as a series of sequential stages. – Individual-Centered: Recognizes that individuals may progress through stages at their own pace. – Continuous Process: Acknowledges that change is an ongoing process, and relapse is possible. – Goal-Oriented: Focuses on achieving specific behavioral goals. – Informed Decision-Making: Encourages informed choices and actions.
ImplicationsTailored Interventions: Requires tailored approaches for individuals at different stages of change. – Patience and Support: Recognizes that behavior change can take time, and ongoing support may be necessary. – Effective Communication: Emphasizes the importance of clear and persuasive communication in promoting change. – Feedback and Monitoring: Involves tracking progress and adjusting interventions as needed. – Relapse Management: Addresses the possibility of relapse and strategies for managing it.
AdvantagesStructured Approach: Provides a structured framework for understanding and facilitating behavior change. – Individualization: Recognizes individual differences and tailors interventions accordingly. – Goal Attainment: Aims to help individuals achieve specific behavioral goals. – Research-Based: Draws on established theories and research in psychology and related fields. – Positive Outcomes: Can lead to positive outcomes in health, education, and social domains.
DrawbacksComplexity: Implementing the model effectively may require expertise and resources. – Resistance: Individuals may resist behavior change interventions, especially if not ready to change. – Relapse: Some individuals may experience relapse, which can be discouraging. – Resource Intensive: Providing ongoing support can be resource-intensive. – Not Universally Applicable: The model may not apply equally well to all types of behavior change.
ApplicationsHealthcare: Used to promote healthy behaviors such as smoking cessation, weight loss, and medication adherence. – Education: Applied to improve academic performance, study habits, and classroom behavior. – Social Change: Utilized to encourage social and environmental behaviors like recycling or community engagement. – Business: Employed to enhance productivity, teamwork, and workplace safety. – Addiction Recovery: Applied to support individuals in overcoming addiction and maintaining sobriety.

Understanding behavioral change models

But as many of us can no doubt attest, changing a behavior is easier said than done.

Since behavior is often ingrained and carried out subconsciously, behavioral change models are used to develop interventions that are both effective and sustainable.

The positive implications for behavioral change can be significant – particularly over the long term.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that small changes to one’s behavior can increase their health and life expectancy and enhance the way they relate to others.

To that end, behavioral change models have been used in the following contexts:

  • Health – to quit smoking or alcohol, choose healthier food options, adopt a regular exercise routine, and drive safely. 
  • The environment – to reduce littering, save electricity, and encourage recycling, and
  • Well-being – to reduce procrastination, go to bed earlier, practice mindfulness, and be more assertive in the workplace.

While behavioral change models are often associated with the healthcare industry, they can also explain how new ideas, products, and innovations spread through a population or social system.

To a lesser extent, they are also useful in criminal investigations, energy use reduction, effective teaching, and international development.

Behavioral change model examples

Numerous behavioral change models have been developed over the years to cater to a diverse range of situations. We have listed some of the popular models below.

The transtheoretical model

The transtheoretical model (TTM) was developed in the late 1970s by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente.

Also known as the stages of change model, TTM was initially conceived to help individuals overcome addictions and other problematic behavior such as overeating, alcohol abuse, and smoking. 

Prochaska and DiClemente identified six stages of change:

  1. Precontemplation – the individual does not intend to change their behavior and may lack awareness or confidence in their ability to do so.
  2. Contemplation – the individual intends to change their behavior within six months but can become stuck because of the potential drawbacks and challenges.
  3. Preparation – the individual intends to change within the next 30 days and may have joined a support group or purchased a self-help book.
  4. Action – in the fourth stage, the individual has changed their behavior within the last six months and intends to stick with that change. They may have modified an existing behavior or adopted a healthier behavior.
  5. Maintenance – in the maintenance stage, the new behavior has been embodied for over six months and the individual works to prevent a relapse to earlier stages of the model.
  6. Termination – at this point, the individual has no desire to return to the older behavior and is confident they will not relapse. However, Prochaska and DiClemente acknowledged that relatively few people reach this stage.

Today, TTM has been widely adopted and is used in school bullying, condom use, sunscreen use, exercise adoption, and cancer screening.

The theory of planned behavior

The theory of planned behavior (TPB) was developed in 1980 to predict someone’s intention to perform a behavior at a specific place and time. Fundamental to TPB is the idea that behavioral intentions are influenced by:

  • The individual’s attitude toward the likelihood that their behavior will result in an expected outcome, and
  • Their evaluation of the benefits and risks of the said outcome.

TPB has been used to predict and explain a diverse range of health behaviors such as substance use, breastfeeding, and the health services utilization. It has also been applied to public relations, sports management, sustainability, and advertising.

