Behavioral Change

Behavioral Change

Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

Behavioral change refers to a drastic change in someone’s behavior that may lead to permanent or temporary outcomes. It entails taking up a process or route that will help them alter behavior or habit that might not be good or healthy for them.

What Is Behavioral Change?

Behavioral change occurs when a person has made positive progress towards changing one or more of their behaviors or habits successfully. The experts at Mind Help define behavior as “the activities of a living being that are exhibited in response to internal and/or external stimuli, such as nonconscious processes, introspectively observable acts and objectively observable acts.” Human behavior is a response and often nonconscious to a subject. For example, many people have to attend anger management sessions to overcome their anger problems, which is usually a nonconscious response to certain situations.

Hence, behavioral change is a process of creating necessary adjustments or modifications so that a person can retain the transformation. In most cases, behavior change is seen as a challenging process, primarily when related to one’s health 1 Kelly, M. P., & Barker, M. (2016). Why is changing health-related behaviour so difficult?. Public health, 136, 109–116. . However, it is also important to move towards change when it feels necessary.

The Psychology Of Behavioral Change

Behavior change might be temporary or permanent in nature. However, when an individual decides to change their behavior or habit, it takes much more than mere willpower to make it happen. When someone moves towards a more positive change, they may face negative consequences that might want them to pull back. In these moments, self-efficacy comes to the forefront as a way to win against negative thoughts.

Things that can cause behavioral changes to include,

  • Medicines
  • Mental health issues
  • Substance abuse
  • Self-induced change
  • Sudden change in life

Both positive and negative psychological aspects are present when it comes to behavioral change. If a person suffers from mental health issues like behavior disorders, a sudden change in their behavior or habits might hurt them or their close ones. People who suffer from substance abuse disorder may often have a hard time changing behavior. Moreover, people who tend to get stressed may have a negative psychological impact and behavioral change. Sudden change 2 First, M. B. (2020). Personality and behavior changes – Mental health disorders – MSD manual consumer version. MSD Manual Consumer Version. in one’s behavior or personality may signify an underlying problem.

As behavior change is defined as a process, researchers have pointed out the importance of self-regulation in changing an individual’s behavior. When the person starts on the journey of change, they need to have social connections for a better outcome.

A 2012 study 3 Oettingen, G. (2012). Future thought and behaviour change. European Review of Social Psychology, 23(1), 1-63. even says that individuals might also want to alter their behavior based on their expectations and assumptions of success in the upcoming years. In such a case, self-determination and proper decision making can gear one towards a positive outcome. For instance, many fathers try to quit smoking after their child’s birth, or they try to limit smoking while at home.

Another point to note are the barriers to behavior change. Many people face social or even individual barriers when they think about changing their behavior. This calls for the need for theories that help to analyze the points of a hindrance. It has given rise to the study of behavior change, which helps to form frameworks to drive change in a positive direction.

Read More About Habit Formation Here

Theories And Models On Behavioral Change

The keen interest in behavioral change has given rise to many theories and models to understand and program changes. These include finding the best way to help someone in making a change in their behavior or habits. Behavioral change studies and theories play a crucial role in fields like criminology, health, education, development, international relations, and energy. Accordingly, behavioral change studies fall under the broad spectrum of behavioral psychology. Theories also give rise to the intervention programs to successfully lead a change. Most of the theories are still being studied to gather more insights into its efficacy.

Theories and Models for Behavioral Change include –

  • Self-guided Theory
  • The Theory of Planned Behavior and Theory of Reasoned Action
  • The Health Belief Model
  • Stages of Change (Transtheoretical Model)
  • Social Norms Theory
  • Diffusion of Innovation Theory

Having a glimpse at each of these models and theories will help distinguish the minute details that set them apart. Interestingly, a 2016 study posits that it is not just the individual who is to be blamed for not changing their behavior. On the point of alcoholism, the study goes on to state, “Most humans inhabit multiple social structures and are highly adept at adapting their reflective responses accordingly.”

The researchers found it pointless to try to design interventions for preventing excessive consumption on the basis of some prior social category, such as social class or age or some overarching universal theory or model. The study goes on to point out that individual behavior is often seen as a distinct phenomenon related to specific social class or background. Hence, rather than basing interventions on a unilinear model, the study suggests the study of diverse behavioral change for better predictions.

Understanding some of the theories related to behavioral change can help to know the different routes to move towards the modification. The following are some brief introductions of the behavioral change theories:

1. Self-guided Change

Self-guided change is all about an individual’s drive towards wanting to make the change. As a theory, it helps to study to what extent a person can make a substantial change. Every new resolution has the potential to bring forth a self-guided change, but often the choice of path is invariably flawed.

