Behavioural change theories

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Behavioural change theories are attempts to explain why behaviours change. These theories cite environmental, personal, and behavioural characteristics as the major factors in behavioural determination. In recent years, there has been increased interest in the application of these theories in the areas of health, education, criminology, energy and international development with the hope that understanding behavioural change will improve the services offered in these areas.

General theories and models[edit]

Each behavioural change theory or model focuses on different factors in attempting to explain behavioural change. Of the many that exist, the most prevalent are the learning theories, Social Cognitive Theory, Theories of Reasoned Action and Planned Behaviour, Transtheoretical Model and the Health Action Process Approach. Research has also been conducted regarding specific elements of these theories, especially elements like self-efficacy that are common to several of the theories.

Self-efficacy[edit]

Self-efficacy is an individual's impression of their own ability to perform a demanding or challenging task such as facing an exam or undergoing surgery. This impression is based upon factors like the individual's prior success in the task or in related tasks, the individual's physiological state, and outside sources of persuasion.Self-efficacy is thought to be predictive of the amount of effort an individual will expend in initiating and maintaining a behavioural change, so although self-efficacy is not a behavioural change theory per se, it is an important element of many of the theories, including the Health Belief Model, the Theory of Planned Behaviour and the Health Action Process Approach.

Learning theories/behaviour analytic theories of change[edit]

From behaviourists such as B. F. Skinner come the learning theories, which state that complex behaviour is learned gradually through the modification of simpler behaviours.Imitation and reinforcement play important roles in these theories, which state that individuals learn by duplicating behaviours they observe in others and that rewards are essential to ensuring the repetition of desirable behaviour.As each simple behaviour is established through imitation and subsequent reinforcement, the complex behaviour develops. When verbal behaviour is established the organism can learn through rule-governed behaviour and thus not all action needs to be contingency shaped.

Social learning/social cognitive theory[edit]

According to the social learning theory, which is also known as the social cognitive theory, behavioural change is determined by environmental, personal, and behavioural elements. Each factor affects each of the others. For example, in congruence with the principles of self-efficacy, an individual's thoughts affect their behaviour and an individual's characteristics elicit certain responses from the social environment. Likewise, an individual's environment affects the development of personal characteristics as well as the person's behaviour, and an individual's behaviour may change their environment as well as the way the individual thinks or feels. Social learning theory focuses on the reciprocal interactions between these factors, which are hypothesised to determine behavioural change.

Theory of Reasoned Action[edit]

The Theory of Reasoned Action assumes that individuals consider a behaviour's consequences before performing the particular behaviour. As a result, intention is an important factor in determining behaviour and behavioural change. According to Icek Ajzen,intentions develop from an individual's perception of a behaviour as positive or negative together with the individual's impression of the way their society perceives the same behaviour. Thus, personal attitude and social pressure shape intention, which is essential to performance of a behaviour and consequently behavioural change.

Theory of Planned Behaviour[edit]

In 1985, Ajzen expanded upon the theory of reasoned action, formulating the Theory of Planned Behaviour, which also emphasises the role of intention in behaviour performance but is intended to cover cases in which a person is not in control of all factors affecting the actual performance of a behaviour. As a result, the new theory states that the incidence of actual behaviour performance is proportional to the amount of control an individual possesses over the behaviour and the strength of the individual's intention in performing the behaviour. In his article, Further hypothesises that self-efficacy is important in determining the strength of the individual's intention to perform a behaviour. In 2010, Fishbein and Ajzen introduced the Reasoned action approach, the successor of the Theory of Planned Behaviour.

Transtheoretical/Stages of Change Model[edit]

According to the Transtheoretical Model, which is also known as the Stages of Change Model, behavioural change is a five-step process. The five stages, between which individuals may oscillate before achieving complete change, are precontemplation, contemplation, preparation for action, action, and maintenance.At the precontemplation stage, an individual may or may not be aware of a problem but has no thought of changing their behavior. From precontemplation to contemplation, the individual begins thinking about changing a certain behavior. During preparation, the individual begins his plans for change, and during the action stage the individual begins to exhibit new behavior consistently. An individual finally enters the maintenance stage once they exhibit the new behavior consistently for over six months

Health Action Process Approach[edit]

The Health Action Process Approach (HAPA) is designed as a sequence of two continuous self-regulatory processes, a goal-setting phase (motivation) and a goal-pursuit phase (volition). The second phase is subdivided into a pre-action phase and an action phase. Motivational self-efficacy, outcome-expectancies and risk perceptions are assumed to be predictors of intentions. This is the motivational phase of the model. The predictive effect of motivational self-efficacy on behaviour is assumed to be mediated by recovery self-efficacy, and the effects of intentions are assumed to be mediated by planning. The latter processes refer to the volitional phase of the model.

Education[edit]

Behavioural change theories can be used as guides in developing effective teaching methods. Since the goal of much education is behavioural change, the understanding of behaviour afforded by behavioural change theories provides insight into the formulation of effective teaching methods that tap into the mechanisms of behavioural change. In an era when education programs strive to reach large audiences with varying socioeconomic statuses, the designers of such programs increasingly strive to understand the reasons behind behavioural change in order to understand universal characteristics that may be crucial to program design.

In fact, some of the theories, like the Social Learning Theory and Theory of Planned Behaviour, were developed as attempts to improve health education. Because these theories address the interaction between individuals and their environments, they can provide insight into the effectiveness of education programs given a specific set of predetermined conditions, like the social context in which a program will be initiated.Although health education is still the area in which behavioural change theories are most often applied, theories like the Stages of Change Model have begun to be applied in other areas like employee training and developing systems of higher education.

Criminology[edit]

Empirical studies in criminology support behavioural change theories[citation needed]. At the same time, the general theories of behavioural change suggest possible explanations to criminal behaviour and methods of correcting deviant behaviour.Since deviant behaviour correction entails behavioural change, understanding of behavioural change can facilitate the adoption of effective correctional methods in policy-making. For example, the understanding that deviant behaviour like stealing may be learned behaviour resulting from reinforcers like hunger satisfaction that are unrelated to criminal behaviour can aid the development of social controls that address this underlying issue rather than merely the resultant behaviour.

Specific theories that have been applied to criminology include the Social Learning and Differential Association Theories. Social Learning Theory's element of interaction between an individual and their environment explains the development of deviant behaviour as a function of an individual's exposure to a certain behaviour and their acquaintances, who can reinforce either socially acceptable or socially unacceptable behaviour.Differential Association Theory, originally formulated by Edwin Sutherland, is a popular, related theoretical explanation of criminal behaviour that applies learning theory concepts and asserts that deviant behaviour is learned behaviour.

Energy[edit]

Recent years have seen an increased interest in energy consumption reduction based on behavioural change, be it for reasons of climate change mitigation or energy security. The application of behavioural change theories in the field of energy consumption behaviour yields interesting insights. For example, it supports criticism of a too narrow focus on individual behaviour and a broadening to include social interaction, lifestyles, norms and values as well as technologies and policies—all enabling or constraining behavioural change.

Objections[edit]

Behavioural change theories are not universally accepted. Criticisms include the theories' emphases on individual behaviour and a general disregard for the influence of environmental factors on behaviour. In addition, as some theories were formulated as guides to understanding behaviour while others were designed as frameworks for behavioural interventions, the theories' purposes are not consistent. Such criticism illuminates the strengths and weaknesses of the theories, showing that there is room for further research into behavioural change theories.