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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger

Read Next: HeuristicsBiases.

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