Learn how to change behavior.

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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.

AI or Chatbot
AI or Chatbot

Using a chatbot or simulated conversational interaction.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a therapuetic approach to improving mental and behavioral health. The core philosophy is that behavior can be modified by noticing and correcting patterns in thought that influence the behavior. Modern CBT is typically associated with Albert Ellis and Alan Beck.

The structured and rules-based nature of CBT have made it a popular candidate for digital interventions and application by lightly-trained or even untrained practitioners.

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.

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.

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.

Smart Defaults
Smart Defaults

Defaults refer to what happens if a person makes no choice or goes with a pre-selected choice. The influence of defaults is a foundational component of behavioral economics.

Perhaps the most famous example of defaults is the difference between opt-in and opt-out organ donation programs. While not universal, several studies have found that the rate of organ donation consent in a population seems to be influenced by the default (i.e., what happens if a person does not check a box or change the pre-selected preference on a form).

Smart defaults do not only refer to one-off events, however. In the well-known Save More Tomorrow program, participants were not only included in a savings program by default, but the amount they saved was also changed over time automatically (again by default). Similarly, other behavior change programs have default settings that include at-home medication or food delivery, rules-based reminders on different platforms, etc.

Feedback
Feedback

Feedback entails providing qualitative or quantitative information about a behavior's performance or consequences.

Performative information might include data on how a person's current diet tracks with nutrition recommendations or how their home power consumption compares with nearby households.

Feedback on outcomes may include information about relative cancer risk based on current lifestyle factors or calculated net worth in 20 years based on the person's current savings rate and investment returns.

Products that change behavior

Research on behavior change