Diffusion of innovation theory

Developed in 1962 by American communication theorist E.M. Rogers, the diffusion of innovation theory is one of the oldest still in use today. 

In his book, Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey A. Moore shows a model that dissects and represents the stages of adoption of high-tech products. The model goes through five stages based on the psychographic features of customers at each stage: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggard.

The theory explains how innovative products or ideas spread across a specific population or social system over time.

As it builds momentum and infiltrate more of the population, the new product, idea, or indeed behavior becomes commonplace. 

Rogers’ theory has categories that describe this process:

  1. Innovators – the people who want to be the first to try an innovation.
  2. Early adopters – opinion leaders who embrace change, enjoy positions of leadership and are comfortable adopting new ideas.
  3. Early majority – these individuals need to see evidence that the innovation has merit before they are convinced of the need to change.
  4. Late majority – skeptical individuals who will only embrace change after it has been embraced by the majority of the population.
  5. Laggards – these people are conservative, bound by tradition, and are the hardest group to convince to try something new.

Key takeaways:

  • Behavioral change models seek to explain the reasons behind changes in human behavior. Since behavior is often ingrained and subconscious, these models can be used to develop interventions that are both effective and sustainable.
  • While behavioral change models are often used in the context of healthcare, they can also explain how new ideas, products, and innovations spread through a population or social system.
  • Behavioral change model examples include the theory of planned behavior, diffusion of innovation theory, and the transtheoretical model.

Key Highlights

  • Origin and Definition: TPB was developed by social psychologist Icek Ajzen in 1985 as an extension of the Theory of Reasoned Action. It posits that behaviors are driven by an individual’s intention to perform the behavior and their perceived control over it.
  • Conscious and Reasoned Behavior: TPB suggests that all behaviors are conscious, planned, and reasoned. It assumes that individuals have deliberate control over their actions and that behavior is not simply a result of external influences.
  • Behavioral Intention: Central to TPB is the concept of behavioral intention. This reflects an individual’s motivation and willingness to perform a specific behavior. It influences the effort and planning they put into carrying out the behavior.
  • Applications: TPB is widely applicable in various contexts. It is commonly used in healthcare settings to understand behaviors related to family planning, addiction, birth control, and disease prevention. It’s also employed in areas like entrepreneurship, innovation, and economic development.
  • Healthcare Psychology and Interventions: TPB is particularly useful in designing interventions within healthcare psychology. By understanding the factors that drive behavioral intentions, interventions can be tailored to encourage beneficial behaviors.
  • Influential Factors in Behavioral Intention:
    • Personal Attitudes: An individual’s positive or negative attitudes and beliefs toward a behavior.
    • Subjective Norms: Perceptions of how others view the behavior, including social norms and the influence of friends and family.
    • Perceived Behavioral Control: The belief in one’s ability to control the behavior, influenced by factors such as skills, resources, and support.
  • Effect on Intention and Behavior:
    • High-perceived behavioral control strengthens an individual’s intention to perform a behavior.
    • A strong intention leads to greater effort and planning put into performing the behavior.
  • Practical Example: Consider a teenager who smokes due to the perception that smoking is the norm among their friends. By addressing this perception and providing information about the actual prevalence of smoking, their subjective norm might change, making the behavior less appealing.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.


The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Lindy Effect

The Lindy Effect is a theory about the ageing of non-perishable things, like technology or ideas. Popularized by author Nicholas Nassim Taleb, the Lindy Effect states that non-perishable things like technology age – linearly – in reverse. Therefore, the older an idea or a technology, the same will be its life expectancy.


Antifragility was first coined as a term by author, and options trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Antifragility is a characteristic of systems that thrive as a result of stressors, volatility, and randomness. Therefore, Antifragile is the opposite of fragile. Where a fragile thing breaks up to volatility; a robust thing resists volatility. An antifragile thing gets stronger from volatility (provided the level of stressors and randomness doesn’t pass a certain threshold).

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

Maslow’s Hammer

Maslow’s Hammer, otherwise known as the law of the instrument or the Einstellung effect, is a cognitive bias causing an over-reliance on a familiar tool. This can be expressed as the tendency to overuse a known tool (perhaps a hammer) to solve issues that might require a different tool. This problem is persistent in the business world where perhaps known tools or frameworks might be used in the wrong context (like business plans used as planning tools instead of only investors’ pitches).

Peter Principle

The Peter Principle was first described by Canadian sociologist Lawrence J. Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that people are continually promoted within an organization until they reach their level of incompetence.

Straw Man Fallacy

The straw man fallacy describes an argument that misrepresents an opponent’s stance to make rebuttal more convenient. The straw man fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy, defined as a flaw in the structure of an argument that renders it invalid.

Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect is a paradoxical phenomenon where the act of suppressing information to reduce visibility causes it to become more visible. In 2003, Streisand attempted to suppress aerial photographs of her Californian home by suing photographer Kenneth Adelman for an invasion of privacy. Adelman, who Streisand assumed was paparazzi, was instead taking photographs to document and study coastal erosion. In her quest for more privacy, Streisand’s efforts had the opposite effect.


As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.

Recognition Heuristic

The recognition heuristic is a psychological model of judgment and decision making. It is part of a suite of simple and economical heuristics proposed by psychologists Daniel Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer. The recognition heuristic argues that inferences are made about an object based on whether it is recognized or not.

Representativeness Heuristic

The representativeness heuristic was first described by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The representativeness heuristic judges the probability of an event according to the degree to which that event resembles a broader class. When queried, most will choose the first option because the description of John matches the stereotype we may hold for an archaeologist.

Take-The-Best Heuristic

The take-the-best heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that helps an individual choose between several alternatives. The take-the-best (TTB) heuristic decides between two or more alternatives based on a single good attribute, otherwise known as a cue. In the process, less desirable attributes are ignored.

Bundling Bias

The bundling bias is a cognitive bias in e-commerce where a consumer tends not to use all of the products bought as a group, or bundle. Bundling occurs when individual products or services are sold together as a bundle. Common examples are tickets and experiences. The bundling bias dictates that consumers are less likely to use each item in the bundle. This means that the value of the bundle and indeed the value of each item in the bundle is decreased.

Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals believe that generic information – which applies to most people – is specifically tailored for themselves.

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Goodhart’s Law

Goodhart’s Law is named after British monetary policy theorist and economist Charles Goodhart. Speaking at a conference in Sydney in 1975, Goodhart said that “any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.” Goodhart’s Law states that when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Six Thinking Hats Model

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Moore’s Law

Moore’s law states that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles approximately every two years. This observation was made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 and it become a guiding principle for the semiconductor industry and has had far-reaching implications for technology as a whole.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation as a term was first described by Clayton M. Christensen, an American academic and business consultant whom The Economist called “the most influential management thinker of his time.” Disruptive innovation describes the process by which a product or service takes hold at the bottom of a market and eventually displaces established competitors, products, firms, or alliances.

Value Migration

Value migration was first described by author Adrian Slywotzky in his 1996 book Value Migration – How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition. Value migration is the transferal of value-creating forces from outdated business models to something better able to satisfy consumer demands.

Bye-Now Effect

The bye-now effect describes the tendency for consumers to think of the word “buy” when they read the word “bye”. In a study that tracked diners at a name-your-own-price restaurant, each diner was asked to read one of two phrases before ordering their meal. The first phrase, “so long”, resulted in diners paying an average of $32 per meal. But when diners recited the phrase “bye bye” before ordering, the average price per meal rose to $45.


Groupthink occurs when well-intentioned individuals make non-optimal or irrational decisions based on a belief that dissent is impossible or on a motivation to conform. Groupthink occurs when members of a group reach a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the alternatives and their consequences.


A stereotype is a fixed and over-generalized belief about a particular group or class of people. These beliefs are based on the false assumption that certain characteristics are common to every individual residing in that group. Many stereotypes have a long and sometimes controversial history and are a direct consequence of various political, social, or economic events. Stereotyping is the process of making assumptions about a person or group of people based on various attributes, including gender, race, religion, or physical traits.

Murphy’s Law

Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Murphy’s Law was named after aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy. During his time working at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949, Murphy cursed a technician who had improperly wired an electrical component and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”

Law of Unintended Consequences

The law of unintended consequences was first mentioned by British philosopher John Locke when writing to parliament about the unintended effects of interest rate rises. However, it was popularized in 1936 by American sociologist Robert K. Merton who looked at unexpected, unanticipated, and unintended consequences and their impact on society.

Fundamental Attribution Error

Fundamental attribution error is a bias people display when judging the behavior of others. The tendency is to over-emphasize personal characteristics and under-emphasize environmental and situational factors.

Outcome Bias

Outcome bias describes a tendency to evaluate a decision based on its outcome and not on the process by which the decision was reached. In other words, the quality of a decision is only determined once the outcome is known. Outcome bias occurs when a decision is based on the outcome of previous events without regard for how those events developed.

Hindsight Bias

Hindsight bias is the tendency for people to perceive past events as more predictable than they actually were. The result of a presidential election, for example, seems more obvious when the winner is announced. The same can also be said for the avid sports fan who predicted the correct outcome of a match regardless of whether their team won or lost. Hindsight bias, therefore, is the tendency for an individual to convince themselves that they accurately predicted an event before it happened.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon Effect.

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