According to a 2018 study, “Fifty years of research clearly indicate that as people age, in the case of alcohol, heroin and cocaine misuse, smoking 4 Bishop F. M. (2018). Self-guided Change: The most common form of long-term, maintained health behavior change. Health psychology open, 5(1), 2055102917751576. , and gambling, 80–90 percent moderate or stop their unhealthy behaviors.” Overeating is the only exception and only 20% of people maintain their weight loss. They study mentioned that most of the behavior changes appear to be the result of self-guided change when they occur.

Hence, even though self-guided change appears tedious and may take a long time, finding a specific goal may help an individual to successfully alter any unwanted habit or behavior. A key component of self-guided change is self-efficacy, which is the effort that a person would likely put in for a successful change. The self-guided change also forms the foundation of other critical theories and models of behavioral change.

2. The Health Belief Model

The Health Belief Model 5 Rosenstock, I. M. (1974). Historical origins of the health belief model. Health Education Monographs, 2(4), 328-335. (HBM) has to be one of the most predominant methods that have been studied in the field of behavioral change related to health. It was developed in the 1950s to study people’s response towards preventive measures laid down by the public health departments. The model theorizes the tendency of people to seek medical help or to use preventive measures based on their belief system about a particular disease.

Core components of the HBM theory include:

  • Perceived susceptibility
  • Perceived severity
  • Perceived benefits
  • Perceived barriers
  • Cues to action
  • Self-efficacy

According to a 2017 study 6 Didarloo, A., Nabilou, B. & Khalkhali, H.R. Psychosocial predictors of breast self-examination behavior among female students: an application of the health belief model using logistic regression. BMC Public Health 17, 861 (2017). , HBM has been widely used to examine beliefs related to preventive health behaviors such as breast self-examination. A key finding was that students’ education level played a role in their behavior towards breast self-examination. So, a lack of knowledge about a disease can lead to the belief of not being at the threat of having cancer, so no preventive measures are taken by a subject. As the HBM helps to study the behavior patterns, it becomes a crucial part of other models that may induce change.

3. The Theory of Planned Behavior and Theory of Reasoned Action

The Theory of Reasoned Action of behavioral change that came up in 1980 gave way to the Theory of Planned Behavior 7 Ajzen, I. (2004). The theory of planned behavior. | Science, health and medical journals, full text articles and books. (TPB). It progresses to study the behavioral intents and the way these intents are triggered by certain attitudes. TBP, as a theory, believes that both the motivation behind an action as well as the ability to take up the change leads to an alteration in behavior.

The six constructs included in TPB are –

  • Attitudes
  • Behavioral intention
  • Subjective norms
  • Social norms
  • Perceived power
  • Perceived behavioral control

Apart from its help in the field of health, TPB has also come up as a way to study consumerism and branding. Moreover, TPB helps in an in-depth study of the manners in which human behavior can change towards sustainable living 8 Judge, M., Warren-Myers, G., & Paladino, A. (2019). Using the theory of planned behaviour to predict intentions to purchase sustainable housing. Journal of Cleaner Production, 215, 259-267. in the upcoming years. In 2010, the TPB evolved to form the reasoned action approach as an integrated framework of the theory.

4. Stages of Change (Transtheoretical Model)

Behavioral change can never happen suddenly or just in a moment. The Stages of Change theory 9 Prochaska, J. O., Redding, C. A., & Evers, K. E. (n.d.). THE TRANSTHEORETICAL MODEL AND STAGES OF CHANGE. provides a systematic approach to achieve the desired change. Moreover, the transtheoretical model helps to study behavioral changes with fewer relapse rates. Developed in the 1970s, this theory pays immense attention to an individual’s decision-making power and the utilization of intent to bring about the change.

The six stages of the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) are –

  • Precontemplation
  • Contemplation
  • Preparation
  • Action
  • Maintenance
  • Relapse

The TTM model is often portrayed in a cyclic pattern. An individual may derail from any stage of the cycle due to a change in intention. However, re-entering the cycle is also possible for them if they gather back the intent. For instance, every year, most people come up with New Year resolutions that they can seldom fulfill. Many practitioners end up using the TTM as it has a set action compared to the other theories.

