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Behavior change and behavior design models

Tactics that change behavior

Automation
Automation

Automation refers to having another person, group, or technology system perform part or all of the intended behavior.

A prominent example is Thaler & Bernartzi's Save More Tomorrow intervention, which invested a portion of employees' earnings into retirement funds automatically and even increased the contribution level to scale with pay raises. Other examples include automatically scheduling medical appointments so the patient needn't do it themselves and mailing healthy recipe ingredients to the person's home to reduce the burden of shopping.

Self-Monitoring or Tracking
Self-Monitoring or Tracking

Self-monitoring or tracking simply refers to a person measuring their behavior, experiences, cognition, or other data points over time.

Often, merely tracking a behavior can influence the likelihood or frequency with which a person performs the behavior or related ones. For example, many pedometer studies increase walking activity merely by improving awareness, and many interventions that merely consist of rewarding someone for weighing themselves result in weight loss. Similarly, when cognitive behavioral therapy patients track which cues or environments are associated with undesired behaviors or thoughts, they may begin to avoid them.

Unfortunately, people often find tracking behaviors tedious and lose interest after a short period, so behavior designers should seek to reduce the burden of self-monitoring by collecting information automatically or doing so in a low-effort way.

Micro-Incentives
Micro-Incentives

Micro-incentives refers to small rewards, typically frequent and cash-based, given out on a per-behavior basis.

A prominent example is Wellth, a program for people with chronic illness delivered via app. Some participants are given around $2 each time they take a medication or measure their blood pressure and submit a photo.

In related studies, e.g. Petry et al. (2015), participants' compliance with these behaviors was significantly higher than those who did not receive the incentives, and the behaviors persisted several months after incentives were removed.

Micro-incentives can be layered with other reward approaches such as lotteries and non-financial incentives.

Checklists
Checklists

Checklists are an age-old tactic for remembering to do certain tasks. Checklists are sometimes used to measure behaviors that should take place with a certain frequency, e.g. every day or X times per week, and other times, to ensure certain steps are followed every time a person does a complex behavior.

For behavior designers, the challenges of checklists often entail choosing the right behaviors, breaking them down to the correct level of granularity for a given population, and serving them up in the proper context or sometimes with personalization. They are likely underutilized and consistently improve the performance of even experts, like pilots and surgeons.

Education or Information
Education or Information

Education refers to empowering a person with more knowledge or training than they had previously. While providing information alone is often a suboptimal way to drive meaningful behavior change or long-term interventions, the right message at the right time can be a powerful part of a behavior change strategy.

Personalization
Personalization

Personalization refers to taking specific data from the individual in a behavioral intervention into account in offering a different experience vs. that given to others.

An experience may be personalized based on demographic data, psychographic data, behavioral performance, or other factors.

Commitment Devices
Commitment Devices

Commitment devices are tools that attempt to bridge the gap between a person's initial motivation to perfrom the behavior and the typical pattern of noncompliance as time goes on.

One prominent example is the "Ulysses Pact," where Filipino banking customers were offered the option to enroll in an account where their ability to make withdrawals would be limited. In a study by Ashraf and Karlan (2005), participants with the commitment account saved 81% more than those with typical accounts.

There are many other examples of commitment devices. Temptation bundling is a form of commitment device where people only engage in an enjoyable activity when it's simultaneous with an activity they intend to do more (for example, only listening to a certain podcast or audiobook while walking on a treadmill).

Pre-paying for a service is a basic form of commitment device, and one used by Dan Ariely when he intended to increase his fruit and vegetable consumption. He paid for a year of biweekly deliveries from a local CSA program up-front.

Reminders, Cues, or Prompts
Reminders, Cues, or Prompts

Reminders, cues, and prompts are simply methods to cause someone to perform a behavior by calling their attention to it with a timely message. People have limited attention and memory, so these types of influences can be very effective when done skillfully.

The cue need not consist of written or spoken language; for example, it could be a certain melody, symbol, or pattern of lights on a connected home device. It might also be a bracelet or pattern of vibrations from a wearable device. Provided the cue or prompt is associated with the behavior, almost any sensory stimuli that is reliably perceived and interpreted may be used. That said, verbal reminders can be effective since they may be personalized with additional semantic information related to the person's context or leverage other effects (e.g. identity priming or framing effects).

Products that change behavior

Research on behavior change