5. Social Norms Theory

One of the crucial things that guide us is ‘societal norms’ or unwritten laws. Abiding by these laws ensures a respectable position in society and the surrounding environment. The Social Norms Theory 10 Perkins, H. W., & Berkowitz, A. D. (1986). Perceiving the community norms of alcohol use among students: some research implications for campus alcohol education programming. The International journal of the addictions, 21(9-10), 961–976. emerged in 1986 as a way to study the behavior of students related to drinking alcohol. It posits that the environmental or social norms surrounding an individual play a vital role in behavioral change.

A 2019 study 11 Pulerwitz, J., Blum, R., Cislaghi, B., Costenbader, E., Harper, C., Heise, L., Kohli, A., & Lundgren, R. (2019). Proposing a Conceptual Framework to Address Social Norms That Influence Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health. The Journal of adolescent health : official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 64(4S), S7–S9. proposed to use the Social Norms Theory as a framework to know more about the patterns that influence sexual and reproductive health in adolescents. The study states, “This framework can inform programmatic considerations, such as who to turn to as “change agents” and where to seek evidence of attitudinal change as a precursor to desired behavior change.” Moreover, it also goes on to state the importance of finding the power holders of norms who are involved in strict adherence to them to properly design an intervention program.

Hence, peer influences on perceived norms take up a significant part of studying behavioral changes. This also becomes an important tool to study misperception ‒ the gap between reality and the perceived norms. By finding the missing links or misinformation, proper frameworks can be made to bridge the gaps of misperception.

Similar to Social Norms Theory, Albert Bandura worked extensively on the Social Cognitive Theory 12 Handbook of Moral Behavior and Development: Volume 1: , which lays stress on how the social environment makes up a person. Along with talking about its base of making up an individual’s morality, the study also tries to explain how the theory studies self-efficacy, which plays an essential role in making changes.

6. Diffusion of Innovation Theory

The Diffusion of Innovation Theory 13 Dearing, J. W. (2009). Applying diffusion of innovation theory to intervention development. Research on Social Work Practice, 19(5), 503-518. (DOI) of behavioral change is about accepting things into our social system. E.M. Rogers developed it in 1962 to learn communication and diffusion in society. So, as a society, human beings have always evolved to accept new things into their culture, which have evolved to become behaviors and habits. When a person or a society perceives that the new idea is unique or innovative, it starts to disseminate. According to the theory, adopting a new idea or innovation takes time, and it goes through stages. Therefore, these are the five adopter categories present in DOI –

  • Innovators
  • Early Adopters
  • Early Majority
  • Late Majority
  • Laggards

And, here are the factors that influence one’s perception according to the DOI theory –

  • Relative Advantage
  • Compatibility
  • Complexity
  • Trialability
  • Observability

The Diffusion of Innovation Theory is often used for the purpose to study behavioral changes that may facilitate the learning of more ways for better adaptability to new factors. For instance, it may bridge the technological gap felt by older generation individuals while using the latest gadgets. A 2016 study 14 Lien, A. S., & Jiang, Y. D. (2017). Integration of diffusion of innovation theory into diabetes care. Journal of diabetes investigation, 8(3), 259–260. states, “From ecological aspects, DOI theory is a macro level theory in which community‐level innovations are adopted to change a population’s health behavior.”

In the other part, the aim of this theory is understanding how an advantageous innovation can be rapidly disseminated. The study also focuses on the need for proper diffusion of new ideas and practices to make it easier and long-lasting. It mainly studies the way healthcare workers gradually dealt with diabetic patients to make them understand about proper care to maintain the chronic ailment.

How Is The Theory Chosen?

As discussed above, various theories can be used to study behavioral change in an individual or even in a group of people. A practitioner or researcher has to go through a number of them to make a choice. However, these theories may not be the best when it comes to intervention. Hence, a more integrated study approach 15 Ryan P. (2009). Integrated Theory of Health Behavior Change: background and intervention development. Clinical nurse specialist CNS, 23(3), 161–172. is taken to deal with an issue related to behavioral change, especially while dealing with a field like health.

The study of behavioral change is in constant flux as we get to know more about the cognitive and physical sides of a human being. Apart from being an immense help to fields like education, criminology, and the environment, learning more about human behavior will help open a pathway towards a better understanding of mental health. As research progresses, we can hope to get more action-oriented theories to help in behavioral change.

Behavioral Change At A Glance

  1. Behavioral change is a process of creating necessary adjustments or modifications so that a person can retain the transformation.
  2. Behavioral change occurs when a person has made positive progress towards changing one or more of their behaviors or habits successfully.
  3. Both positive and negative psychological aspects are present when it comes to behavioral change.
  4. The study of behavioral change is in constant flux as we get to know more about the cognitive and physical sides of a human being.


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